Patience, persistence, and pivots: a startup story

When I was about eight years old, I was skimming through the pages of an Arabic-to-English dictionary that my family had when I landed on an intriguing entry. The back of the dictionary had a set of proverbs, and one of them caught my eye.

Little drops of water

Tiny grains of sand

Make up the mighty ocean

And the pleasant land

The quote stayed with me for over a decade and underpinned a majority of my perspectives on life, work, and entrepreneurship. Many great things, perhaps all great things, start small and build up to something great over a long period of time. That was certainly the case with my startup, Zarf. Before it had a website and users, it was a tiny drop of water in my mind. But how does a drop of water (a startup) become an ocean (a mature business)? With patience, persistence, and the occasional change in direction.

Patience and mindfulness

Running a startup business might seem like a hectic, non-stop process; but I’ve come to discover that it’s punctuated with brief moments of waiting. Waiting to see how a new advertising campaign works. Waiting to see whether a cold sales lead responds to an email. Waiting to see whether an investor will respond positively to your pitch. Learning how to wait for these things without growing anxious or stressed was (and is) a big part of my journey as an entrepreneur. I adopted a perspective around “mindful patience” — understanding that the things that need to happen will eventually happen and that it was best to go with the flow.

Persistence and pushing through

When I began to tell people that I had started my own business, I received a lot of responses to the effect of “Wow, I can’t believe you started your own business. That sounds so hard.” The reality is that starting a business isn’t hard at all, continuing to run it is. It’s easy to register an LLC, purchase a domain, and set up a landing page. It’s hard to fire your first employee, deal with your first angry customer, or navigate a rejection from an investor. I’ve had to confront all of these things throughout my journey as an entrepreneur, and I’ve learned that these are the occasions that lend you the title of “founder.” Although stories of failure are rarely shared, businesses and leaders are forged in moments of persistence through failure.

Pivots and accepting change

Entrepreneurship requires a healthy amount of stubbornness. You need to be stubborn enough to persist through a lot of rejection and disappointment, but not so stubborn as to spend years chasing down an idea that was never going to grow into a viable business. One of the most important things I had to learn during my journey as an entrepreneur was the fact that I had to learn to separate vision from execution. My mission is the core of who I am and the spirit of my business; the execution is how it is done. In pursuit of the mission, my execution had to change. I made several dramatic changes to Zarf in the year that I spent working on it, each change getting me closer to fulfilling my mission.

Zarf started as a drop of water. It’s not an ocean just yet, but it’s getting there. Whether it’s learning to wait purposefully for the next development in the business or persisting through choppy waters, I’ll continue to build Zarf droplet by droplet. Soon enough, Zarf will be the platform for writers looking to grow their brand, optimize their content with intelligent recommendations, and rediscover their audience with new insights.


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