Happiness in Start-ups is key to acceleration

Happiness is the spark for acceleration

Alissa van der Voort

Happiness is the ultimate goal. It’s the goal of all other goals — Deepak Chopra.

I think this also applies to the start-up scene. I believe traction isn’t the only goal. This is why I’m so interested in happiness in start-ups and what I’ll be doing with it…
For the ones who know me this comes as no surprise, and for the ones who don’t know me, after reading this article you’re probably no longer surprised either.
I’m a curious explorer who loves to learn new things every single day. I’m obsessed (in a healthy way, I guess?) with happiness, personal growth and business development.
Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of working with (corporate) start-ups, setting up my own business and becoming an ICF certified applied positive psychology coach. I spend a lot of my time and energy on happiness. I’ve learned about the many effects it has on us personally as well as work-related. About the effect happiness has on organizational development and performance. About how we can increase and influence our happiness level and how we can create a sustainable “happy” culture at work.

I’ve also learned about the optimal level of happiness, that it’s not about being ecstatic 24/7 and that being moderately happy can — in specific domains — in fact lead to more positive outcomes.

Yet the image of a start-up often correlates to the turbulent eighties were life was all about rock-and-roll, having fun and worry less. Excuse me for the little exaggeration here, especially because I haven’t actually experienced that period myself, but you get the point…
Being at a start-up seems like attending parties during office hours
I got triggered by this hyped adult playground image of start-ups. There’s this obvious trend on new ventures who have the coolest workplaces, wear fancy sneakers and trashed jeans to work and play table soccer during and in between meetings.

But the question is, how happy are entrepreneurs? And how are entrepreneurs pursuing their own well-being, as well as that of their organization?
Because besides all the fun, creativity and craziness, I’ve also witnessed quite some common threats and pitfalls making it extremely challenging for entrepreneurs to experience happiness.

76% of all start-ups fail due to co-founder conflicts
Doing my obsessive research, I’ve found some interesting things. One study showed that in general, entrepreneurs seem to be happier than their non-entrepreneurial counterparts. Simultaneously, the height of bar charts with the number of burn-outs and amount of stress perceived in start-ups is competing with the skyline of Dubai. Or any other city full of tall buildings. Almost 1 out of every 10 start-ups faces a burn-out challenge.
Some of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is to develop resilience, to deal with stress and uncertainty and to be prepared to deal with pressure. Not to mention the development of a healthy culture, attract talent and design the organization as soon as you’re scaling.
To me, start-ups have a unique opportunity to create a “healthy, happy” culture. The absence of an old-fashioned, cumbersome legacy that seems impossible to flip-around. But the question is how to do this? And what are the positive outcomes of creating this happy culture?

Does happiness have a positive impact on start-up acceleration?
Whereas there is plenty of research on the effects of workplace happiness on productivity, job satisfaction and employee health (lower turn-overs), little is known about the effect of subjective well-being and start-up acceleration.
How is it that some start-ups accelerate and succeed, whilst over three-quarter of them are unable to scale. Of course, you need a product market fit to execute your business, but there are plenty of start-ups who reached that point and yet stagnate their acceleration.
What is the definition of sustainable performance? Don’t we need more than just business growth metrics to determine sustainable performance? Is your business model only healthy if the revenues and costs sum up well, if your customer life time value is higher than the customer cost of acquisition? Or is a key requirement having the right people and culture in place to generate these cash flows?

What’s next — making the (start-up) world a little happier

Over the next period, I’ll be investigating, exploring and experiencing this topic in further detail. I’ll be diving into this theme with several early-stage and late stage start-ups, scale-ups, entrepreneurs, investors and innovation experts.
I hope to better understand how to best cultivate a culture of vulnerability and engagement, how founders pursue their own happiness and well-being, in which way HR should ideally be embedded in the organization and how we can best develop leadership and organizational design to effective manage growing companies. All of this by taking the differences in culture, phase and sector into account.

My goal is to contribute to the sustainability and growth of start-ups and of their most important assets, their people: the Happy Startup program.
Since you’ve read the end of this post, you’re probably either the person whom I should talk to or you’re know someone I should definitely have a chat with…

(The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the gccstartup.news or TMA Worldwide)

About the author
Alissa van der Voort
Talent and Startup Coach. Realistic optimist. Aim to let people and organizations thrive. Founder of www.happyinsights.nl and www.happinessaroundtheglobe.com

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