Founders today often feel immense stress. We want to heal a specific pain point we see in the world, and we struggle to find the balance we need to do so.
I often look to my spirituality and higher wisdom for guidance in trying times. Reb Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, is one such inspiration to me. An orphan by the age of 5, young Yisrael would wander the fields and forests, meditating about the wonders of G-d’s creation. One day while on one of his walks, R’ Yisrael came across an exceptionally pious man. This man would become his mentor, leading Yisrael on a journey that would send waves into the rest of time.
Obviously, none of us have to deal with the well-being of an entire nation, but I believe we can learn a lot from his story. Here are three business lessons we can learn from R’ Yisrael’s struggles:
1. Attend To The Basics First
When R’ Yisrael began to walk the world as a mystic, he knew that in order for any issues of a higher order to be solved, he had to first face the issues of mundane life head-on. He started by focusing on rebuilding the Jewish people physically and materially. Strengthening the physical would allow more opportunity for the spiritual to be strengthened as well.
Similarly, this is a problem many founders in the tech world face. When we are overcome with a desire to create a piece of software to fix one aspect of the world that’s in need of repair, we really want to go straight at it. Yet our lofty visions for the future have to be grounded in a very practical approach. Namely, in order to start a company, the dollars are going to matter, and some sacrifices are going to have to be made in order for us to solve the bigger issues we aim to solve.
Therefore, you may have to charge more for your software than you had originally hoped or possibly target a more wealthy social class in order to survive the initial growth stages of your startup. This may feel like you are short-changing your vision at first, yet it would be better to see it as a stepping stone toward your ultimate vision.
By strengthening the body (the financials), it gives the body the opportunity to strengthen the soul (the overarching vision of your company or product). When founders make sure they are building a good financial pathway for their companies, it frees them up more and more to build their vision.
2. Get Out Of The Building
One of the key methods of building a tech startup is the concept of getting out of the building. In other words, it’s important to leave the comforts of ideation mode and actually go speak with your target audience to understand their pain points on a personal level. When you are in tune with what your customers are dealing with, you can better find and uncover what is needed for true change to take shape.
After traveling and learning with his first mentor, Yisrael was sent to live with Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Meir, like Reb Yisrael’s father, was a member of the Secret Society of Hidden Mystics. They were a group of highly esteemed, saintly individuals who would travel the world, helping people, communities, and villages, while disguised as normal everyday people. This humble self-representation allowed Yisrael to get up close and personal with the masses so he could witness their daily struggles firsthand.
Like R’ Yisrael, it’s important for founders to be in a position to see what others are going through in the most authentic version of themselves.
3. Expand Your Reach By Influencing Those Who Matter Most
When you see a famous athlete wearing a shoe from a new company or an up-and-coming influencer showcasing some type of product, you are more likely to want to know more about that brand. Influencing influential people is an effective method of moving large audiences in your company’s direction.
As R’ Yisrael grew in prominence, he became known as the Baal Shem Tov. He had an elite group of disciples who would often come to him from ideologies that clashed with the one the Baal Shem Tov was leading — a movement filled with love that championed the little guy. In fact, his disciples were often left flabbergasted at how R’ Yisrael would focus so much of his attention on the people they knew as “peasants.”
In influencing these influential people, the Baal Shem Tov made his vision of the world heard.
To see our startup dreams come to fruition, we have to begin with one dream, however small and believe in the dream we build. By focusing on the practical, speaking to our customers frankly and influencing those who matter most, we can achieve the impossible.