Startup Resilience: Navigating Relationships and Success for Early-Stage Founders

Brampton Angels Blog Post Banners
by Taylor McAuliffe

The reality of launching and sustaining a startup is not as straightforward as any successful entrepreneur might lead you to believe. As a budding entrepreneur, there are persistent challenges that always remain, and you must be prepared to navigate many obstacles and endure difficulties. Resilience is often a marker of success–how far an entrepreneur is willing to go and wait to see their startup succeed.

For many founders, these challenges are dependent on the relationships you cultivate and create along the way. These could come from opportunistic clients unwilling to pay for services rendered, or from toxic employees or co-founders. They could come from once-enthusiastic partners willing to drive more value through their own relationships, but ultimately default on this promise. On our most recent Tech Uncensored episode , we hosted Devin Ramphal and Jennifer Cameron to talk growth, navigating early-stage relationships as a startup, and resilience.

Devin Ramphal is the Sector Manager for Innovation and Technology at the City of Brampton’s Economic Development Office and former CEO and Co-founder of CleanAir.AI, which was acquired last year. Jennifer Cameron is the Co-founder and CEO of INVRS and formally the founder of Hyper Wallet, which was acquired by PayPal for $400 million in 2018.

Both founders reflected on their own entrepreneurial journeys and provided insight into what drove them to become an entrepreneur and what continues to motivate them in the face of adversity. Ramphal spoke about his journey, that started right after university, emphasizing how his motivation to become an entrepreneur stemmed from a want to make the world a better place;

“At the crux of it, I feel like entrepreneurship is internal and it’s a drive to do something bigger and leave a legacy. Something that will last beyond you as a person.”

Cameron agrees that there is a strong altruistic element in becoming an entrepreneur. She adds that another motivator has been the creative side and the ability to take an idea and make it into something real;

“My true motivator, the thing that really gets me going is that I really like to be creative. I really like to see an idea come to fruition and just as importantly, for people to enjoy it. Sometimes I say I’m an artist and entrepreneurship is my canvas, it’s a little bit silly, but I feel very passionate about creation.”

Navigating Co-Founder Relationships

Starting a business with your friends can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Yet, it can also be challenging and stressful. Ramphal reflects on his experience having founded CleanAir.AI with some of his best friends. Ramphal discussed the reality of navigating shifting relationship dynamics. Balancing personal and professional relationships can become especially hard when external partners start to enter the picture. Friction becomes common, if not, inevitable Ramphal explains,

“It was about a decade of friendship and business together. The transition was easy in the beginning, and it got harder as the business grew and got more serious. Especially when you bring in other stakeholders, investors, customers. It could be VC’s, it could be family and friends or angels, it doesn’t matter. But, when you had others with expectations that’s when friction started to build…these external stakeholders when they come in, things get a lot more serious and that’s when friction would start to build.” 

Cameron saw a similar change in relationship dynamics with her co-founder of Hyper Wallet when funding began to dry up. As a founder, your resilience can be heavily tested during times of limited funding,

“We went through a big honeymoon phase at the beginning. There was so much enthusiasm about what we were doing, and we did raise some early financing, roughly about half a million dollars before things got too bad. There’s all this energy that we’re pouring into it and then reality started to hit as money started to dwindle out of the bank account and fundraising was becoming increasingly difficult.”

Navigating Financial Relationships

Entrepreneurs shouldn’t and can’t do everything by themselves. This means seeking external funding, partners and vendors in the early stages to gain some competitive advantage.

However, it is important to be intentional and aware when entering new relationships. Ramphal observes that “people tend to go with the money, but that shouldn’t always be the case”. Entering a financial relationship with investors is a serious commitment; it’s a marriage that is going to last the length of the time that the money keeps flowing.  

Ramphal advises new or aspiring founders to not jump the gun on funding. Choosing the right investors for your business can help minimize future business risk. You should look for investors who share your company’s vision and have the resources and connections to support your company in reaching its goals.

“When looking for an investor, what was important for us was someone that was connected in that space. It was that we weren’t just looking for money, we were looking for someone who could make those strategic connections with customers”.

As the business starts to grow there’s a shift in thinking about the future of the company. Protecting both the business and individual interest in the company is critical. Ramphal offers insight into how to deal with this balance, stating that it “takes a lot of foresight.” He adds that recognizing the timeframe you are currently in is imperative;

“Having the foresight of knowing what time frame you’re in and how things could get worse or how things could get better is important for an entrepreneur to know. So much of the time as entrepreneurs, we’re just happy to raise money. Someone’s going to write us a cheque – I’ll take that. But, if you have a good product and good business, someone will give you money. You don’t have to take this cheque today. I think that part is important for [founders]. With my co-founders, we got super excited with the first cheque and were even more excited with the second cheque Ultimately, founders could end up digging themselves a hole for their startup company if you get too excited and carried away with being in that moment with that funding”.

Cameron likewise counsels founders to look at opportunities from multiple perspectives. Whether entering deals for funding or signing contracts for new partners and suppliers, Cameron advises;

“The piece of advice I would give to nascent entrepreneurs is to really read those contracts carefully. It’s so difficult because they can be so dry, but if you can try and put yourself into different frames of mind under different scenarios, it may help to enlighten what you’re signing on to and then give you some latitude to negotiate things that would be more in your favor”.

As a first time or early-stage entrepreneur, navigating the path to success can be long and challenging. Cameron reminds founders to keep their eyes looking forward and believe in the journey. Getting past the hurdles is what will differentiate you and your company from other startup founders. When things get tough, it is resilience that will fuel your vision;

“Having faith is really important. When it’s dark and bleak, which it certainly will be from time to time, you have to have faith. I think that goes circles back to resilience and how much you’re going to hang on in order to make your vision a reality. It’s not about the honeymoon stage, it’s not about when things are great. When the rubber hits the road is when things are really dark, and that’s what you must get through”.

Cameron knows that resilience is essential for early-stage founders. To stay focused and courageous, she looks inward and cultivates a positive mindset,

“I meditate. I do a lot of internal work. I find if I focus on what I don’t want, it’s not helpful at all. I have to keep my “eyes on the prize.” The vision of where I want it to get to and how that’s going to feel – you have to be intentional about your emotional state.”

For Ramphal, he has learned the importance of asking for and accepting help from others. Being a resilient founder doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. Learning from the experiences of others and being open to advice and different perspectives can give early-stage founders the foundation they need to grow both as a business and as a founder,

“It’s lonely at the top as the CEO, but having external advisors was one of the most powerful things for us at Clean Air and all through my entrepreneurial journey…I would be on the phone with these advisors and leveraging them as sounding importance. You’re essentially collecting this data and that allows you to navigate a little bit better as the CEO. Advisors are very critical because there are times when my advisors were saying the total opposite and that would help me calibrate the next steps. I would highly recommend having multiple diverse advisors for anybody growing your company”.  

Entrepreneurship is a rewarding but challenging journey that demands resilience, creativity and altruism. Devin Ramphal and Jennifer Cameron shared their stories and lessons on how they navigated friction between co-founders, partners, investors and vendors. Both founders show, through their experiences, that resilience is the key to overcoming any obstacles and making your vision a reality.

Altitude Accelerator supports first time and early-stage founders. We have an incredible network of engaged volunteers and investors who have been instrumental in helping many of our startup companies scale.

If you want to learn more about what Altitude can do for you, check out our RevUp, Growth Essentials and Investor Readiness programs here.