Entrepreneurship Kills

A warning to you — all of you beautiful bright eyed businesspeople.

Entrepreneurship hurts, and sometimes kills. Let me tell you why.

I assume you’re reading this because you’re entrepreneurial. If that’s true, then, like me, you’ve probably spent tens of thousands of hours to learn and make moves. You’ve sacrificed countless hours of relaxation and friendships for hope of a future realization. You’ve met with investors — a lot — rarely with it ever going anywhere, all the while maintaining an optimism that borders on the insane.

Most of the articles you read sugar coat the harsh realities of entrepreneurship.

This is not one of those articles.

I‘m going to tell you how I got to where I am so that maybe, just maybe, you won’t make the same mistakes along the way.

I grew up in a middle class home near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 6 years old. I sold candy from my backpack, fixed and sold bikes, mowed lawns, did stunts — whatever I could to make money.

After high school, I decided to line up a “fall back” career as part of my plan for a life of entrepreneurship. I went to medical school and ended up with a night job, working 3–12’s in hospitals, while having plenty of downtime for startup education and planning.

I did Kahn Academy and Udacity, took free courses from Ivy League schools, read books, listened to podcasts, and did everything that you’ve probably done to try and get a grasp on what I was doing.

During this time, I got married to the most supportive woman in the world. She was way out of my league and I knew it!

With a new wife to provide for, I decided to start my own medical practice — a sleep center. If you’ve ever thought about starting your own medical practice, don't! It’s not the safe career choice it used to be and you’d probably make more money in telesales.

The setup took just over 18 months of staying up late, flying around to meetings, and adding about 50 hours per week to my already full time schedule. My wife took on more responsibility and we even put a lot of our own money on the line — which was hard — but she picked up a job and we got it done.

The business was almost ready. Then, The Affordable Care Act changed everything. The sleep industry died almost overnight and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I gave every penny back to my investors and lost everything.

My wife and I somehow maintained our optimism.

Within 12 hours, I was on to my next venture. I built a bigger team, we built our MVP, made some changes and started scaling nationally. This process took over 2 years to complete, due to the seasonal nature of the industry, but it was worth it to have that first real success under my belt.

Somewhere along the line, I got Ulcers. My internal battle wounds from all my hard work and stress. “The worst case I’ve seen in my 38 years as a doctor, that isn’t cancerous” my gastroenterologist said. My wife was terrified and begged me to slow down at work.

No cancer? Great news to me! I made some dietary changes and kept cranking away.

My business partners all started calling me “dad” — not always endearingly — because of my old-school work ethic and the fact that I was usually the first one in and the last one out. They always seemed to appreciate the sacrifices I made for our company, even if I was giving them impossible timelines and schedules — which they always hit.

Go team!

With an increasing number of people to provide for, I started meeting with more investors. I spoke at colleges and events to gain exposure and the company started winning awards. Everything was going great, other than the fact that I was going to the bathroom about 20 times a day while waiting for something, anything to come from months of investment meetings while we all sat around trying to remain optimistic.

At this time the housing market was amazing and we needed cash on hand to continue paying our bills. Excitedly, my wife and I put our home on the market knowing we were riding close to the edge.

I started working from home more to build up a little more equity by adding a bedroom to our house, and started delegating office work remotely. My team handled it insanely well. We grew by 430% in under 60 days! Guess “The 4-hr Work Week” wasn’t complete bullshit. Unfortunately, it was a little too late, we fell behind on bills.

“We just have to make it to January”, I told my wife whenever she cried, which became increasingly frequent.

— stop here if you have a weak of stomach —

As I said, I’m not here to sugar coat it.

Last week, I was hospitalized again — a reminder that I’m not invincible. This time was different, I thought I was going to die. I’d been on bed rest for about a week due to severe stomach pain. My wife had left for work as she does most mornings, and I got up to go to the bathroom. Out of nowhere, my stomach muscles locked up and I looked down to see blood draining out of me like oil during a change. Within seconds, I was on the floor of my bathroom convulsing, feverish and bleeding, unable to move and barely able to speak. “Please don’t let it end like this” I pleaded with God as I screamed and cried in pain. Since I used to work in the medical field, I somehow remembered that ambulances take longer than family in a small town like mine. I was able to get a hold of my dad. “I’m on my way” he said. I thought it may be too late — there was a lot of blood. I started writing my last will and testament on my phone.

Thankfully, he arrived and drove me to the hospital, running every red light in between. I finished the goodbye letter to my wife as they tried to get an IV in me to keep me from convulsing uncontrollably. They cranked up the morphine and my body stopped shaking. They discussed doing a transfusion due to the amount of blood I’d lost and I had to be admitted. I was hooked up to and IV with two kinds of steroids, morphine, iron, antibiotics, and antiinflamatories. They gave me hydrocodone and other steroids orally, and I was put on an all liquid diet.

I was down for the count!

My wife slept on the hard bench next to me for days, terrified that surgery would happen at any minute. She was so worried about me that she hardly left the room. The staff came in hourly (even through the night) to draw blood for tests, switch out IV’s and ask us hundreds of questions about our lack of insurance due to my “poor” career choices.

My strength started coming back and I was able to have visitors. Friends came by with gifts and business partners checked in daily. Anyone brave enough to ask could barely stomach the details of my recent experience. “We’ll handle the company, you just get better”, my partners insisted.

It’s nice to know who cares.

After four days, I was still in rough shape, but I was allowed to go home. Even with the insane amounts of meds they put me on, at least I didn’t have to stay in that bed another minute. When I got home, my realtor came over to have me sign an offer we got on our house. What a great day!

My team told me to stay at home for another couple of weeks so that I can be who they need me to be when I get back. I took their advice and I’m currently on the mend. I’m stir crazy and in more pain than I‘ve ever been in, but I’m alive.

Happy ending — this time.

I’m going to level with you: Entrepreneurs are assholes, they listen to everyone and no one. You’re told “you keep what you kill” but that’s only if it doesn’t kill you first. Most entrepreneurs are lying to themselves and others to sugar coat the hellish realities they go through every single day of their lives. I’ve had enough of these Instagram wantrepreneurs playing up the perks and it has to stop now.

Entrepreneurship has a dark side.

You have a network? Great! Will they pay your bills if you run out of money? For how long? I heard an anecdote recently that applies here: “ Before sex, you help each other get naked, after sex you only dress yourself. Moral of the story: in life no one helps you once you’re fucked.”

When you make the choice to become an entrepreneur, you’re making the choice to live the hardest life you can possibly choose for yourself, and everyone in it. You’re making the choice to venture in to uncertainty, with no back up plan, no real support system, and no one to count on but you.

If you’re one of the .01% who maybe has what it takes to survive this lifestyle, I salute you. We are beyond rare, and I know that together we‘ll change the world, but hear me on this:

Your company is not worth your life!

Your company is not worth your family’s life!

It’s not worth your health, your happiness, or many other things you’ll sacrifice to get that little bitty edge. Stop working 16 hour days and missing all of life’s most important moments for deadlines and milestones. You’re not that good, you’ll never get everything done, and you’re not invincible — believe me. Take control of your life back.

The day after I got out of the hospital, my car was repossessed.

My optimism is still unwavering.

Even having businesses fail, investors lie, partners leave, employees quit, watching my car get repossessed, my health decline, and my credit score plunge before me doesn’t deter me from chasing my dream.

I’m an entrepreneur and it might kill me.

You should be one too — if you can handle it.

Erik Hayton