Success (at all costs)

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In May 1937, Time Magazine published an article about college abuse of Amphetamine to study —

Image Source: Time Magazine

The article stated that the “Pep-Pill” (as they used to call it) was used to enhance the performance of young college students.

This “performance enhancing” attitude still rules us, as modern societies are driven by the same need of:

  • Being highly productive,
  • Getting excellent results, and
  • Getting the job done.

This “getting the job done” mentality leaves no space for weakness.

It seems that we (people) need to do everything it takes to achieve our goals.

Because we have to be perfect in every aspect of our lives.

However, most of the times, success comes with a price.

The question is:

Are we ready to pay it?

The Way to “Success”

In one of Mad Men’s most classic scenes, fictional character Don Draper is tempted to use a performance-enhancing drug —

A drug that will help him improve his performance boost his energy and help him focus on things that matter…

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I am not going to reinvent the wheel saying that running a startup business is one of the most challenging things to do.

Trying to outbid competition, build a product that customers love, satisfy your investors, discover and hire top talent are some of the things that you need to do as a startup founder.

And, that’s not all, because especially when it comes to getting your early adopters (your first customers), you have to:

  • Handle the objections,
  • Accept rejection AND
  • Get people to say “yes.”

Some people could say that this is a “crazy” position, and they would be right.

Today’s business world doesn’t forgive mistakes and wants people to constantly over-deliver.

It wants you to be an “energizer bunny” that keeps working no matter what.

Especially if you are a founder and CEO for a startup business.

However, this enormous amount of pressure becomes unbearable for some people.

Yes, many people can handle it, can live with it, but too many can’t stand the pressure.

Startup businesses are trying to stay alive within an extremely competitive environment.

But, that’s what a startup does, right?

As Eric Ries put it, a startup is:

“A human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Within this environment of extreme uncertainty, people have to overcome their human nature and become superhuman.

And, startup founders have to be able to:

  • Work overtime,
  • Deliver high-quality work, and
  • Exceed expectations at all times.

A study published last June by Harvard professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria discovered that CEOs work an average of 62.5 hours per week.

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The study tracked the working schedule of 27 CEOs of companies with an average annual revenue of $13.1 billion.

I know what you are thinking: that $13.1 billion doesn’t sound like a startup business.

And, you are right.

That doesn’t mean that a startup founder doesn’t have to work overtime, just because they don’t run a billion dollar company.

I would say that many times, startup founders exceed that limit, in their effort to keep up with everything and survive.

As you probably know, within the startup and tech world, almost everyone is aligned with the “move fast and break things” mentality —

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We have to ask ourselves though:

How fast should we move and how many things are we willing to break?

Because, in this brutal race for absolute dominance, people seem to forget one simple thing:

That we need to maintain our human nature and always give time to ourselves and to the people who are important to us.

Otherwise, what’s the point of hustling, working long hours, and exceeding our human nature at every level?

“Success” Side Effects

You see, most people believe that being a startup founder is easy.

That, it is a lifestyle position surrounded by a big salary, flexible schedule, business travels, and interviews.

If only that was true.

Did you know that:

  • Founders have a <10% chance of earning more money through their startup, compared to taking a senior position at an established company?
  • And, that, only 1/167 startups reach $10M in revenue?
  • Or, maybe that, 3/4 VC-backed startups fail?

If that sounds easy to accept —

Then, I guess, being a startup founder is easy.

But, most of the times, it’s not.

Startup founders play against all the odds and either win or lose.

This is the life of a startup founder.

Now, if you are into marketing for a while, then your probably know Rand Fishkin.

He is the founder and Ex-CEO of MOZ, one of the world’s most successful digital marketing companies.

These words that come from one of the episodes of Mostly Human with Laurie Segall, and reflect the culture within many companies and the startup community in general.

“I think that as a CEO, you are asked by your investors, by your employees, by your friends and family to have this undefeatable nature, that you are at the top of the world — the reality, of course, is completely different.”

So, as I hope it is evident when it comes to startups, there are no areas that allow for people to have downtime.

Now, especially when you run an early-stage, you have to:

  • Manage and support your employees,
  • Report to your angel or VC,
  • Find and recruit talents,
  • Communicate with vendors,
  • Attend events and conferences,
  • Monitor and outbid competition,
  • Ensure that everything is under control.
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That’s many responsibilities.

The startup world is a high-performance place where failure is not an option.

According to a 2015 study by Michael A. Freeman, M.D. among entrepreneurs:

72% of entrepreneurs reported mental health concerns.

In addition, 49% of the entrepreneurs surveyed reported having at least one mental health conditions.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that entrepreneurship = mental health condition.

However, according to the same research, entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to have depression than members of the general population.

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Which means that living our lives in the speed of light, can indeed have side effects.

Let me be clear about something:

I am not saying that this applies to every startup founder.

I am just saying that the pressure along with the many responsibilities and the thought of failure may affect your physical and mental status.

Enough with the data and the dark side of success.

Let me give you some practical solutions so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by what you have to deal with daily.

Some Practical Thoughts About “Success”

Let me get this straight:

Starting a startup business may be difficult, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life.

So, don’t let the burden of “success” get you down.

And, let me be clear about something else:

I am not a lifestyle expert nor a marketing guru.

So, all I am going to give you is tips that help my clients feel better throughout their entrepreneurial journey.

A couple of months ago, I had a discussion with one of these clients — an ambitious founder of a tech startup.

At some point, he told me:

“There are moments when I feel that the world is going to end tomorrow, but then, tomorrow comes, and everything is (still) in their place.”


Running a startup business can be mentally and physically exhausting, but nothing is going to end because of a failure or because the numbers don’t come up as they should.

Here are some things I advise all my clients to do, to get through their low points:

1) Set limits

My first advice is to set limits.

And, the first limit that you have to set is on the number of hours you are working.

I know what you are thinking:

“How can I set limits when my team, my co-founders or investors expect all these things from me.“

You are right; and, you are wrong at the same time.

What if I told you that according to a 2017 research by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang:

  • Darwin was working four hours a day,
  • Ernest Hemingway worked six hours a day,
  • Stephen King suggests that four to six hours a day is “strenuous,” and
  • Australian novelist Peter Carey sticks to three hours.
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Working more doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be more productive.

Nor that you are going to achieve more things.

What you need to do is:

  1. Set a limit to your working hours AND
  2. Allocate your time more effectively.

Which brings me to my second point:

2) Allocate your time more effectively

Time allocation is significant.

I’ll be honest with you; I used to be very bad at time management.

Only this way, I was wasting valuable time doing invaluable things.

Or, I was doing the right things at the wrong time.

Either way, setting a schedule will drastically improve your performance and will surely make you feel better.

Here is the framework I use, as it is described in Dan Pink’s book, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing:

Peak → Analytic
Through → Administrative 
Recovery → Insight

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According to this framework, dividing your day into three categories and performing tasks based on the time of the day, will help you become more productive and efficient.

You can get an overview of Dan’s research by watching this presentation on YouTube.

What I need you to keep is this:

Allocating your time will help you perform the right task, at the right time and get the most out of your time within the day.

Let’s quickly go to №3.

3) Don’t let anyone pick your brain

Being a startup founder means that you should leave your job and get on calls, meetings, and perform tasks just because other people asked you to.

Or, maybe because they need your help.

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Have no doubt about it: being a startup founder means that you have constant disruptions.

But, this will prevent you from performing tasks that are essential for the survival of your business.

Because as a founder and CEO, the tasks you are performing will determine the success of your company.

Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t help others when they need you nor that you shouldn’t be present for your team.

I am saying that (once again) you have to set limits.

And, you have to allow people to reach you only when you are available.

4) Get social and talk with other founders

This one is critical.

Staying inside your office all day to create a perfect product will not get you where you want.

Moreover, not having a clear sense of where the market is right now, what are the latest trends or tools you could use, and what are the channels you could leverage to drive growth are things that you won’t learn staying inside.

So, my advice here is this: socialize and meet with other founders and CEOs.

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This will be much more beneficial than staying inside and reading 100x articles on subject y. Here is what you can do:

  • Attend local meetups,
  • Organize workshops at your premises,
  • Get active in groups and connect with like-minded people,
  • Schedule casual gatherings with your employees and vendors.

One of my clients used to spend one hour every Friday to watch a documentary or short clip related to the tech industry.

Then, the whole team would discuss this topic and exchange ideas that could benefit the business.

In general, try to get out of the office as often as possible, and try to get and give value off-line.

5) Embrace failure

I know that you as a founder and CEO you can’t accept failure. You are probably scared of it.

But, the fear of failure may be the cause of some of “success side effects.”

As Tony Robbins put it:

Stress is the achiever’s word for fear.

So, embrace failure and accept it as the only way to find success.

6) Exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle

I’ll keep this one short.

Make sure to exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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It will help you a big deal, especially if you are wearing many hats in your work.

Last Thoughts

I know that running a startup business is not easy.

I know that working in a startup business is not easy either.

It gets easier when you understand that you have to create your own story.

You have to do things in a way that makes YOU feel comfortable.

And, thus, can help you become more productive.

Not by working harder, but by working smarter.

I hope that this story will help you understand that the journey to success doesn’t always have to be difficult.

And, that (many times) the images and the role models that we may have formed may not be ideal.

Because every person’s limits are different.

The first step to success is to find yours.

Thanks for reading.

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