Startup life: it has a dark side too
And some tools to cope with it
So you are all excited, you got this big idea that will change the world.
You start talking about it, refining, finding people that share it, maybe someone who is as excited as you are and wants to help you start it up.
You prepare your fantastic business plan that shows how cool your idea is, how it will really change the world and especially how are you going to make money out of it.
With one hand you present this plan to investors all around the world and with the other hand you are busy building a minimum viable product, finding customers and preparing a nice marketing splash.
After days of sleepless nights and dozens and dozens of meetings you get your first seed round. GREAT!
You think the tough part is over and now it’s all going to go just fine and dandy. That is just the beginning…
Money is just the beginning, now you have to run the company
Now you have to run a company. Common knowledge is that the average failure rate within the first 5 years is anything between 75% to 90% (depending on the study you refer to). Meaning that 3 out of 4 (or sometimes 9 out of 10) companies exactly like yours won’t exist in about 5 years from now. Not kidding: that is the emotional roller-coaster you just jumped on. A roller-coaster that has very high chances of crashing.
During that time you will have to fight with the other founders, with banks, with investors, with real estate agencies, with creditors, with employees, with customers, (if you are so lucky to have any) and everyone else in between.
When you search around the internet you find mostly stories of successful entrepreneurs that made gazillions of dollars with their grand great idea, relentless execution, plenty of money and a pinch of luck (which is always needed).
And of course you can’t help thinking that this is the best thing in the world, entrepreneurship is fantastic and you gotta do it. Everyone has to!
Startup world has a dark side, your life will change too
But startup world has a dark side, a dark side made by that 75%-90% of companies that won’t make it. And it’s part of the game, though very few talk about it. Definitely it’s better to fail fast and learn from it than struggle forever trying to do something that does not fly (though succeeding is even better :) ). The process still crashes some and coming back from that place requires a lot of strength.
Together with the excitement of having received finally your seed round and the mythological state of being a founder you have to factor in that your life will change, your body will age three times faster than before, your mind will be pushed to the limits, you will lose friends, sometime family, you will have to make tough decisions and yet eventually all of that will fail. Ready for the ride?
During the 4+ years I have run my startup I have been mildly depressed few times (especially at the beginning of the journey) and I started therapy (which I never needed before in my life), my weight touched heights of 94Kg+ and finally I had my wake up call when flying back from U.S. to Europe I had a blood clot in my lungs (that luckily didn’t travel anywhere).
Since that day I started meditating, gave more attention to my diet (thanks to my over-caring wife), started exercising more and more and obviously kept working on my mind on top of my body.
The amount of s*it we went through was so much that had I known it before I am not exactly sure I would have done it. I would have liked someone to tell me in advance what I was going to experience. Maybe I would have still done it but I would have done it with conscience. Or maybe I wouldn’t have done and I would have lost a tremendous opportunity.
I had moments of pure joy and I am super proud of what we achieved. The amount of things I had the privilege to learn was simply mind boggling and starting a company was probably one of the best professional and human experiences I have ever had.
Still I had to pay a toll.
And to whomever I talk to that has done similar things I hear the same stories, regardless of the success or failure of the company. Stories of sleep deprivation, food deprivation, emotional deprivation, anger, joy, mental breakups and whatnot.
You are not alone
TL;DR My point here is not to scare you away. I want to tell you, fellow entrepreneurs or wannabe ones that you are not alone in your suffering.
I hope knowing that someone else also went through the same pain will make you feel a little better.
In retrospect you will look at that pain, at those experiences, at those learning, at the people you met and (if you still have a place to sleep at) you will know that it was all worth it.
Tools to cope
Whether you have started already or you are planning to, you will need tools to work with your new situation.
The books that where the most important to me in this journey were:
- Difficult conversations — for dealing with people
- Tribal leadership — for understanding your company
- Search inside yourself — for understanding yourself
The most important tips I feel you should know:
- SLEEP enough (7-8hrs a night for me)
- EAT HEALTHY (you will need your body)
- EXERCISE (boosts your mental skills and helps your body)
- MEDITATE at least 10 minutes a day (it will relax you and boost your mind, let you sleep better and increase your control of your mind)
- MEET PEOPLE (social life is needed)
- HAVE SOME FUN (yeah you need this as well)
- Don’t abuse caffeine or alcohol
I hope this will make you laugh and think (and hopefully in this order).
Helsinki, 17th of June 2016