TL;DR As a founder, your natural inclination is to be singularly focused on your startup. While this is great for as long as possible, balancing your life can help you achieve even greater success.
Back in the Day
I’ve been fortunate enough to have taken a short vacation this week with my wife and family. For a long time, vacation was a completely foreign concept to me. When you’re driven to succeed and haunted by the specter of time, it feels impossible to let go.
When I first started out as an entrepreneur, I had no idea what I was doing (I’d argue that it may not be that different today). We rented our first office on 14th Street and used up almost all of the money we had on our deposit and first month’s rent. It was awesome.
Those times were really something. Eventually we did run out of money and we all lived in the office – switching between a variety of stations, be it the mini conference room, the back corner, and often right there in our chairs. It was sheer stubbornness that me put us there – we wanted to do it on our own.
It took me 4 years of sleeping in corners and showering at the gym before I actually got an apartment again – it’s hard getting a lease when you have no steady income (different post). I didn’t quite know what to do with myself once I had an apartment – sometimes I would just work too late and revert to my old habit.
Focus Your Efforts
Back then, the problem was that I was running two businesses. During the day, I would consult for a variety of companies in order to fund my own ideas and team. After my 10 hours with a client, I would shuttle back to my hard-working team and we would toil away through the night.
This, in my opinion, is a bad habit to form.
You see, startups are like fire. They need oxygen to fuel them. You can’t build a roaring fire by blowing a little air over it once a day. You can’t succeed when every day you return to find someone’s stomped out your camp while you were sleeping.
The fear of falling behind, of missing out is so tremendous. You sleep with one eye open all the time. No matter what else you are doing, you will find it harder and harder to turn the other part off – until you stop caring about either one.
Letting Go Is Hard
Fast forward to today. I’ve succeeded in getting to where I only run one business (well, close enough). I’ve again got a great team and we are working to succeed. But the beast is still there.
My vacation has been wonderful. Much to the dismay of my wife, though, it was probably more like a conference or business trip. Every day was bookended with team chats, fires to put out, and thoughts that needed communicating.
My startup is my child. That might sound ridiculous from the outside, but it is true. As any parent can attest, you never drop your little one off without worrying about how it’s doing. You learn over time that you don’t have to be manic all the time and your check-ins grow ever more intermittent – but you never stop.
Some day it will grow to the age when it can fend for itself. Until then, I’m still the reluctant dad unwilling to let go of the handlebars.
My advice for anyone reading this is to try and get as singularly focused as quickly as possible so you can learn and react better than anyone else. Learning early on how to leverage all of your assets (expertise, network, team) will help you stay ahead of the work curve. Eventually, you’ll want to stay just as focused but evolve from the always-on model to the most-productive model which will free you to grow in new ways on all fronts.