Photo Credit: Gilles Lambert

Your Start-up Will Fail If You Don’t Set Boundaries.


I took in a staggering amount of email on Christmas day this year. It would have been an anomaly on a working day, let alone on a widely recognised holiday. My inbox filled up on Boxing Day and New Year’s too. I didn't rush to reply to any of those messages, but I genuinely felt dismayed.

A lot of the messages were from start-up founders, writers and artists that I keep in touch with quite regularly. But they weren't holiday greetings, they were work focused.

It’s getting rare these days to find people who believe in boundaries, who can set those boundaries out clearly, and then stick to them. The productivity obsession that tech, start-up & business people are getting caught up in is slowly eroding a sense of separation between work and home. It’s a trap that’s easy to fall into — surely, the more you work, and the busier you are, the more chance your start-up will have of becoming a billion dollar company. Right?

Fucking wrong.

I hate to be blunt, but your start-up won’t accomplish jack-shit if you’re too wiped out, drained and wasted to be its long term driver. When you fail to draw a line between the time that you’re going to spend on building a business and the time that you’re going to spend investing in the people around you, your private enjoyment of a hobby or just a glass of Merlot and a Netflix binge, you become a doormat. You lose the consideration of others. You’ll pay for that. And so will your business.

When you can’t set boundaries, you fail to demonstrate control.

When you fail to demonstrate control, you show that you aren't the one running the show. The show is running you. Your investors don’t want to see that. They don’t want to see someone who isn't able to exercise clear management and project separation. And they don’t want to support someone who is a walking collapse a few years down the track.

Control is the power to say yes or no. If you can’t exercise that power to create a divide between your work and your personal life, there’s no chance that you’ll be able to exercise that power when you need to make a tough call for the future of your business.

Photo Credit Gilles Lambert

When you can’t set boundaries, your support network falters.

Getting anything done in life is 50% sheer willpower, and 50% support. If you ask a successful person how they got to where they are, you can guarantee that there was a wide range of people rooting for them all the way. Awards acceptance speeches are mostly horse-shit, but the endless thank you messages are genuine.

If you aren't able to show your support network of friends, family and mentors that they matter enough for you to spend your time on them, you’ll weaken their dedication to you. Put it this way. Try spending Christmas doing “Productivity Hacks” and see how long it takes for your partner’s day to be ruined. And he’ll let you know when that’s happened, trust me.

When you can’t set boundaries, you fall asleep dreaming about making Big Macs.

Let me give you some context. When I was working at a struggling Macca’s (McDonalds, for the non-Australian audience) one of the managers burned out completely and almost collapsed at work. He was a guy who cared a lot about his work, whether it was the degree he was studying or the day job in fast-food. His work ethic was awesome, and I’ve never forgotten it. But he took his work home with him constantly. He never let up, never stopped going over numbers, rosters, targets & goals.

He told me he’d go to sleep every night and dream about still being at work. He’d spend every night in his sleep making Big Macs, shifting rosters, tallying totals. When he turned up to work the next day, it felt like he’d been there all night.

If you do that with your start-up, you’re going to end up collapsing in the breakout room, crying from exhaustion, with no chance of meeting a single goal. It’s not going to be pretty.

So what do you do? You pick where your line is going to be. And you don’t compromise. For example, my partner is the COO for a growing Legal start-up. The two of us have working lives that are always in danger of encroaching on our home life. At least one night every week, my partner and I sit down to dinner across the table from each other at home. We take turns cooking that dinner, and no phones are allowed. It’s one time where we draw a line.

Every Sunday, we switch our phones off and go for a walk, a jog or a hike. Every Friday night, we go out for dinner. We stick to these because it prioritises our time together, away from work.

If you can do that, you’ll be okay. If you can’t, if you email me next Christmas, your start-up is going to fail. It needs a foreman. An architect. And when you don’t set clear boundaries, you’re a wrecking ball.

Thanks for reading — I’m Jon Westenberg. I’m an entrepreneur, writer and avid learner. I advise start-ups and investors on how to build profitable companies and operate with a small business start-up mentality. You can read more about me on my website…

…Follow me on Twitter…

…Or just reach out and say hi!

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