Exactly one year ago today, StackSocial was born unto the interwebs. This week, we had a little celebration from our four-story beachside loft on Venice Beach. As I look back, I find myself reflecting on what has been a very emotional rollercoaster….many ups, some downs and a lot of excitement.
I also find myself wondering what I could have done different…should have done different…and how to distill those experiences into a learning lesson for the future. There are many, but the one I want to focus on applies to not only both current and future founders, but also to anyone leading a team of people: finding emotional balance.
Sounds pretty straightforward, but the real challenge is that your entire existence as a founder is unbalanced. A funny story - the first week we joined the Amplify accelerator program, Jason Nazar (founder and ceo of docstoc) gave a talk in which he described how our lives were about to change. He said that in general there are 5 fundamental aspects to everyone’s life:
- Family - parents, siblings, wife, kids…
- Friends - best friends, college buddies, locals…
- Health - working out, sports, staying in shape…
- Work - your startup.
- Personal - hobbies, tv, reading, vacations, fun…
The average person balances their time across these 5 fundamentals in some reasonable fashion. BUT…as a startup founder, you only get to pick TWO.
That is IT. You get a) your startup and b)……. X. Period.
A funny thing happened. I sat there in that chair actually feeling sorry for Jason - thinking it’s sad that he believes that he can only do two of the five. He must be one of those overzealous founders that can’t figure out how to live a balanced life and be successful.
Well, let me tell you, one year later, he was more right than I ever could have imagined. Being a founder means making sacrifices that you a) don’t want to make (i.e. - not taking vacations, not going out with friends as much, etc) and b) thought you would never have to make (i.e - your mental and emotional balance). If I knew all that it took to do this job, there are many times where I doubt I would have gone ahead.
I don’t tell you this to scare you off or have a pity-party for founders, but just to let you know that it’s a bumpy ride emotionally, mentally, and physically. When all your eggs are in one basket and that basket is constantly going up and down up and down…it’s damn stressful. So, what to do about it?
After a year or so, I’ve started to realize there are a couple things you can do to have some semblance of emotional balance in your life from a work perspective:
#1 - Focus on the long-term.
You’re going to have some bad days, bad weeks, and probably a few bad months. And, remember, you are the one that determines what “bad” means. Most of us would be happy to hit 500 Million users in 3 years, but maybe to Zuck for Facebook - that wasn’t fast enough and he missed his goal. Take a step back, realize how far you’ve come, and realign your expectations for the long-term. Don’t let short-term bumps throw you off course.
#2 - Celebrate the small wins.
Dove-tailing off #1, it doesn’t sound hard until you really think about what it means to “win” in the startup game. Your goals are seemingly ever-evolving and increasing as you grow. A great example was just the other morning when I woke up:
I checked our month-to-date revenue and it was 100.4% to goal. Instead of sending out a congratulatory email to the team…I looked at it and thought to myself: “Huh….we underestimated revenue”. So, I bumped up our goal by 20% with 2 days left in the month!
That’s kind of like crossing the finishline of a marathon ahead of your time and telling yourself you were too fast, so you need to run an extra 4 miles instead of celebrating a victory!
No one is going to be pushing harder that you to make your company a success, but you have to pat yourself and your team on the back every once in awhile. Otherwise - what’s the point?
#3 - Trust in Your Team
As a founder, no one wants to succeed more than you do, but that doesn’t mean you have to bear the entire burden. That’s why you hire people smarter and more experienced than you. Communicate the goals, share the weight, trust in your team to help you hit the milestones you set out to accomplish.
#4 - Seek out Advice
You probably formed an advisory board. You may have some investors. UTILIZE THEM! And, don’t be afraid to go to them with bad news — in fact, that’s when you need them the most. They are there to help you overcome the obstacles and bring back emotional balance to your life. :)
You started this because it was a lifelong dream and it was actually insanely fun! Don’t lose that spirit as you grow. Expectations grow, pressure grows, but no matter what win, lose, or draw- don’t stop having fun.
Celebrate the small wins.