I hate the belief that in order to be successful, you have to completely sacrifice yourself to your company.
There. I said it.
This is about treating entrepreneurship like you are a professional athlete, and putting yourself in the best position to provide the most value for your startup.
Late last week, a friend of mine, who has founded a pretty successful startup, whose growth is accelerating, and has really big potential (Im still waiting for my advisor shares…) called me. (Unfortunately, it wasnt about giving me advisor shares. Dammit.)
“Im killing myself.”
“Why? You have so much to live for.”
“No dumbass, Ive been busting my ass non-stop.”
(And, now you know why I have no advisor shares. Apparently, I suck at the advising part.)
“Oh. Well that sucks.”
“Yeah, dude. In the past week, my to-do list has grown to a massive length.”
“Start focusing on you.”
“Thats, what I said. You matter more than your company. Focus on you and you will drive more success.”
In the fall of last year, Graphicly was in fundraising mode. We still didnt know quite what we wanted to be when we grew up, some of our early efforts werent as successful as I would have liked, and we had completely re-hauled the team. We had gone from 22 people down to 7, and had completely shut down our UK office, which included a founder deciding to not move to the US, and stepping back from day to day operation. In many ways, we had stretched ourselves too thin, and didnt have the right team to move forward (hence the reduction in staff).
To make matters worse, I was barely sleeping (1 – 2 hrs a night), had ballooned to 363 pounds, and could barely focus on anything. It all came to a head on a call with a board member, Blair, where I, at the end of my rope, discussed if I was the right person to lead the company forward. “I understand that companies fail,” I said to Blair. “I just dont want to be the reason this one fails.”
After talking me off the ledge, I walked back into my office and slumped in my chair.
“If I could change one thing, what would it be?” I mumbled to myself.
“Me.” If I was the problem, then I needed to correct me.
I would focus on me. I would focus on my health. I would change how I managed the business, who we hired, what we focused on. I would stop sacrificing myself.
Mostly, I would treat running a startup like I did when I coached and played lacrosse. I would make sure that I was in the best shape mentally and physically to provide the most value.
I got a sleep study. Turned out that I have severe sleep apnea (A normal person has an ‘obstruction’ 5 times a night. Me? 91.) and I got a CPAP machine to help me sleep (I now sleep 6-7 hours a night. Its amazing how important sleep is to being effective.). I started watching what I ate (and am now down 30 lbs). I took a look at the company and determined what we needed to do, and who we needed to do it.
In addition, to focusing on myself, we made a couple of changes to the company.
1) We are 100% focused on production. People know what they have to produce, and that the company has a short memory. Be awesome always, or be gone. Amazingly, it removes stress, and attracts the right kind of people. Now, there is no question as to what people need to accomplish. And having clarity around your job is comforting. And things like where you work, how long you work and how you work no longer matter. It’s the ends that matter, not the means.
2) We changed our vacation policy: “Take what time you need, but if you arent missed, then thats a problem.” Do people abuse this? I dont think so.
3) Once a month we recognize someone who went above and beyond their job (usually means they crushed their goals) with a $100 gift certificate to whatever they want.
Clarity. Respect. Recognition. It matters.
Over the next couple of months, we completely rebuilt the engineering and product teams, refocused our efforts on what our customers really want, and raised just over $3 million. Now our growth is accelerating, deals are closing, the product is coming along in a wonderful way, our team is happy, our investors are happy, our community is happy. And most importantly, I am now providing real value to the company.
And, it all came from the realization that entrepreneurs need to take time for themselves. They have to put themselves first.
Do I have a work/life balance? In the standard sense, no. I dont leave the office at 7pm and go for a hike. But, every Saturday, I give myself 12 hours to do what I want to do. I go see a movie. I sleep in. Sometimes, I read. And, occasionally, I will catch up with email.
As entrepreneurs we have this weird expectation that we should completely sacrifice ourselves for our companies, and every employee should match that sacrifice. And, as investors, we perpetrate that myth, causing our founders to focus on the wrong things, and potentially create untenable situations. (If the myth that people invest in teams, shouldnt that investment–the founders–be protected and nurtured, rather than worked to the bone?)
Take care of yourselves, founders. You will find that your companies do exceeding better, and you are happier doing it.
Enjoy your Memorial Day!!
- 5 Ways to Inspire (learntoduck.com)
- 10 tips for a better work-life balance (simplybusiness.co.uk)
- Work/Life Balance at a Startup — Just a Pipedream? (jeanhsu.com)
- Taking a Break (magosapien.wordpress.com)
- Do More Faster…TechStars Philosophies on Startups (rackspace.com)
- Does Your Startup Need to be Massive? (howardlindzon.com)