Originally posted on the Wall Street Journal, Wayne Sutton: 3 Factors to Keep Emotionally Balanced As a Founder
Startup life is fun, it’s cool, it can be fulfilling, and impactful. Who doesn’t want to build the next WhatsApp or Instagram and have millions of people across the world using their product. Startup life has always been branded as hard and exciting. Founders follow the cult-like traditions of all-nighters to launch their product or practice their pitch to raise venture capital. Almost every part of a founder’s journey can be an emotional roller coaster. Part of the ride can be a small turn or a slow steady climb to an immediate drop or a complete 360 degree loop. The emotional ride from finding a technical co-founder, trying to get press, connecting with an investor, or pitch meeting after pitch meeting…you get the picture.
Throughout my journey of raising capital, building a team, managing personal relationships and at one point failing at each at the same time, three key factors have played a role in overcoming the emotional challenges. The gym, professional mentors and remembering the “why” kept me balanced.
The gym became my sanctuary, a place where I could go and block out everything in the world and focus on one thing…me. The gym allowed me to manage my physical health and emotional health as a way to release stress, manage depression and anxiety. With time being a major factor for many founders, going to the gym may seem like a huge loss in getting work done. Being a “night owl” I would workout late five out of seven days. My suggestion for founders is at least 30 minutes of working out at least four times a week. Always consult with your doctor before working out. If a gym may be too much for you, I suggest starting with an early morning one-mile walk/run or try the 7min workout.
See what other startup mentors have to say about their personal highs and lows.
As I look at the startup culture, if we’re honest, there’s a lot of drinking, smoking and other unhealthy behavior that leads to emotional outburst or breakdowns. These are signs of when a founder may not be emotionally stable to handle the startup life. Depending on the stage of the founder, they may already have a good workout routine, have great mentors, along with a strong reason why they started the company, but they still need to balance their emotions. We’re seeing more founders practice meditation as a way to stay emotionally healthy.
When mentoring founders, I now listen for stress signals in the categories of sleep, fitness, communication and productivity. I’m also having more conversations about empathy, culture and personal happiness. By having conversations on these topics, it allows the founders to open up about how they are really doing. I won’t settle for “killing it” when we all know a founder is one tweet away from an emotional breakdown.
Mentors are an entrepreneur’s trainer. They provide wisdom, previous experience all while knowing the founder has to make his or her own decisions and do the work. My mentors provided me council to overcome some of the challenges I faced along with tips to succeed in life. Finding mentors can be challenging for the first-time founder. If you don’t have any mentors I suggest to start attending meetups, networking events and connect with individuals who may have domain experience in your industry. Also you should connect with potential mentors on blogs, social media and through personal emails.
There is no magic pill that founders can take while on their journey through successes or failures. The emotional highs and lows of startup life for a founder are the equivalent of being a boxer. A founder must train like a fighter, knowing the risk of being knocked out cold and losing it all. The founder must hold on to the “why” and use the why to drive them during the tough times.
During the lowest of the low times, founders must remember the “why”: Why are they sacrificing their time away from family and friends? Why are they spending hours and hours working to build a product that people may not even use? Why take the risk? Whatever the “why” is during this time of rock bottom, founders must keep the “why” near to their mind, heart and soul to keep moving forward.
As for me, my “why” is to empower entrepreneurs to change the world using technology. I love seeing innovation happen. I love working with founders going from idea to launch. I love building communities and products. I’m also passionate about working toward a non-biased, inclusive technology ecosystem. Those “whys”, along with my son, keep me going.