I am sure many people have talked about the toll it takes on a person when they are under constant stress. I know I have read many books, but I have never found one that encapsulates the impact on a person both professionally and personally.
When you start anything; a company or a project, you automatically have a target on your back. Not a real target, but one that is there for the world to look at what you are doing and question it. For a first time entrepreneur, it has to be the easiest time in the lifecycle because you just don’t know what to expect. That is the benefit of youth, everything is new.
When I started my first company, I was in the midst of embarking on getting married and starting a family. There was so much going on, I don’t think I realized how much stress was around me, how much stress was on me. I cannot imagine anyone doing what I did at that time. I had no net, no savings, I just signed on to helping my recently rich inlaws save their house by buying it and letting them live with us and my new wife wanted babies asap. I still am amazed I did all of that for one person.
As the next company and the next company after that came to be, it was starting to dawn on me that there are so many things in the lifecycle of a business that were the same. I learned to mitigate stress and surprises before they occurred, but there are some things you just cannot plan for. This list is not in an order of importance, it is simply a list.
Number One — The people you bring on the journey with you.
In each of my company’s there was always that one person who was so difficult to deal with, it drove me mad. You know the type; they are always creating something out of nothing, but they also performed better than anyone. That is the weird part. The people that perform the best in the early days are usually the hardest to manage. It can cause great stress in your life as a founder and great stress in the lives of the team. How do you mitigate it? The only way I have found to mitigate the impact of the drama this person creates is to do two things:
- Make sure they have as much to do as possible. These people are driven and they likely cannot understand why others are not doing as much. Give them things to do.
- DO NOT lie to them. Be honest with them about learning to control how they talk to people. They need to hear it, but not in a negative way. If it’s a developer or a sales guy (almost always a sales guy), they need to understand that their words have power because they are producing. Be mindful to make sure they understand they are listened to because they may never understand that. People tend to take notice of those that produce results.
Number Two — Your significant other
This is a biggie. No way your partner/spouse/love interest knows what you are dealing with daily and how it impacts you as a founder. You could be stressed, upset, do things out of character, etc, but make sure your spouse understands what is happening.
The worst part of my adult life had been trying to make my ex-spouse understand what happened daily in creating a company where what you are selling is a vision. She came from a wealthy family that lost it all selling cars. Simple business; you buy a car from the manufacturer, show it to people, they buy it and you make money. Software or e-commerce businesses are vaporware until a lot of people are using it. I still don’t think she understands that, but hey, that is someone else’s problem now.
It is hard to live a day then explain the same day over again at night. It is really hard and if you are driven, you will likely not take the time to do so. I have, after all these years, learned to sit and talk to the person I am with and explain in a drama-less manner, what I deal with daily and I encourage her to do the same. If you are sharing your life with someone, they have to know what you are dealing with. Trust me, if you take the time to enlighten them, it will pay off. Now, if they just don’t give a shit and never ask questions, nothing you do will help that. The other things is, are they the right fit for you anyway.
Number Three — Lack of planning for surprises
Every company I have started had a period where we were so surprised by what was happening, it literally knocked us down. Billaway is the latest company to be hit with more surprises than even I expected, but we did one thing to make sure no matter what happens, we would not be killed by them. We set the company up so it could ebb and flow.
Here is what I mean; when you bring on a team and try to scale a business before you know everything about the business you are trying to scale, you will likely hit speed bumps. We spent almost four years learning every detail about what we were trying to do. Given our sales cycles are about three years on average, we were not hurt by it. If you are in an industry where taking that amount of time will kill you, don’t do it. We had to. We are changing the way consumers pay for mobile service and health care. Changing those industries is not easy.
We also put a lot of time into learning the aspects of our business we needed to. Were we producing a business or a product? Most people start company’s and create a product instead of a business and they discover this way too late. I cannot tell you how many founders I come across where they think they are creating a company, but what they are creating is simply a product. They are way different.
Number Four — Lack of funding
This one is really hard to deal with. When you are getting low on funding, your entire array of pressure comes to the front. People need to get paid. They have families. They have put their trust in you and your vision and you better not let them down. You better make sure they are not working their asses off than at the dinner table, getting shit from their spouse about not getting paid. You, my friend, will be the ONLY one dealing with that pressure from every angle and if you are blessed to have a spouse who does not contribute, it is all on you. Be prepared for it.
Vendors need to get paid. Lawyers and accountants need to get paid and so on. Funding is really important and while I am of the belief that lack of funding will never kill a startup if you are creative and smart, it will massively impact you as a leader. I recall in past company’s where we were basically one payroll away from being completely broke. The stress that caused and the physical and mental toll was astronomical. Prepare to run out of money at some point and make sure your company can deal with it.
Number Five — You
That’s right, YOU are the biggest cause of stress there is. You are clearly driven and want to accomplish something no one else has. You are changing the world. That drive will manifest itself in so many ways. It will create doubt in you, it will create uncertainty in you and it will absorb you. It may make you do things that you otherwise never would. It will make people around you ask what spaceship took you and changed you into who you are. It will impact your every move and every decision. You have to control “you”.
What I have learned is that stress and strain as a founder have to be dealt with as it happens. It cannot be bottled up and pushed out at times when it is easy to do so. You need to understand you are under stress and as Elon Musk is told so many times, “get some sleep”.
I never sleep. I used to sleep better, but now I never sleep. I am constantly thinking and that is a blessing and a curse.
Understand this; no one in your life can possibly understand all you are dealing with as a founder. No one will ever get all of your issues. Your team may understand the business stress and your significant other may understand the personal stress, but no one will ever fully understand it all. It is just the way it is. Embrace it. Realize that you are now “something”. It will not be someday when you become “something”, it is today. You are dealing with it all. Let it out and let it out now. You are controlling it and it is not controlling you. That is the only way to kill stress within.
When you allow stress to enter your body, it is a wrecking ball. I have not mastered it yet, but I know I am on the way. Keep realizing that you are the one who drives your vision and that means you are the one that has to deal with what that vision brings.
Embrace all of the above and try to do the best you can because when it is all said and done, no one will remember the people that did nothing. They will remember those that broke the norm and fought through the stress to do something that made something better. Epic people do shit when no one thinks they can. Epic people are simply everyday humans that refuse to give in and quit.
BE SOMETHING TODAY and never let anyone tell you that you are not.