Startup founder burnout is real.
Most founders ignore it. Even less talk about it. The results are disastrous – because no startup can outlive its founder’s burnout. It is like cutting off the head of a snake.
Acknowledge your burnout! Once you’ve done this, you can get back on the road to recovery.
Last month, I sat in on a webinar with two other founders to discuss this topic. Many who have watched the webinar have written back asking me to elaborate on how to win against burnout.
In this article, I will illustrate three concepts:
- Reframe Time (which is not about time management)
- Join a “Failure Gym” (which is not about going to a gym)
- Feed Your “Social Flywheel” (which is not about socializing)
“Entrepreneurs have a difficult relationship with time”
~ Beerud Sheth, Founder of Elance and Gupshup
Beerud Sheth is absolutely right. Sheth founded Elance in 1999 (now Upwork). Just the previous month, Upwork filed for an IPO, 20 years after the company was founded. Today, it is a unicorn.
Is this overnight success? Certainly not.
Is overnight success overrated in the Valley? Yes.
The key takeaway from Sheth’s journey is that, as a founder, you need to be in for the long haul. Success rarely comes overnight.
Setting unrealistically short timelines is a recipe for stress and anxiety – not productivity. This pressure pushes you to work harder for lesser results, and almost invariably leads to a burnout.
You need Time to be your friend. Set timelines and estimates that are realistic and achievable. For example, If you’re aiming at a 3-month window for getting your next round of investments – you’re setting yourself up for a world of headache.
Join a Failure Gym
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford.
You already know this – failure teaches you far more than success ever could. It forces you to introspect, learn, and finally – create value out of it.
That is why I equate failure with going to a gym. Failures are similar to your aching muscles after the first day of workout – the sheer soreness almost makes you give up. But you keep pushing yourself and a few months down the line – you stop worrying about the pain, and come out of it with a healthier state of body and mind.
It’s the same way with failure. Getting things right gives validation, but keeps you snugly in your comfort zone. Keeping in mind the pace at which things are changing – being comfortable is being asleep.
Success never comes through safe ideas. The ability to take risks – that’s the greatest superpower a founder can have!
Learn from your mistakes. Join a failure gym.
Feed Your Social Flywheel
Making money or becoming a unicorn is never the goal for a startup, it’s just a result of doing what you set out to do.
There has to be a purpose bigger than yourself – one through which your startup can make change something in the world (hopefully, for the better). Whatsapp’s goal was that of connecting people – the $19 billion purchase back in 2014 was simply the result (and the subsequent fallout can serve as a good example of what happens when goals don’t align).
If you’re just aiming at increasing your bottom line, you’re priming yourself for a long trough of sorrow, followed closely by a burnout.
For example, myStartUpCFO’s work culture is built around allowing women to work from home, at flexible hours, and without sacrificing their careers for work-life balance, or bringing up their kids the way they want to. I often tell my clients, “Be prepared for barking dogs and crying children in the background.” Today 72% of myStartUpCFO’s employees are women working from home. This stat fills me with more pride than any of the big deals that my company closes.
This is where the concept of the flywheel comes in. I derive immense satisfaction from how my company empowers women (and how they empower us!). In turn, they feel proud of working for a financial services company that gives them the flexibility to do so. The flywheel keeps receiving positive energy from all around, and spins like crazy!
This is the ‘bigger purpose’ that keeps me running, even when (or rather, especially when) business is slow. The motivation and energy that I draw from this purpose keeps me from burning out.
These three pointers have consistently worked for us, as well as the dozens of founders I meet each week. Are there other techniques that have worked for you to win against burnout? Would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I run myStartUpCFO, a finance and accounting services company that provides on-demand CFO services.