How to manage the personal impact of running a startup
When we think about startup failure, the first thing that comes to mind is the financial impact — investors losing their money, which is terrible. But we sometimes forget the human impact — on founders and on the teams they lead.
I’ve experienced this personally. I know and have spoken with many other founders who face a tremendous amount of stress and pressure. They have put their personal reputations on the line with investors and with their teams. They must deal with the fear of failure, the risk of public embarrassment, negative articles in the press, even hostile investors showing up at their homes. I’ve known founders who are massively depressed, even suicidal.
But it’s not only founders. Many people are affected. When startups fail, people lose their jobs. They must go home and tell their partner that the startup they were working for has gone under and they need to find a new job. Startup failure has an enormous human impact. Reducing it not only decreases financial loss but ensures we will have founders and teams with innovative ideas who are willing to come back for a second try. We want to keep that talent in the startup ecosystem.
Long experience has taught me that an incredible amount of stress is placed on founders. If you’re not physically and mentally ready for it, it can have a horrible personal impact. Insomnia, depression, anger, lashing out at others — if you’re not ready for the pressure, the process of founding and operating a startup is going to suck.
As a founder, you are normally focused on your product, your business model, your team, the competition — everything but yourself. With 270 other things on your to-do list, reviewing your own strengths and weaknesses is usually the last thing on your mind.
Here are three things that fit founders do that help them survive the marathon that is building a startup;
Authentically connect with purpose
The most successful founders I know passionately believe in the problem they are solving. They are scratching an itch. They are pushing against the status quo. And this ultimately translates into them feeling that they have purpose.
What has a connection to purpose got to do with being a fit founder?
If you feel that you are working on something you are passionate about – something of value – then it is going to be far easier when things get tough. You will be less likely to chuck it all in, and more inclined to persevere.
Value capacity over capability
Most founders put themselves last. They prioritise their customers, their teams and their products.
All of this is important.
However, if you are to thrive in the startup environment then you need the physical, mental and emotional capacity to go the distance. This means eating well. Sleeping well. Taking the time to meditate and exercise. You can then draw on this capacity in times of stress. This builds resilience.
Question your biases, beliefs, and bullshit
If you want to learn a lot about yourself – your fears, your insecurities, your strengths and your weaknesses – then found a startup. The final key in becoming a fit founder is radical self enquiry. Looking within and questioning why you do the things you do. Knowing yourself so you can more effective and happy – building better relationships with your co-founders, your investors, your team and your customers.
It will also mean that you won’t fall into the trap that a lot of founder fall into – confirmation bias – when you only hear and see the things you want to see. The things that prove you right.
Jamie Pride is a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist on a mission to help build better founders and a better venture capital ecosystem to support them. He is the Managing Partner of Phi Digital Ventures, and the cofounder of The Founder Circle, a not for profit focused on improving founder mental health and wellness. His new book, Unicorn Tears: Why Startups Fail & How To Avoid it (Wiley) is now available.