A few months back (and a few wines deep) I was at a dinner party talking to two founders–husband and wife–who had each built big companies across a range of industries. They were reflecting on how hard startups can be on the family. I was just drunk enough to think I had something to brag about, so I mentioned how easy I was finding it to manage my work/life balance. He laughed and said:
Well, yeah. That’s because you’re still failing.
Look, it’s easy to stop working for the night when the business isn’t going anywhere. But try going home when it means you’ll be dropping the ball on a ten million dollar deal. Startups don’t take over your life until they start really succeeding.
As if fate was determined to further chastise me, I’ve had some mighty stressful months since then, even with a tiny team and only marginal success. But instead of bumming me out, his comments made me want to double-down on figuring out how to relax. And not just personally, but as an organisation (I’ve known some founders who lighten their load by punishing everyone else in the company, and that’s not what I wanted).
After all, if we can expect life to get worse as business gets better, then it’s even more critical to lay the right foundations, processes, and boundaries while the business is still small and we have that luxury.
You can see the same logical fallacy on a smaller scale whenever a team is fund-raising or closing their first major client. They’ll say something like:
Things are crazy now and we’re killing ourselves, but once we close this deal, we can all finally relax.
But they never can. As soon as the deal closes, life gets even crazier. In fact, this has got to be one of the greatest lies in the startup world. If you’re frantic now, having more money and momentum only multiplies the chaos.
I may be very wrong about the conclusion I’m about to draw; I haven’t seen the lifecycle of enough companies to know with confidence. But I do have the strong suspicion that being at the end of your rope in the early days is a warning sign rather than a virtue. Wearing out the founders and the team is a sort of “process debt” (like technical debt). It can give you a boost in the short term, but it needs to be dealt before you grow too big or the whole machine grinds to a halt.
Should you risk 3 years of your career on a startup? Next Post:
Stress and daily writing