Feeling utterly consumed by your new startup? Or maybe you can’t seem to step away from it, spending weekends working and missing family events…
It can be easy to neglect your own mental health and get caught up in the rush of kicking off your startup, but it’s important you’re continuously investing in yourself as well as your startup!
Just having someone to share your queries and workload can make your journey that much better – so you remember the excitement that comes with your own startup, not just the stresses.
So how do you look after yourself whilst ensuring you’re doing all that you can for your new business?
We spoke to startup founders about their top tips for dealing with the emotional rollercoaster.
Anthony Caruana, CEO and co-founder, Media-Wize
There’s a temptation as a founder to pour all my energy and time into Media-Wize. But experience has taught me that the best way to avoid an emotional rollercoaster is balance. At the start of each week I plan each day’s work and include what I’ll be eating at main meals, exercise, family time and household chores.
Work is important and I invest a lot of time and effort into it, but I am more than my startup. And that means I need to ensure I maintain a balance, or I’ll burn out.
Like many founders, my home office is a key workspace. But it has an important feature that helps me avoid messing up my balance. It’s called a door. On weekends, the door is closed. At dinner time each day – the door is closed. That includes tools like Slack, email and phone calls. Not everything that seems urgent is actually important.
Michael Melhem, co-founder, Fix it Faster
Every start-up journey is an emotional rollercoaster. We often hear stories about “unicorn” start-ups which breeze to success, but for the majority of start-ups it’s all handwork, direction changes, blood sweat, tears and years on the road to success.
Hire the right people; build the right culture. Talent is not everything. Working at a start-up is like working in a submarine, make sure you enjoy the company.
Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decisions, fail forward, but make sure you have a process to measure and adjust the course of your company. Pick your battles. Don’t expend energy on trivial issues. Focus on the big picture and making critical decisions.
Constantly seek constructive negative feedback from trustworthy people, you want to learn what isn’t working, not just about what is.
Remember things aren’t as good as they seem, and never as bad as they seem. Enjoy the journey.
Kent Kwan, co-founder and CEO, Elevate Super
Being a startup founder is intense at the best of times and can be all consuming on many occasions. Here are some practical tips to help with the emotional rollercoaster:
- The one thing to do that helps most if not all founders is to share your roadblocks and feelings safely and more regularly with your co-founder, trusted friend or partner. Don’t bottle it up until it explodes. Others care about you, but you have to let them know what’s going on.
- Do something for an uninterrupted 45 minutes every day unrelated to work. It can be as simple as exercising, time with family or reading a novel.
- Find a routine that provides perspective. Every night I make sure to look up at the night sky. It reminds me of how we are all just a minuscule part of a huge mysterious universe, for me it provides perspective.
- Drink less, sleep more, cry if you feel like it, laugh more.
Justin Babet, Co-Founder, Chief Nutrition
The emotional rollercoaster of business is usually a fear of failure. As Seth Godin says, you need to learn to “dance with the fear” because, trust me when I say, the fear never goes away! How do you dance with fear? Firstly, don’t try to stop being afraid. Acknowledge your fear, accept your fear and keep going anyway. Secondly, do what the Stoics do and imagine the worst case scenario. Tim Ferriss recommends drawing three columns on a piece of paper. In the first, put all of the possible worst case outcomes you can think of. In the second, write all of the ways you can prevent the worst case from happening. In the third, write down all of the ways you could get back to the place you’re at today if the worst case happened anyway.
Adala Bolto, Founder, Zadi Training
– Be prepared that there will be ups and downs that’s why they call it the rollercoaster.
– Manage your expectations and remember no one will or should work as hard as you to deliver your desired outcomes – because you are the founder.
– Identify each ‘crisis’ for what it is – I’ve learned that in business no one event is really a terminal ‘crisis’, it’s just another problem to solve, which includes reaching out my trusted experts and advisors for help.
– When faced with a challenge, try to stop and reflect so you can realise that from this challenge there will come growth both personal and for the business.
– Remember businesses, including yours, move at a fast pace – this comes an avalanche of activities, change and challenges. The best way to manage this is through realistic expectations and patience.
– Whilst being the founder of a start-up appears to be cool – the reality is the opposite. Outside of social media posts about the ‘Hustle and Grind’ are, real sacrifices, turning up to perform on your worst days, hearing the word ‘No’ and dealing with armchair critics daily.
– Take one bite of the huge elephant at a time, chew slowly and repeat. In no time you would have eaten the whole elephant.
– Look after your people by making sure they are appreciated and involved and they will in return make the rollercoaster feel less lonely and scary.
– Sometimes taking time out and finding balance is difficult and near impossible, but don’t give up trying.
– I can’t mean this last piece of advice enough, remember every day to look back at how far you have come and not staying focused on how far you have to go.
Alan Manly, founder, Group Colleges Australia
There is a small thrill when almost everyone is saying how it was obvious that if anyone could get a start-up going, it would be you. Those few months between the announcement to friends and family and the actual start-up are to be remembered with fondness. It is all downhill from there until you take control. The feelings that rush through the mind of an entrepreneur in start-up stage are akin to grief itself.
The famed five stages being: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are all waiting for you in the dark hours of the morning. Avoid the slow and painful process of dwelling on the stages of grief. Take an emotional leap to freedom and accept that you are alone. You will have plenty of compliments and friends when you are successful.
Dave Scheine, Managing Director APAC, Vend
Whether you want to be the next tech disruptor or the newest ‘go-to’ high street retail destination, the challenges and therefore, the emotions, that come with starting and scaling a business transcend almost every industry. Finding loyal customers, securing a regular stream of income or making your brand a success can all provoke emotions for business owners, but dealing with them needn’t be daunting.
One of the biggest stresses particularly here in Australia is the fear of making mistakes, but some of the most important lessons you’ll learn are from mistakes. By maintaining your passion for what you do, and never losing sight of what you want to achieve and why you can nullify the negative emotions. Being a founder can be extremely lonely. I strongly suggest you leverage your greater network whether that be friends, family and/or industry peers as a source of guidance and support, you can turn everything into an opportunity to learn and grow. You’d be surprised how open the startup community is to newcomers. Don’t forget that there are positive emotions, too, so take the time to enjoy them and celebrate even the smallest of wins – they’re often the reason you started in the first place!
Will Santow, Executive Chairman & Co-founder, Longtail UX
One of the most valuable things you can do as an entrepreneur is to surround yourself with a network of successful people and other entrepreneurs. Look for people who you respect and who can offer different skill-sets, strengths and perspectives, and who are willing to play the devil’s advocate when you need one…which is often!
Mistakes are just part of the journey. Put them in perspective, make changes quickly when you need to and remember that mistakes are just important learning points. And don’t forget too, that managing your stress and staying alert to what the market tells you — good and bad — will be critical to you maintaining your motivation, your positivity, and ultimately, to surviving the journey.
Regularly remind yourself of why you started your venture and continually evaluate your business mission and vision. Try not to lose track of your work/life balance and the reason you’re pushing so hard for success. Spending time with family and friends is key. I’m fortunate to have an amazingly talented and supportive wife and four great kids (plus a dog and two cats). And they’re a huge part of why I get the opportunity to do what I do…and they’re a great motivator too!”
Anthony Welsh, Director, Popcar
Choosing to launch a start-up is no mean feat. With the rise of sharing economy in recent years, I saw the opportunity to meet the changing needs of modern Australians by launching our carsharing service Popcar in 2016.
In the beginning, I was so excited by the vision that I underestimated the many moving parts and steps of building a business and soon came to realise there’s no easy way but to put in the hustle.
One advice I have for start-ups and small business owners is to remind yourself daily of what drove you in the first place and utilise that as a motivation to grow your business. For me, the central factor that gets me through the ‘blues’ is knowing the positive benefits of car sharing and what we can do as a business to provide value to consumers and solve some of their challenges whilst also contributing to climate action through reduced emissions.
Mike Ford, Managing Director and Founder, SiteMinder
You could say that the success of startups is dependent on their business plan, but the reality is they are dependent on the founder in every respect, from the strategy to the go-to-market, product, operations, marketing and finances, to customer support.
As high achievers, many founders fall into the trap of feeling that they need to be engaged with the business every second of everyday. The things that enrich their lives eventually fall by the wayside, in pursuit of success. Don’t let this happen. Spend time with friends and family, and, importantly, time looking after yourself. Whether it’s exercise or time out, make sure you take the time to relieve stress. As a founder, oftentimes your perception is that every new day is the most important. Yet, having gone through that myself, I am still in my business 14 years later and I can assure you there is more opportunity and pace than ever before and some days it still feels like a startup! Only looking back do I appreciate that the business would have still been OK if I had taken time to focus on my wellbeing.
In the early stages, the business is only as good as the founder, so look after your emotional and physical wellbeing always, because it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Vu Tran, Co-Founder, GO1.com
As founders we often live off pure adrenaline and emotion – the passion to succeed. It’s very easy to neglect our own mental wellbeing, not wanting to let colleagues, investors and customers down.
Many founders tend to focus more on their physical health. You can be physically fit and have a great business, but if you’re not in the right headspace, you won’t make the right decisions for the future of your business.
Managing emotions in high-pressure situations can be the difference between success and failure in many cases. This also applies to the entire team. Being aware of the emotional wellbeing of staff and supporting them is critical for getting the best performance, as well as retaining great people. Good mental wellbeing must be a fundamental component of an organisation’s culture for them to perform optimally.
Angus Dorney, co-CEO of Kablamo
Build culture right away. Most early-stage companies focus too much on the product or the service and not enough on team and company values. If you have a company that is also a community, it will guide and support you through the tough times and flow through to your customers and your business development. You’ll still lose hair and have some sleepless nights, but you’ll have a long-term, value-driven identity that will carry you through and inspire.
Omar Sabré, Co-Founder & Creative Director, MAISON de SABRÉ
One of the first things I learned when entering the world of entrepreneurship is that, while incredibly exciting, it can also pose significant challenges that aren’t for the faint hearted. To deal with the emotional rollercoaster, it’s important to first have a clear vision for your business in place. While advice from fellow small business owners can be invaluable, having a distinct vision for your company means you’re less likely to be influenced by the anecdotal opinions of others, and more focused on factual tools for success.
With your vision in place, it’s a good idea to learn how best to manage your stress. During periods of high pressure and sleepless nights, learning how to manage your stress with coping mechanisms as simple as daily walks or cooking healthy meals will help you keep a clear mind, away from clouded judgement. The fear of failure is something many small business owners will have experienced at least once throughout their business journey. That self-doubt has a tendency to creep in, so it’s important to trust that your product fulfills a real market need rather than responding to fickle trends.