We were getting dozens of emails daily from reporters wanting to interview us, tens of thousands of people were visiting our site every hour, and VCs were emailing us asking to set up meetings.
It was early 2012, and we had just launched our startup. We were on top of the world.
The startup life is quite glamorized these days. Recent movies retelling the early days of Apple, Facebook and even becoming an intern at Google have screened in theaters around the country.
Yet anyone who’s ever built a startup knows they’re hardly as glamorous as these movies would make you believe. Building a business takes a lot of hard work, sweat and tears. And the worst part is, the odds are stacked against your venture from the very beginning. While the startup failure rate in the U.S. is reported at somewhere between 75 and 90 percent, there's one thing we can safely assume: Most startups will fail.
The unexpected nature of startups means that one minute you might have zero customers, and the next day you can’t keep up with orders. One minute you’re stressed because you don’t have any growth, and the next minute you’re stressed because you have too much growth. You become manic, elated about the successes but constantly worried at the same time.
I went through something very similar when one of my startups hit "the big time.” It gathered national press (from Time, Newsweek, Fox News, etc.) and generated jaw-dropping traffic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t prepared for this crush of attention, and my health, family and friends all suffered.
The Story of a Startup
A few years ago, my business partner, Brian, and I sent a few emails to friends about a website we’d just created. It only took a few days before mainstream media was knocking down our door trying to get the scoop on our new venture. While most startups crawl and scratch for any amount of publicity, we were practically turning it away. We also had more people signing up for our site every hour than we knew what to do with. We had zero clue that the site would gather so much interest.
Over time, the unexpected burst of attention started to take its toll. I became twitchy, constantly checking stats and trying to keep up with email. One of my main roles was support, and because our site was mostly built in a day, some things were broken and not working correctly. Brian had the unsavory job of keeping our servers up and running despite the heavy site traffic, as well as worrying about the site's security and infrastructure.
On top of all that, online pundits were either singing our praises or tearing us down left and right. On our lunch breaks from our regular jobs (this wasn’t our full-time job), we were often doing interviews with newspapers, online publications, and local TV and radio. Almost every bit of free time we had was dedicated to this startup.
And almost overnight, I had become addicted to the success of our startup. It consumed me—I couldn’t wake up without thinking about it, and I couldn’t ignore it.
Our startup had become my personal drug of choice.
Putting It All in Perspective
On the personal side of things, our 15 minutes of fame was taking a serious toll on me. I was edgy and reactive, trying to ignore nasty tweets while at the same time not letting my head become inflated with the comments of people who loved our site.
The experience had started to wear on my family as well. I was spending too much time worrying about the site and ignoring my wife and daughter. My friends took a back seat to my business activities, and my health started becoming less important to me. Instead of being a mostly proactive person, I was living moment by moment, worrying about the next email or tweet or article.
The thing is, most entrepreneurs deal with this issue at some point in the life of their business: We lose proper perspective about the importance of our company. We give our businesses way more priority than we should, while the truly important things (family, friends, health) fall further down the list.
What helped me the most was to sit down and take a high-level look at our project and actually try and figure out what was more important to me than these things:
- My wife and daughters
- My friends
- My extended family
- My long-term health
- My happiness
Would I be willing to trade any of these things for our business? Not a chance. Now I run through this nifty checklist whenever I feel like my priorities are getting out of whack.
Here are some other things I’ve utilized to gain more perspective about work and life and balancing everything in between. These are more immediate fixes meant to bring you back to reality quickly.
1. Disconnect. Turn off the computer, phone, TV, whatever. If it’s got a screen, give it a break for a while. What’s the worst that could happen? Interestingly, I’ve found that these times away can be some of the most productive times for thinking through problems with work.
2. Take a nature break. Research supports the notion that being outside has tons of benefits on your mood and overall mental health. I personally use a walk (or two) around the block for a quick break.
3. Exercise. Physical exercise is critical to my long-term health and it gives me a break from computers and other mental tasks I do.
4. Hang with family and friends. Spend time with people who don’t do what you do. Or spend time with colleagues in a different context than work.
5. Pay attention to what you can control, and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, you only have a limited amount of time and attention. Focus that attention on what you can control, and don’t worry about the negative tweets, emails or press.
These days, my life is more sane, and I’m more selective about what I chose to worry about and pay attention to—I've learned to better balance my business and my life.
And that's a tricky thing to do—to figure out how you can successfully balance your work and your life—because your business is really your baby. But there's life outside of work, and at the end of the day, a startup is really just a job. Sure, it’s an incredible job, but it's a job nonetheless.
Read more articles on startups.
Photos: Thinkstock, Sony