I hope you just had an incredible month and quarter. Hit 125%+ of the plan.
That’s what we’re all about. But there will be a lot of tougher months and quarters if you want to go long. And if you literally left nothing on the table, were here until midnight — that’s great. Sometimes. But I think we all know as founders we need to find a way to take care of ourselves if we go long.
Exercise for me helped a lot. I remember when times were toughest, the very toughest at EchoSign / Adobe Sign, I felt so broken I literally couldn’t even walk up the 20 or so steps to my loft office. I had to buy “old people’s shoes” to walk. I picked myself up though, and in about 6 months, I was running 40 miles a week, every week.
Diet helps, too. Binge eating, excessive snacking, and all that can get you through a release. But at least for me, when I ate the best, I had the most clarity.
Family is super important. I know when I felt like my family was a place to decompress, I was much healthier. Family is hard, too. But the joys of home should, ideally, help balance out some of the stresses of work. And perhaps vice-versa.
Beyond those 3, which I think we all know and do somewhere between a good and terrible job of maintaining, is managing Hyper-Stress.
Fight or Flight is part-and-parcel of building most start-ups. Until you are truly profitable, and have a proven team, the clock is always running. The clock that counts down when you fail. We’ve talked about knowing and sharing your Zero Cash Date on SaaStr. And it looms over you. And that’s good in the early days. It forces you to move faster, to prioritize, to hire better, to close better, and to be incredibly lucid.
But if you are in this mode forever, eventually, something almost close to PTSD — not war trauma of course, not close — but some lesser variant of it — can catch up with you. Not in 6 or 12 or even 18 months, but often, just as it finally gets good. Somewhere around year 4-5. And perhaps, even faster if it’s your second or third start-up.
And if you let it get to that point, around Year 3-4-5-6, you won’t be able to truly go long. You’ll start to become too risk-averse. You’ll become intolerant of doing things that trigger flashbacks to bad mistakes. You’ll watch the others pass you by, as they take those risks, do the crazy things, hire the extra VP, raise the extra round while … you can’t bring yourself to take that additional risk, take on that extra drama, one more time.
What’s the advice here? It’s “simple”, just as eat better, get more exercise, and treat your family well are “simple”. But maybe a checklist will help anyway:
- First, get better co-founders. If you haven’t started yet, take the Founder Commitment Test here. Make sure they are as committed as you are. If they quit or leave early, that is a huge stressor. When I had a truly great co-founder, as committed as I was, I was not just unstoppable … but I was comforted.
- Second, force yourself to spend more time recruiting. Most importantly, and counter-intuitively — recruit for what you are personally good at. If your superpower as CEO is marketing, then force yourself to hire a VP of Marketing ASAP. Force yourself to find and take 30 interviews. Why? Giving up what you are good at already to a VP is easier. You know what to look for. And even more importantly, you are wasting time doing anything someone else can do just as well as you, or even close. If you already know how to do it — you can help someone else do it just as well. More here.
- Third, allow room for some “fat” in the system. Hyper-efficiency is part of getting a start-up off the ground. But it is too grinding over time. You need 2 of everything, of every hire, of every role. Because if you don’t, and 1 leaves … the stress is just too high, and hard. And while you want every VP to be just an A++, the real truth is as you build out your management team, it may be OK if half your VPs are A++s, and just as committed to the journey as you are, and the rest are … role players. Yes, we want every VP to be an A+. But 50% A+ and 50% A- on your management team still takes a lot of stress and drama off your plate. It’s enough.
- Fourth, raise 25% more capital — but do NOT spend it. A buffer always reduces stress. And lets you hire that extra person, without worrying quite so much about their salary. And extra 25% lets you make every accretive hire. Everyone ends up needing 25% more capital than they’d planned. So raise it, and take the dilution. But then, don’t use it. Don’t count it as part of your Zero Cash Date. Maybe even put it in a separate bank account. And this way, you can make every hire that is accretive. More on that here.
- Fifth, find a way to stop doing so many things yourself. This is really a summary of the prior 4 points. But the #1 cause of founder debilitating stress in my experience is continuing to take on too much yourself, for too long. Take 30% off your plate by the end of the year. Somehow, someway.
- Finally, find a great mentor. Even just 1. They will not only help you scale faster and easier. But having one great person to give you that advice you need, will help you come to tough decisions faster. With less stress, headaches and drama. And maybe, avoid one almost-PTSD-causing epic bad decision.
Protect your physical health. Keep in better shape. Eat better. Be happier at home.
And protect your mental health. So you can go long. So the sometimes almost PTSD-esque like stress doesn’t stop you from reaching your goals and dreams … just when it gets good.