Dear SaaStr: Is Burnout Especially Intense in Failed Entrepreneurs?
I see burn-out much more commonly in “fairly successful” entrepreneurs — not failed ones. And usually starting around Year 3. Building in Year 4. And then it hits >hard< in Year 5.
First, it’s hard(er) to fail slowly. It definitely happens all the time, but true failure more often happens quickly. You never get out of WeWork. The angel money is gone, and you have no customers. Etc. etc. This usually happens in the first year, or the second.
Great founders that fail fairly quickly seem to bounce back. With a lot of scar tissue sometimes, yes. But with less true burnout. They tend to be ready to do the next one. Like. Now.
The Slow Success is different. There, I find it’s around Year 4 that true burnout sets in. And boils over in Year 5:
- Year 1: excitement. near death every day, but excitement. no true fatigue.
- Year 2: (if you make it): paranoia, terror. you don’t have enough revenue / customers / users to really succeed. but you did get to Year 2.
- Year 3: the slugfest starts. you won’t fail. you got to Year 3. but man … it’s gonna take a loooong time to get to $10m ARR. Or $5m. Or wherever. It took you 3 years to figure this out. Burnout just begins now.
- Year 4: slugfest, part II. Burnout sets in.
- Year 5: slugfest, part III. Now you’re really burnt 3 years into the slugfest.
So what you see, which is often a shame, is founders leaving successful companies in Year 5. Often. All the time.
Make sure this doesn’t happen.
The key is just one thing, really. Recruiting a strong enough management team (often two teams) to carry a lot of the load.
It’s the lack of enough help that really burns us out.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)