By Shefaly Yogendra
In the very first column in this series, I wrote about the loneliness of entrepreneurship. Add to that the stresses of building and running a fledgling business, with the worries of making cash last, making sales, making payroll, and just making it to the end of the month sometimes, and we have the makings of a psychological nightmare for founders. In the recent years, there has been more than one founder suicide, a sad outcome which is often preventable.
Nobody, no failed or successful founder, can tell you how it is supposed to be. A venture isn't about rational factors alone. As founders we give so much to it that we can lose the plot. If however getting out of bed gets harder, it is time for a rethink. Here are some pointers.
Recognise the signs.
There are signs when we aren't coping. Others can sometimes see them before we acknowledge them. These signs include (but are not limited to): poor sleep patterns; inability to concentrate or get anything done; messed-up appetite or eating patterns; loss of energy and focus; creeping substance abuse in the form of increasing use of caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, pot etc. in the name of needing a kick, relaxation, help to fall asleep, stress relief.
Ignoring these is not wise. Inadequate or poor sleep affects our judgment including moral judgment. Poor nutrition affects energy levels but can also contribute to stress. The impact of substance abuse on judgment, motor skills and on general wellbeing is widely known too.
Ignoring any of these is unhelpful to your ability to be a good founder.
Take stock and distinguish busyness from strategic progress.
When I see stressed founders — and I include my former self in those — I ask if they stop and take stock. It is a simple step but powerful in its impact on focusing one’s efforts.
Do you feel purposeful in your pursuit, or are you just cranking the handle? Can you distinguish busyness from strategic progress?
Being permanently busy hampers our ability to engage in deep and creative thinking.
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”
Welsh poet William Henry Davies’s ode to Leisure might be anathema to most founders, as they flinch when I ask what they do in their free time. “I have no free time.” “But you have the same 24 hours as everyone else.” “Um…”.
Every once in a while, the question gets heard. And then they stop.
You schedule meetings, don't you? How about scheduling a form of downtime as you would an important meeting? This is after all just an appointment, one you keep with yourself.
What should your leisure look like? Anything you want it to look like, as long as it utterly distracts you from work, recharges you and energises you. Some find solace in nature walks and hikes, others in books. Yet others cook or find time to help social and charitable causes. A few engage in extreme sports. Find what works for you and commit time to it, weekly if not daily.
Talk to people not related to your work or Startuplandia.
And do that regularly. One of the key essentials as a founder, focused on one’s narrow goals, is to keep perspective. That requires looking above the parapet and being open to being challenged.
The story of the well-known “innovator” Square comes to mind. The idea was to let small merchants accept cards using a square dongle. It worked well in the USA. But Europe and the UK were far more advanced in their card security features. The dongle had no capability to accept chip-and-pin enabled cards. The famous founder did not dig in his heels, but worked to understand the limitations of their offering and explored other avenues.
People not invested in your space may detract but many a time, they also have views which may make you think.
Build a wellness and self care routine.
It wont be much fun, would it, if your company is celebrating milestones and you are sitting under your desk rendered immobile by your anxiety, or worse, in hospital with stress related illness.
Wellness is not a hipster idea. Wellness - physical, mental, psychological, spiritual - enables us to follow our dreams, giving our best to all we do. And if we don't give the best to our startups, really, why are we bothering?
Shefaly Yogendra, PhD is a decision-making specialist, and advises founders and CEOs on technology, risk, branding and talent. She can be found on Twitter @Shefaly