Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.
By David Aronchick
You really have no idea what you are in for when you found a startup. You may think you have some idea of the mountains you will have to scale, and the business challenges but you can never really prepare for the mental component. Until you are living in the foxhole, it is impossible to tell exactly how it will affect you as a person, no matter how well you prepare for the daily personal tax you will face. Fortunately, in the past two weeks, there have been some great pieces that will give you a little insight into the size of the bite you are about to bite off.
The first comes from Ben Horowitz (of LoudCloud and Andressen, Horowitz) in a fantastic post for TechCrunch, “What’s The Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology“. The summary is that no matter the organization size or level of success, paying attention to your own mental health is just as important as any daily dashboard. Every CEO who cares about their job will tell you how many countless times things should have been going great, yet still feeling like she was a complete failure. It is completely paradoxical, but anyone who has done it will tell you how true this is. Before you get going doing ANYTHING startup related, I highly recommend reading this.
In some global convergence, a second fantastic thread came out this week as well, this time on Quora, “How often does the typical startup founder get nervous or depressed?” Rarely has there been such a collection of real self-analysis and outpouring of the real nitty gritty of running a startup. The summary is straight-forward; it can be a phenomenal ride, but expect to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, no matter how well your business is chugging along. If you are looking to do a startup, I cannot recommend enough going over and reading every single word.
Do we get depressed? Hell yeah. Do you have blistering highs and soul crushing lows? On a weekly basis. The essence of the startup is looking into the fear abyss and diving in anyway. I talked about this a little bit before – the mind of the successful entrepreneur is the relentless optimism to think it will not happen to her. However, that will only take her so far.
“There are two types of fear. There is the type that makes us work harder. That drives us. We dig deeper. It’s the kind that makes my heart come up in my throat and makes me, at the cost of my own sanity, look for answers. Because damn me to hell, I can’t let up on this one. That’s good fear. The bad fear is the kind makes us stop working. It paralyzes us. It makes us stay in bed all day and hide. Bad fear doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means you shouldn’t be working here.”
The underlying assumption here, which is a great one, is that if this is the path you chose, being without fear is not an option. The only power you do have is to turn that fear into a positive motivator, to frame it in a way that helps you do your job.
The second comes from the show Out of Order, which aired about ten years ago, and I have to paraphrase because the script is nowhere to be found.
“My grandparents were married for 70 years, and the secret to our long marriage was that we never fell out of love at the same time.”
Despite your being the CEO, you cannot do it alone. Choose your cofounders and executive-wisely, they will help you modulate the insanity, and step up when you are at your lowest. You must partner with people who are as passionate as you about your company; their passion will help you regain yours.
Being in a startup is not just a rollercoaster; rollercoasters have inspectors and safety bars and rails that you travel on. Being in a startup is more like being duct taped to the top of a blind wildebeest crossing your fingers that it is going to end up where you need to be. Your tenacity and determination are critical to success, but so is keeping your wits about you. Because only by gaining some perspective and regaining your clear head will you be as effective a leader as you need to be to guide your company and achieve your goals.