If you are really serious about building a company, you have to be willing to starve for it. The old saying, “Get rich or die trying!” is no joke. You must have that mentality if you want to take your company to a successful exit. Sometimes, even that is not enough. Most people who know me understand that I have been in the game for a long time. I am no one special, but I have learned a thing or two while in the trenches helping build a successful startup. There is nothing glamorous about it. It takes a lot of hours, hard work and dedication. All of this comes at a cost.
The Elite Pro Mindset
Please do not let this go to your head, but you have to think of yourself as an elite pro athlete. The mental and physical toughness required to compete at the top level is the same mindset you need to approach your startup. Think of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan or a cage fighter’s mentality. You have to want to win and be the best. Dominating your competition should be your goal. You also have to remember you have a long career. This means you need to know how to take care of yourself. It all starts with eating and sleeping right and putting in the work to be the best. Cutting corners on any of this will lead to injuries or failure.
Lost in Startup
I see so many entrepreneurs lost in their startup. They forget about their life outside it. The pressure for results and stress of building a new business is tough. They think taking a moment of focus away from their business will somehow limit their future success. This type of “target focused” mentality is good, but you need to remind yourself and your teams to balance. You can still work hard, but allow yourself to decompress. I understand all of this, because I went through it and felt all of these same emotions.
For the record, I hate the word balance. It seems like the typical buzz word you hear in an article like this. Real balance comes when you can live a normal life and still put 110% into your startup. I share meals with my wife and even do the dishes these days. I feed my four legged daughter and make sure I walk her everyday. I keep in touch with family and friends regularly. I even force myself to travel more and find myself more productive when I do. I had to learn all of this the hard way. If I had to do it over again, I wish someone would have given me these tips. I probably would not have listened though, just as I expect most of you wont.
Startup Warfare Tips
Writing this list shows me how much I have learned, but even I am not perfect at following my own advice. All you can do is try your best and keep your ship pointed in the right direction. Get addicted to the feeling of being proactive and getting shit done versus feeling guilty for procrastinating. Your overall performance in any business will be optimized if you incorporate some of the following ideas.
Get your sleep! There is no magic formula to getting your sleep. You know what is right for you. If you are having trouble sleeping, startup stress will do that to you. Trying to work through it by working more is not a solution. You will crash and burn. Sleep is your friend. Take this seriously.
Feed your body well. This is open to so much interpretation and personal tastes. The key is don’t eat like shit. Think of yourself as a professional athlete. Pop Tarts, hot pockets, Red Bull and gummy bears are not a meal plan for success. The old saying is true. You are what you eat. If you fuel your body and brain with crap, you will perform like crap.
Drink water! If you do not love water, learn to love water. Existing on coffee, soft drinks and chocolate milk is toxic for your system. Drinking water will keep your brain, eyes and mouth hydrated. If you drink alcohol, you need water more than ever. Don’t learn the hard way and get a bunch of kidney stones or worse. Rinse and hydrate the system!
Avoid the Crash! Stay away from high carbs, sugar or caffeine and other junk food. These things will make your energy crash. You know that nap you want to take after that beer and pizza you had for lunch. Learn what foods spike your insulin levels or leave your energy sapped. Processed foods and refined sugars are huge red flags. People always ignore this one.
Be careful what you put in your body. I don’t care if some doctor is telling you that you need it. Sleeping pills, smart pills, Adderall, Ritalin will turn you into a robot. I have seen it many times. Your body and mind are you friend. If you are propped up by prescription drugs and other substances you should reevaluate your life.
Be careful drinking alcohol. I know that startups are stressful. Some of our company’s best ideas have come from lunch drinking sessions. Moderation is the key. Alcohol pickles your brain and demotivates you. It also dehydrates you. Know where and when to drink. If you are at a company party or meeting people, getting tipsy or wasted is not a good strategic move. You might end up saying too much or acting like a moron. The less you drink the better. This one can be hard, but stay sober, watch and listen.
Don’t do drugs! If you need to be told this, you will probably fail at your start up. I am not judging you, but that crap is garbage. It’s like putting ankle weights on before a marathon. No one respects a whacked out founder even at Burning Man. If this is the well you go to get your creativity, you need to pay attention to the other tips written here.
Disconnect! This is one of the most important tips I give people. You need to get away from your business, computers, texts, social media, etc. Turn that shit off. Give your mind a break. As a matter of fact get away from wireless internet fields. The matrix is an awesome place, but you will perform better if you turn off and tune out.
Get outside more. I mean like get your ass outside. I know the feeling of being chained to the desk. That last phone call or email is why you can’t walk away. This is when you need to get outside the most. This simple process will disconnect you and shift your brain. Walking, hiking or working out for even 15 minutes a day will pay dividends. The longer the better.
Carry a journal to write things down. My best ideas come when I am out and about away from the computer or devices. I am old school and keep a pad of paper and take notes. Sometimes I will leave myself voice notes. The key is not letting these creative ideas be forgotten.
Don’t forget about family and friends. It is so easy to get wrapped up in a startup. You have limited money and runway. Every hour counts. This can be a hamster wheel. Part of keeping your balance is having good relationships with friends and family. You will regret if you disappear for years making the excuse, “I am building my company.” It’s all for nothing if you can’t enjoy it with your family and friends.
Don’t forget about yourself. This is one of the most important points. Many of the things I have discussed are part of taking care of yourself. You have to know yourself and know when to push on the gas and when you need a break. Even the most high performance race cars have to take pit stops for gas, tires and maintenance.
Read or listen to podcasts. I suggest you do both regularly. The more the better. Expose yourself to new things. This will help you be less target focused. This type of mental shift helps your brain. Our minds thirst to learn. Do not starve it by thinking that spending time on stuff like this is a waste of time.
Meditate! Everyone is willing to work out physically, but they neglect the mental work out that meditation gives you. Most people can’t turn everything off and sit for 15 minutes in the silence of their head. Your ability to learn how to turn on and off your mind is a very important skill. There are apps and other tools to help people along this path. Whatever you do, do not ignore the importance of mental workouts.
Limit social media. People waste too much time on this. No work is actually getting done here. Give yourself your little time to do your thing, but stay focused on the important things. You would be better going outside than tweeting. Whatever you do, stay off social media when drinking. You do not want your drunk tweet to screw up a potential biz dev deal or other relationships.
Set goals. I know this is generic, but it is very important. You need to set your personal goals both mentally, physically and professionally. If you are not moving toward them, you need to adjust your sails and work a little harder. If you are crushing every goal you set, make harder goals.
Take Vacations! If you are a new start up, ignore this. If you have been grinding away for a few years and scared to step away, you need to step away. Everyone needs to recharge. You will come back at it so much harder after you do. Do not think that working more is going to solve every problem.
Be humble. I know it is easy to think you are hot shit because your startup is taking off and you are making loot. This is when you need to be thankful and humble. Humility will take you a lot further than being that cocky asshole founder who knows it all.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. Startups are brutal, funded or not, and will test you both mentally and physically. Your ability to make the best decisions and to continue to be creative and productive in a high stress environment is critical to your success. To put it bluntly, if you suck at your job, no more startup. This is why many people choose to stay at that comfortable job with a steady paycheck and paid vacations.
I have seen many startups fail with great ideas. I have also witnessed people I consider geniuses meltdown under the pressure and duress of trying to make a business work. Your ability to stay focused and NOT quit when the going gets tough is the difference between your success and failure. Not everyone gets lucky in this game. You just have to keep fighting and be willing to adapt and overcome any obstacle. I hope these tips help you stay humble and balanced on your journey.