So You’re A Startup: How To Deal With Startup Life

This marks the last post in our So You’re A Startup series. We decided to end it all by finding out how to really deal with startup life.

Why address this topic?

Startup stress is something that everyone starting a company deals with, no matter where they are or what they’re making. It’s universally relevant – learning about stress prevention will give you the tools to improve your mental, physical, and emotional health as well as the productivity of your startup.

We wanted to go straight to the source, to the people who actually experience startup stress on a daily basis, so we asked the teams in the VeloCity Garage for their advice. Based on their feedback, we’re breaking down the stress of startup life into 3 parts: the general stress of being a startup, startup depression, and startup burnout.

Dealing With The General Stress of Startup Life

One of the first things everyone we talked to mentioned was sleep and making sure to get enough of it. We got suggestions to sleep anywhere from 6 to 10 hours a night – so basically, know how much sleep you need in order to stay awake and feel fully functional all day and get that much sleep as often as you can. Do not underestimate your need for sleep, it is critical to long term success.

You also need to take a break every once in a while! Schedule some time every day for doing something you like other than working on your startup (and try not to feel guilty about it). Sure, this is time you could spend working, but think of it this way: the longer and harder you work without breaks, the less productive you become. You need those breaks so that you can be focused and 10 times more productive when you come back to work.

If you have a startup with more than one person (which you probably do), you’re bound to have some disagreements. G Wu from Maluuba recommends solving all conflicts as soon as they come up. Ignoring something that’s bothering you will add to your stress, produce tension, and decrease your startup’s productivity.

Something that can easily cause a lot of stress is being disorganized. We got some great advice from Adi, cofounder of BufferBox, “Take notes, write things down otherwise you will forget. There are 101 different things that happen on a daily basis so keep your records straight.” The more organized you are, the less you’ll forget, and more likely than not, the less stress you’ll feel.

When you start to feel this initial stress, focus on the things you can actually do. Surprisingly enough, you’re not going to be able to do absolutely everything. You are human – you need to sleep, you need to eat, you need to go outside and occasionally talk to people. And even when you’re working, you should try to have fun. If you’re doing something you love and making something that you love this shouldn’t be a problem. And when you have those little successes, let yourself feel good about them. Jee, cofounder of Polychart, told us, “Even when we’re stressed out, we see Twitter posts and we’re like, oh my God those people are actually using our product.” Celebrate the tweets of your happy customers and the likes you get on Facebook. These little things are going to keep you going and there’s no need to minimize them.

Startup Depression

Startup depression often happens when you’ve been working at a startup for a while without gaining any traction. Basically, all of the time you’re thinking: nothing I’m doing is making any difference, why do I even bother, I’m going to fail.

How do you deal with this kind of depression?

This is when having a cofounder or a strong team or even a good friend comes in handy. If you’re feeling like your life has no purpose and your startup is going no where, talk to someone about it! Especially the people on your team who are working with you and are probably feeling the same way. Most problems have solutions so you need to hash it out until you find one. Do you need to try a different approach? Do you just need throw out your idea and start over?

You might realize that what you’re doing isn’t right or that you’re going about it the wrong way. Jenny Harvey, a long time VeloCity resident and founder of EcoLogix, game some great advice on dealing with mistakes, “I have high standards for myself and am a recovering perfectionist. In the start up world you’re going to make mistakes – a lot of mistakes. I’ve learned to forgive myself for mistakes and move forward.” The longer you take to get over something that’s happened to you or your startup, the worse off you’re going to be.

So what, you screwed up, your business has no potential customers? Get back up and start it all over again. Don’t just sit in your room and delude yourself into thinking that changing 100 lines of code will make your startup profitable.

Gareth MacLeod, cofounder of Matinee, told us, “I don’t think I’ve ever been depressed in a period of my life when I’ve been exercising a lot and had a healthy social life.” He mentioned that some people, especially startup people, get depressed because of the environment they put themselves in day to day. If you’re stuck in a dark room in front of a computer screen 24/7, you’re bound to feel unhappy. Sound familiar? Gareth’s advice to you, “You know the solution – go out and exercise, talk to people, try and smile – just do it and you’ll feel better.”

Startup Burnout

Burnout is what happens when you’ve been stressed for way too long, you’re doing nothing but working all the time and you’re frustrated that your life is a mess.

How do you not burnout?

Gareth recommended taking weekend trips outside of the realm of what you usually do – go somewhere and get yourself into a different headspace, only check your phone if absolutely necessary. Not burning out comes down to understanding what you need to function like a normal person. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and crazy, take a vacation: 2 days to a week, whatever you need.

Not getting to the point of burnout is difficult, especially with what startup culture has been dictating lately. You have to move fast, you have to move faster, why aren’t you moving fast enough? You’re never going to get to the point where you think you’re moving fast enough, so then you’re going to start staying up until 5 am every day and only sleeping four hours and eating crumbs off your carpet because you don’t have time to go grocery shopping. And the worst part is you feel like you get to portray yourself as this self-sacrificing hero because the media really praises this kind of “dedication.”

This post by Michael Arrington, former writer for TechCrunch & VC, completely glorifies sacrificing your sleep and well being for your startup. He sources Jamie Zawinski’s (cofounder of Netscape and Mozilla) 1994 diary as proof that this insane lifestyle pays off. Don’t let this convince you of anything. Zawinski’s rebuttal explained that he doesn’t think startup founders should sleep under their desks and that it’s okay to leave the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class if you want to.

We’re calling it startup life for a reason. You are running a company and you are freaking out daily but you still need to have a life. As an entrepreneur, you subscribe to this crazy lifestyle – you want to hack until your wrists are sore and you don’t remember what day it is – but DON’T DO IT! Your mental health is truly your biggest asset. If you don’t have your mental health, then really, what do you have? You need to understand yourself well enough to know what makes you stressed, depressed & burnout, and you need to find the things that counter that early on.

A huge thanks goes out to all of our startups for their advice – especially Gareth MacLeod from Matinee for really grounding this topic for us.

Although the series is over, we’re still going to push out some great stuff, so follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google +, and keep up with what we’re doing!


How do you deal with startup stress? Tell us what we missed in the comments!