Bringing Health And Wellness Back Into Daily Focus For The Startup Founder

It ain’t no secret, startups will consume ALL of you.

As any founder can attest, you have no time to spare when you are starting a company.  You have no time for hobbies.  No time for friends.  Little to no time for family.

And definitely no time for your health.

Things start spinning so fast it’s very easy to add the “Founder 40” as former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason put it, simply by not paying attention to what you are or aren’t doing and what you are or aren’t eating.

That’s why I recently stepped back to evaluate my life and get my health and fitness back on track.  I realized I was starting to get soft in areas I have never been soft and lazy in ways I never have been lazy.

Given, I have paid at least small attention to my wellness since founding Seconds and in fact didn’t put on the Founder 40, so I am glad to say I am not overweight or out of shape.  I have been lucky to have kept up with a minimal exercise routine and stayed fairly consistent.

But what I did do was probably what most of you have let happen – I started to pay less attention to what I ate, how I ate it, what I drank and how often I drank it.  I started to notice how often we would include beers in our company meetings (all 4 of us) and how waiting 8 hours before I ate again would make me so hungry I would then stuff my face with a huge meal only to feel really full immediately afterwards.

(pro tip, feeling really full is not a good sign of healthy eating.)

I write this because I know most of you deep down are thinking the same thing, maybe even more desperately than I am.  All of us want to improve our health and wellbeing, and knowingly we would make the right choices if we knew how simple they really are.

Here’s a short list of things that I realized I needed to get back into my life.  The key to all of them is how I committed to them just as I would commit to showing up for a new job at 9am everyday if that is what they expected.

It really is that simple.

fruitCleansing

I just finished a 10 day herbal cleansing, the first one I have ever done.  To my surprise, it feels great and wasn’t bad at all.  The cleanse consisted of a fIber drink and multitudes of vitamins and minerals through the day and herbal cleanse pills at night.

In the end, it was a reset of my entire digestive and limbic system, and it’s amazing how I feel my body is a lot more efficient in how it’s processing the foods I eat.

I highly recommend doing a cleanse once every few months.

Eat more, smaller nutritious meals each day

I have re-committed to eating more nutritious and that means eating more meals throughout the day, with each meal being smaller in portions.  Eating better is simply a decision and then an act of commitment to keep that decision.  Once you have established the habit, it’s reinforcing each time you make the right decision to eat well, instead of grabbing a quick bite of crappy and unhealthy food.

I have learned to love fruits and veggies, I make sure I at least have a banana, orange, and apple each day, more if possible.  I drink meal replacement shakes and make sure I have a protein rich snack between meals.  During meals, I am aware of the nutritional value of the food I am eating, making sure I have a protein base (chicken, fish, beans, eggs, etc…) and then add a fruit and vegetable with it.  I also make sure I finish my meal feeling satisfied but not full.  This is key to not overeating and saving on caloric intake, which in the end will result in a trimmed body from weight loss.

Also, drink water.  A lot of it.  More than you think you need.  It’s the wonder drug of life, as hydration makes all other processes work more efficiently.

Simply put, I actually think about the food I put in my body and that makes all the difference.

Don’t drink as much

Drinking seems to be just part of the startup experience.  Every week there are a number of events going on in the startup community where free beer and wine are offered to meetup attendees.  Who can say no to that!

I realized I was drinking quite a bit of beer each week, and heavy beer at that.  I am not a “light” beer drinker either, I enjoy a strong well made Amber or darker beer with more hoppy taste.  And along with the hops come calories, which if you are not careful will start to add up week upon week.

Think about the affect this can have on weight gain – one beer roughly equals 100 calories.  A pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories.  Without even thinking about it, drinking 5 beers is another 500 calories in your system.  Conservatively,  if all you did was drink 5 extra beers each week you will put on almost 10 pounds each year.  Work on a startup for 4 years and you now see how easy it is to put on the Founder 40.

Keeping an eye on your alcohol consumption – amongst many other positive benefits – will help keep the LB’s off.

nike-shoesExercise every other day

Founders are notorious for having little time for anything else in their life besides working on their startup.  Yet counterintuitively, committing to an exercise routine of every other day actually makes you a A LOT more energetic and productive, giving you the feeling of creating more time in your day.

The cool thing is it doesn’t have to be a 2-hour workout every day.  As little as 20-30 minutes, every other day, will do tremendous improvements to your fitness.  I go on a 3 or 4 mile run and do about 15 minutes of strength training every other day and I feel great.

Honestly, I feel like 23 as I approach my 33rd birthday this summer.  Trust me, do whatever you can to get activity 3 or 4 days a week and you will be shocked at what happens to your life.

Walk whenever possible

In addition to working out every other day, I now pay very close attention to getting out and walking to meetings around downtown Seattle.  Yes, I need to leave a little bit earlier for the meeting but it pays off in the end.  It reinforces my active lifestyle, it gives me fresh air, it keeps the metabolism up and burns energy throughout the day.

Get up from my work station at least once per hour

Similar to walking to meetings, it has been proven sitting for long periods of time is very unhealthy.  It’s bad for our posture, bad for joints, bad for our circulatory system, bad for our digestive system and just downright not good for the body.

Making a habit to get up and do a lap, going to the bathroom, talking to another co-worker or whatever you want to do will keep you limber, awake and give you an edge health wise.

To me, it also allows to break up the monotony of the sitting workday.

To all those who say “I need to concentrate on coding or designs” I urge you to simply stand up at your desk, stretch and do some work on your feet for a while.  Also, you will find taking frequent breaks will keep you sharp, alert and might even help you with your work!

Pay attention to how I look and feel

Finally, all this has helped me pay a little more attention to how look and how I feel.  That’s not a bad thing!  We are told to not care about ourselves and not be so self centered about looks and things like that, which in some ways has its logic.

I agree, to an extent.  No need to overindulge in yourself.

But to barrow a dev term, we only build what we measure.  So if you are paying attention to your health and wellbeing, you will start to notice things about it you want to change.  Once you identify what needs to be changed, only then can you start down the process of changing it.  If you don’t pay attention, obviously nothing will happen.  So paying more attention to how you look, dress, how you feel climbing stairs and walking long distances will go a long way to help you become a healthier and more fit individual.

These simple things have really influenced me and my health recently, and I guarantee they will make positive changes in your life too.  All you need to do is make a few small but significant commitments in your daily life.

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To All The Doubters Out There: My Past Does Not Determine My Future

Today I was informed by one of my advisors someone I previously spoke with in the investment community thought less of me, or looked down upon me and my business mainly because of my background and my previous career as a personal trainer.

This is after the individual had been very forthright in the meeting about how unique our concept was and how impressive we are currently positioned.

Let me be perfectly clear: my past does not determine my future.

Whatever someone studied or whomever they previously worked for has little effect on what they will do going forward.  Does it influence them, yes.  But does mean they are not capable of achieving other things outside of the specific industry?  No.

It’s what we have determined we will do in the future that has the greatest influence on what happens in the future.

For all the doubters out there, let’s go ahead and get it all on the table.

No, I am not a CS major or a Stanford grad with an MBA.   Yes I studied exercise physiology in college, and became a strength coach working all levels of the industry – from professional sports teams to athletic clubs and on to corporate fitness centers.

No, I didn’t come directly out of college and join a fast growing technology company.  Yes, I bumped along as a trainer only to use any and all spare time (ask any of my past girlfriends) reading and studying the latest developments in technology and the web.

No, I didn’t succeed at my first attempt at a startup.  I didn’t sell my first company to Google or Microsoft and I did not make F-you money in my early 20’s.  Yes, my first startup failed.  We failed miserably.  We had no idea what we were doing and naively thought we could actually launch a company when we were all still working full time.  Boy were we wrong.

No, I was not raised in wealthy family so I would be close to seed capital and afforded the luxury of launching my company with my grandfathers/fathers/uncles/stepfathers/father-in-laws/bothers/cousins money.  Yes, I am now learning the “intangible” game of raising money by networking, connecting with people, illustrating our unique value in the marketplace and proving we are actually a great business opportunity.  And heads are starting to turn.

No, we are not launching a social site that within the first few weeks is amazingly spreading throughout the Harvard campus without any of our help… and magically is a hit with all the college kids.  And one where you have no idea the business value for the first few years of existence.  Yes, we have built a platform so valuable we see small mom and pop shops as well as large corporations wanting to be a part of it.  One in which we figured out how to make enough noise in just 3 short months after launching our product that we already find ourselves sitting across the table from NOT ONE BUT TWO multinational, multibillion dollar corporations – in different industries – wanting to somehow work together.  The one I talked with today is probably in the back pocket of most of my doubters.

For all the doubters out there who are still reading but think I might still be missing something I will put you at ease and let you know that even though I studied exercise physiology in school, all is not lost.  Here is my take away and how I see it in the business world.

Business, like the Human Body, is all about efficiency

Inefficiency will kill any living organism and it’s also true with any business organization.  It’s the bane of any corporations existence and it’s also why you hear about six sigma, downsizing and social collaboration tools.  Finding ways to make internal processes less laborious and easier to navigate will make employees more efficient.  Fixing bugs and reworking the user experience of a website will streamline transactions and generate more revenue.  Anyway you look at it, the human body always seeks to carry out processes with the least amount of energy possible.  So does a business.

You must keep working or you will fade away

We all understand the concept of strengthening muscles – you must break them down to build them up.  Exercise is vital to the human body and you must keep placing stress on the cardiac system to experience health benefits.  Well, that’s true for the business as well.  Name any business where it’s acceptable to coast along with no input and expecting to get something out of it.  Even a piece of Real Estate needs upkeep if it is going to bring a return to the investor.  You must keep working on a business, on yourself and your team if you are to experience continued success.

Sometimes Pain is good

We all know the feeling… the first mile of the run after a long hiatus, the last two reps of the exercise we though would be way to heavy, or the morning after soreness from a kick-butt workout.  Yea, it hurts all right.  But most of the time its damn good pain because your body is replenishing itself and growing stronger.

Well if you think starting a business is all sun and roses you are in for a little treat.  It sucks.  It hurts.  You get tuned down more times than you can remember.  You have people questioning you, your product, positioning, vision, funding status, your team and everything else under the sun.  It takes twice as long as you think it will to achieve certain milestones.  But the pain is good for you.  See, you learn from all that doubt and questioning and through all of the crappy stuff you get stronger and become a better entrepreneur.  Trust me, I am one strong individual.

I may not be the most “polished” “tie wearing” “Stanford MBA” or “Y-combinator grad” CEO you find strutting around Silicon Valley.  And quite frankly I know I have a lot more to learn.  But I am glad I am not the above described.  I am quite happy with my past, because as I have just illustrated it provided me with a unique perspective I can successfully transition into my new life as an tech entrepreneur.

And for the doubters…. keep on.  I dare you.

@jnickhughes