How To Deal With The Agony and Ecstasy Of A Startup

Every startup founder is probably nodding their head right now as they read the title of this post.  It’s like being part of a club or a gang where you were initiated and were forced to endure the pain.  Then afterwards you have a sense of relief – a thought of  “wow,   I’m glad I got through in one piece!”   Well, it’s safe to say I’m right in the middle of it and here I am thinking out loud on how to deal with it.

The Agony

The agony can be described as an immense downward pressure, something akin to gasping for air when lacking oxygen.  When you start a company, everything has to be created out of thin air and requires extraordinary feats to pull it off.  Things like the legal entity, the team, the product, the customer base and the cash reserves are not there in the beginning and have to be created somehow.  In the beginning it’s all chaos and panic.

And it’s an agonizing experience.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  Your progress will take twice as long as you expect and if you are an impatient person like myself this is extremely difficult.  If entrepreneurship can be described as a roller-coaster ride, the agonizing times are the extreme lows you will face as a startup founder.   Seth Godin calls this The Dip.  Some don’t quite make it out of the dip and become statistics (half of businesses fail in the first 5 years, 1 out of 1,000 ever receive venture funding, etc..)

The Ecstasy

The ones who do make it out of the lows shoot right up to the highs and experience periods of ecstasy and bliss.  Similar to a chemical induced euphoria these natural created feelings are what keep you going through the entrepreneurial journey.  A great first meeting with a high profile investor, media coverage on a highly visited blog or website, the cold call out of the blue requesting a new partnership that could land a potentially lucrative new customer, or the hundreds of new twitter followers after a new blog post goes live are all exciting and exhilarating experiences.

These are what you live for as an entrepreneur.  And they are addictive.  They are additive because these types of experiences release dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain that result in a heightened state of emotion.  Interestingly, that same process happens as we experiment with recreational drugs.  It’s funny how entrepreneurship and mental disorders are so close in relation yet are looked upon from society in the extremely opposite light.

How To Deal with The Agony and the Ecstasy

If you are an entrepreneur, you will have to deal with this type of life.  Here’s a few ways I deal with the ups and downs of startup life.

1) Exercise – Expending energy helps release pent up stress so I can relax and  breathe a little easier.  It also allows me to stay healthy since I am less active these days.  This is the single most important (and simple) way to handle stress in your life.

2) Get Advice – I lean on my Board of Advisors to help me to understand things I may not see just yet.  They are all older than me and have been through similar situations (or see others go through them), which affords them a perspective I can use to help me make better decisions.  I tend to think I am smart enough to realize I don’t know very much.

3) Come To Grips With Reality – The reality is you are on the roller-coaster of life and it constantly goes up AND down.  When in the dip, it’s healthy to understand the dip won’t last too long and not too far down the path things will go up.  The only thing you must figure out is how to minimize your time in the dip and how to maximize your time above water.

Preparing yourself and understanding how to handle the ups and downs is the smartest (and healthiest) way to get through the rough patches.  It’s your responsibility to learn as you go… I know I am.