Surviving The Apocalypse, Step 5: Take Care Of You
By: Eric Marcoullier and Joseph Logan mentors of Labs.
Over the coming weeks Eric and Joseph will dive deeper into each of the steps outlined in their first post The Startup Guide To Surviving The Apocalypse. Make sure to read Step 1: Don't Panic, Step 2: Communicate, Step 3: Reach Out and Step 4: Focus before moving forward with this post.
It’s a basic concept — as a founder, your company’s health depends on your own health. You need to be thriving, vibrant and happy if you want your business to be any of those things. In order for your company to survive a sudden loss of pressure in the cabin, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Your health — and therefore your company’s health — rests largely on four things: the amount of energy you have, the level of stress you’re under, your mental capacity, and your ability to ward off getting actually, physically sick.
There’s this idea out there that you can earn a founder “Badge of Honor” by sleeping three hours a night, drinking nothing but Soylent shakes and never exercising because you’re too busy writing code or calling investors. Like the cake in Portal, that badge is a lie. And while you probably won’t die while attempting to earn it, your company might suffer big time.
Right off the bat, not getting enough sleep at night knocks off upwards of 15 IQ points. Some of us don’t have points to spare — I certainly don’t — and in many cases it’s the functional equivalent to being drunk. Imagine knocking back a six pack of Colorado’s finest microbrew, then calling an important sales prospect or your lead investor. This career requires creativity and thoughtful problem-solving, which requires sufficient sleep. In order to maintain the physical energy required to lead your business every day, you need a solid night’s sleep, every night.
Here’s a simple rule to follow: If an airline pilot wouldn’t do it the night before a long-haul flight, don’t do it as a founder. No getting drunk, no staying up until 3 am, no crappy midnight snacks. As a favorite children’s book once put it, just go the fuck to sleep.
Understandably, it can be hard to fall asleep as a founder, even in normal times. I get it. There are plenty of solutions and one will work for you; keep testing and iterating until you find a solution. Order a Sunbox for your desk. Seek medical advice and medication. Download a meditation app.
Sleep and meditation can also help with your ability to handle stress. Last week seemed to be the “week of irritability” for several of my clients. It was showing up in sales calls, teams meetings and general decision-making, and it wasn’t helping anyone. After a month of self-quarantine, it’s a natural response that we’re all having right now. It’s ok to feel like shit some of the time, emphasis on “some”. You have to set a limit on stress, and choose to push through it. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is hard work. Here are some basic things that can help you optimize for it:
- Sleep well: see above.
- Exercise: Take a walk. Take a yoga class from home. Go for a run. As the famous, and very pink, Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
- Eat well: Both your body and your brain need proper fuel right now to succeed. Good food will help you not get sick, but also help you stay alert, stay calm and stay sane. The “Corona 15” isn’t good for anyone, but it’s especially damaging for a founder. I am having an especially hard time with this one, so I feel your pain.
I know, mind not blown. The big takeaway here isn’t how you can take care of yourself, it’s why.
The Coronavirus could give you a bad cough and a sore throat, or it could land you in the hospital in a medically induced coma hooked up to a ventilator. And COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that’s out there right now either. In the last six months, I’ve seen a lot of friends and co-founders knocked out by the flu and an other “flu-like” illness going around. Some of them can kill you. A majority of them will put you in bed for a week or more, feeling like shit and completely out of action.
It doesn’t matter if you have Coronavirus, the flu or who knows what, spending a week in bed can spell disaster for an early-stage company. You don’t yet have a full executive team and your employees and your customers are likely depending on you to make decisions on a daily basis. Your ability to ward off infections of any sort is in no small amount defined by the health of your immune system, which in turn is tied to — surprise! — sleep, exercise and diet.
Keeping your company alive got much, much harder in the last month. Many of my clients are solving the most challenging problems of their careers. If you need your A game to succeed as a founder in good times, what do you need today?
This is one area where Joseph and I will encourage you to try new things and straight-up pivot in areas where you’ve been falling short. Start a workout regimen. Call a nutritionist. Hire a therapist. If you haven’t been doing these things already, now is the time to start.
In times of crisis, people are looking to you not only to manage your own energy, stress and intelligence, but theirs as well. In these stressful times, you’re not just managing your own fears. You’re also managing the anxieties of dozens, or even hundreds, of your company’s stakeholders, and you’ll need every ounce of capacity you can find — physical, intellectual and emotional. Build up those reserves; take care of you.
— Eric Marcoullier
Eric Marcoullier has spent 27 years as a tech entrepreneur, starting digital companies in media, games, social networking, big data and travel. His companies have exited for more than $850M in total, including an IPO, three acquisitions and a turnaround. Additionally, he co-owned a software development shop for four years and has worked with Techstars since the very first cohort in 2007. All this to say that he’s seen some pretty successful companies, as well as dozens, if not hundreds, of failed companies over the years (including several flameouts of his own). Eric blogs each week at ObviousStartupAdvice.com.
Joseph is a coach and turnaround veteran focusing on founders and teams. He has done exec stints as a CEO and COO, learning about businesses as diverse as data analytics and hemp-derived CBD. In his coaching practice, he has worked in teams in health tech, advertising, social media, behavioral health, and aviation. His work focuses primarily on team performance and operational discipline with a line of sight to profitability and increased valuation. Joseph blogs at theteamsthething.com and josephlogan.com, where you can find his TEDx talk, "The Upside of Crisis".
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