“Some first-time startup founders buy into the myth that they will have more time, more freedom and more money… it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
For our “Let’s Talk…” feature, this week, we asked 18 thought leaders to discuss the personal sacrifices that first-time founders generally overlook when they’re bitten by the startup bug. An oft-overlooked trade-off, according to most commentators, is TIME – for friends and family. For hobbies. For walking the dog. For grocery shopping. For non-work thoughts. For one’s self. Indeed, many stressed the importance of first-time founders striking a balance between work and non-work life in order to bring their best to both. Read on for further insights from this week’s lineup…
Jessica May, CEO, Enabled Employment & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “First-time founders often don’t know about the rollercoaster that is running a startup. The risks are higher, the personal stress levels may impact on your life in unexpected ways, and if you’re not aware of the financial and investment process you may be so discouraged at some points you’ll give up. You need to be incredibly determined to make your idea work and prepared to sacrifice all your previous beliefs about what you think you know about running a business.”
Sabri Suby, Founder, King Kong: “Most business owners underestimate how much time will be taken away from their loved ones when they start a business. They quit their 40-hour work weeks and end up working 100-hour weeks. And that’s time they don’t get to spend with their kids, their partner and their friends. If your loved ones share the same goals as you for the business and want to be part of the journey, then that certainly helps. But it is still the most difficult part of the startup phase.”
Dion Oxley, CEO, Quizling & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “Balance is something first-time founder can overlook. Quizling would take up every second if I let it… but I would be poorer for it. It took some hard lessons for me to realise the importance of balance. I need to spend time with family, friends and doing things I enjoy. Some of those I neglected and lost – I simply didn’t take enough time for myself and my relationships! I now make sure I have time with friends, go running regularly, find time to just enjoy telly and one day soon I will go to bed before midnight!”
Jonathan Lui, Founder, Soho: “One of the first things founders think of when starting a business is the financial sacrifice. This is a change that often goes hand in hand with startups, but what they may overlook is the time sacrifice, or time commitment required to make a startup successful.
Once you start a business, the more successful start-ups are driven by founders who are obsessed with the business and are thinking about it 24/7, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep. Time actually becomes a limiting factor as they’ll often feel like they need more hours in the day to do what they need to do and this is often overlooked before starting a business.
“This can obviously roll on to other aspects of a founder’s life such as their relationships with their partners, family and friends, which may end up taking a back seat for a period until things really start taking off. This is why it’s important to have an open understanding in personal relationships to ensure the expectations are set that time may be scarce.”
Renece Brewster, CEO, Visual Domain and Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “You don’t really realise the psychological isolation that comes with starting a business and trying to find the balance between life and work. A lot of the time family and friends don’t understand some of the sacrifices we make so it’s important to surround yourself with a network that understand the challenges you are going through.”
Jamie Pride, serial entrepreneur, VC & author (‘Unicorn Tears’): “Being a founder often means you put yourself last. Your customers come first. Your product comes first. Your team comes first. Your investors come first. The result is that founders are often numbing out, burning out or checking out. Some first-time founders buy into the myth that they will have more time, more freedom and more money… it couldn’t be further from the truth. What many founders give up is their physical, mental and emotional health – and the stress that a startup places on their relationships. It doesn’t have to be this way. Founders need to prioritise their own welfare. In order to lead effectively they need to take better care of themselves so they can go the distance.”
Anonymous aka “Happily married mother of two (for the moment) content kids”, BlueChilli: “Most first-time founders are aware of the big personal sacrifices that accompany the early days of building your startup. Conversations with your nearest and dearest about shouldering more responsibility while you risk income and family time to pursue your dreams are expected (and highly recommended). It’s so easy to let the smaller things go, and you know what, you don’t have to.
“That lesson was brought home not too long ago when, juggling a phone call, school drop off and reminding my two small monkeys to do something. I waved them into the school gates only for the little one to turn around to say, “I’m WAITING for my hug!” and then disappear. I missed out on that hug.
“I tell myself now, I couldn’t find 60 seconds to kiss my kids goodbye???
“So, while you’re running on adrenaline, fuelled by your passion for <insert your business vision here> don’t forget the one minute memories that connect you with the present and the people you love. Love isn’t a zero sum game, pursing something you love doesn’t mean taking it away from the people you love.”
Terry Gold, Managing Director, Techstars Adelaide: “Nothing can quite prepare first-time founders for the loneliness they are about to face. At least, at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. The long hours, the rapidly diminishing runway, hiring issues are all expected challenges. But the burden of loneliness… many cannot foresee it.
“There is an intense pressure to always be ‘up’ and optimistic, but if you can never express the fears and worries to others then it can lead to an isolation that can even lead to depression. Not only is that bad for the founder but it is also bad for the business, and as a startup community we have to help prevent that isolation.
“Most tech entrepreneurs come from an engineering background and they have the tendency to just throw themselves into creating a product, rather than face the fact they know so little about how to build the actual business. They don’t want to expose how little they know or admit they are struggling.
“The answer to this dilemma is to get involved with other founders in the startup community that can act as a support system of other like-minded, first-time founders who are also going through the same things.”
Valeria Ignatieva, Co-founder, DCC Jobs: “Many first-time founders play the side hustle game to transition from a full-time salary to having a business that’s making some money, but perhaps underestimate the toll this will have on their personal life. If you’re working full-time that means working nights, weekends and public holidays on your new venture. This leaves little time for family, friends any personal hobbies.
“When you start a business, you have to also be prepared to make a financial sacrifice while you build up your customer base, but if you have chosen something you are truly passionate about, it will not be as hard as it seems. For myself and DCC cofounder Gemma Lloyd, being able to improve Australian workplaces and help women find rewarding careers with employers who value them, has been worth every struggle we have faced over the past 3 years!”
Mike Edmonds, Founder, Meerkats Creative Business Solutions & author (‘Truth. Growth. Repeat.’): “First-time founders expect to sacrifice time with family, financial security, etc. But I was surprised to learn how often I needed to sacrifice my ego. In other words, give up an opportunity to be seen as a winner in order to stay on track with my true purpose. A company approached my agency in our first months with a $1m advertising account but were clearly a wrong fit for our philosophy. As much as I desperately wanted that PR headline to prove to everyone that an ethical ad agency was not a crazy idea, I had to resist. It was hard… but I’ve never regretted it.”
Lorraine Gnanadickam, Founder & CEO, Food St & SBE Australia E3 graduate: “Time is already the most valuable commodity in business but when you become a founder it becomes indescribably scarce. For me, the first thing that I sacrificed was ‘me-time’, I was always working against the clock to get as much done as quickly as I could. Because I was a new founder as well as a parent, a spouse and a friend, there was always something more important than myself demanding my time… unfortunately, this has meant weight gain and low energy. SO, I’ve been spending this year taking back ‘me-time’ – I am going to yoga, I am meditating and I am finding some time to just be with my kids. I think ‘me time’ is often overlooked because founding a company is so demanding and we feel guilty about taking that time out to do something ‘selfish’. But if we’re not well, not feeling good, then we’re not functioning at our best either.”
Mark Fletcher, CEO, Cohort Go: “The entrepreneurial lifestyle comes with challenges and trade-offs. While many founders expect the long hours, the struggle of keeping the business afloat, hiring and other resources issues, many overlook the reality that health and fitness often fall by the wayside. Building a business and spending a lot of time working at a computer can make it easy to neglect your health.
“Founders are ready to give it their all, prioritising their company over everything else. However, sacrificing fitness and health can significantly impact how you run and build your business.
“Making time for some R&R is vital to put you in the right frame of mind to build your company, to be as productive and efficient as possible and manage stress levels. It doesn’t have to be a month-long holiday in the Bahamas. It can be as simple as hitting the gym twice a week, making time for friends or spending quality time with your family.”
Lauren Meyer, Co-founder, Otlet: “When starting a business, everyone focuses on sacrificing time and money, often both personal and professional. As people give up nights and weekends with friends and family, strain relationships and put aside better paying jobs, it becomes a calculable sacrifice for the good of their newly founded business.
“We knew that starting Otlet would be a huge time and financial strain, but I didn’t realise it would also devour all available ‘brain time’. It’s the incalculable time you spend at the grocery store, walking the dog, working at your other 9-to-5 job. When your brain is completely absorbed running through your new business there’s little time for anything else.
“Although ready to dedicate long hours actively working on Otlet, we didn’t realise we had also signed over spare thoughts and emotional energy. It is that ‘brain time’ that you rely on to compartmentalize your normal day that is now spent ticking over UX design, marketing, budget, etc., despite telling your partner you were ‘done working for the day’. It is an incalculable sacrifice, but not an insignificant one.”
Adam Brimo, CEO, OpenLearning: “I think most entrepreneurs are visionaries. When you are a first-time founder, you don’t realise how much work is involved and how committed you have to be to make that vision a success. One of the lessons I learnt early on was that you have to be OK with being ‘on-call’ all the time. Not just for your clients, but for your staff members too. You need to be good at juggling and wearing many hats because you are not just building a business, you also need to be a leader, a problem solver and customer service provider.”
Joel Robbie, Co-founder & CEO, Nod: “On the surface level, you’re sacrificing time to eat, sleep, and spend time with family. On a deeper level, a lack of mental downtime can become pretty draining over time. As a founder you (rightly) live and breathe your company. Almost every human interaction you have almost unavoidably ends up being related to work. This is really a double-edged sword that becomes both inspirational and challenging. Scheduling time for music, meditation and family provides brief respite, allowing first-time founders like me to recharge my batteries and continue to focus on doing what I love to do, which is building a great company with amazing people.”
Eddie Gellar, Co-founder & CEO, Tinybeans: “Founders are all about solving a problem and will go to great lengths to do so. They’re passionate, often stubborn to the challenges and have a “MUST WIN” attitude around building a great company. The realities of sacrifices are always overlooked whether they’re first time or not. Founders believe they’ll be successful and based on that, success arrives in due course. Of course, there are sacrifices along the way, like less time with family because you’re working so hard… but founders believe that if they succeed, then they will have all the time in the world later. If its finance related, it’s the same thing and on it goes. I don’t believe that there is any one sacrifice that is more or less relevant to a founder. Founders are determined to be successful and making sacrifices is part of the course of being a great founder. History has proven that.”
Vu Tran, Co-founder & Head of Growth, GO1.com: “Sacrifices made by first-time founders in starting and growing a business can be immense and, in many cases, immeasurable. As founders, we are often incredibly passionate about what we do with a firm belief in the immense potential our idea or business can fulfil. It is often this optimism, passion and in some cases substantial personal sacrifice that has accompanied countless entrepreneurial success stories.
“I believe that commitment rather than sacrifice is the common ingredient and defining feature between those with a great idea and those who turn great ideas into great companies. Indeed, sacrifice may not always be required to be successful, but commitment is.
“Founders who are passionate about their business is a must, but passion without commitment is often a short-lived fling. Commitment is a marriage. Commitment results in founders who will do what it takes to succeed, who will roll with punches and problem solve or pivot to create success.
“A first-time founder must have both feet in. Having one foot in and one foot out just won’t cut it.”
Hugh Morrow, Co-founder & CEO, SuperEd: “There’s a lot of time and effort that first-time founders put into a start-up, and often it’s important personal time outside of regular hours that they’re investing to help build the business from the ground up. One point that is often overlooked is the readjustment that first-time founders need to make. A key aspect of being a first-time founder is having the courage to be humble, sacrifice your ego and learn something deeper about yourself.
“For startups like SuperEd, it’s often hard to come to terms with the fact that you are no longer operating under the mantle of the industry and corporate structures with years of expertise under your belt. Instead, you’re being brave and having to take strides forward to push yourself, learn new things on your own and that carves out a whole part of the self-development aspect of the journey that comes with the territory of being a first-time founder. You realise that there’s a lot to this process of forming a start-up and a common fear that first-time founders have is being concerned that you’re too slow, because there’s always new challengers and entrants coming in who are quicker and more nimble. This is why it’s so critical for first-time founders to a step back and see the bigger picture, be humble, learn quickly, sacrifice your ego and be ready to adapt.”
About “Let’s Talk…”
“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgeable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.