How do you stay sane while working on your startup?

I started Festsy few months ago and launched the site few weeks ago. I haven’t spent enough time to talk about hindsight but one thing that immediately comes to mind is that startups can make you insane.

Ever wondered why no in-transit entrepreneurs blog about their experience openly? (There’s a similar question on Quora) Because they can’t believe they will make it. Every minute of their journey entails questioning every decision they have made and who wants to sound clueless in public? This is the reason only those founders blog about how tough the startup journey is who have achieved some form of success as they can confess the things they did en-route to success calling them ‘experiences in hindsight’. But a newbie does not have that cushion of hindsight and every moment can be a challenge for survival. Now, by survival, I don’t even mean just the financial pressure. Startups are not tough only because you have too much work or you are going broke, they are tough because there is no guideline or roadmap to follow. You might actually have free time on your hands (unless you are busy working on things that don’t matter yet) but you don’t know what specific thing to do next. Working on product technology is easier because you can learn and do it without depending on anyone else (let’s say if you are a programmer) but it wouldn’t matter until you have figured a way to acquire customers. 99.99% of startups don’t grow viral, so you need to work hard to get traction but you don’t know how and there’s no one to tell you directly. So, you start losing focus. I wonder how many startup dead bodies have been claimed by this quagmire called ‘lack of focus’.

Unless you are Instagram, customer acquisition is a pain and million other problems surface up. So many people said that idea is awesome but fewer ‘liked’ your Facebook page and ‘fewer still’ signed up when your site went live. Ughhhh.

Same happened on business development side in my case. Problems propped out of no where and the things that were a no brainer to me were not happening. To give an example, Festsy could be a boon for small designers and boutiques – hell, it’s a free website they never had so far to show their collection online (click here to read more about Festsy). One would think they would jump on it but guess what, they said they love the idea and yet, they wouldn’t put their collection on it. One reason I heard was “others will copy my designs”. Similarly, there were many points on the journey where I learned how real behavior was contrary to the logic.

I knew its part and parcel of the game but reading about it and experiencing it are very very different. As I started getting stumped, frustrated and what-not, I realized that I needed to do something to not lose interest and basically, stay ‘sane’. Following things helped-

  1. Keep your hobbies alive – I felt it was important to be able to turn to something else which was NOT related to my startup to rejuvenate myself. I have a big passion of photography and taking/processing pictures always helps me to get recharged.
  2. Spiritual involvement – I know how stereotypical it might be sounding from an Indian mouth but having ‘faith’ in something helps when you are starting to doubt yourself (if not having an existential crisis already). It doesn’t have to be God but try finding a pillar of belief that you can rest against when things are going wrong and you feel helpless. ‘Alcohol’ can only be a temporary answer. A daily routine of short spiritual sessions has helped me immensely at dealing with failures and hardships in a composed manner. Reading philosophy was also a great refresher. I like reading Vivekanand’s thoughts on Vedanta philosophy (love his take on how reason alone can’t answer the bigger questions of life), Ramcharitmanas, Bhagvad Gita and Yugandhar (by Shivaji Sawant) in my spare time. It is always helpful to look at the bigger picture in life to make your problems appear small. It is up to you how big of a picture can you see (this is where being spiritual helps).
  3. Creating and ‘achieving’ something – Heard this on a Tim Ferris video and it totally made sense. When we are working on our ideas which typically take long to be proven right or wrong, we forget how sweet success is. It is recommended to indulge in [preferably] physical activities where you have small but significant goals whose completion will give you an adrenaline rush. It helps in creating positive energy that can be carried over to tackle the challenges we face while working. I am yet to try out physical activity part but my photography does help in this to a large extent too as seeing the finished pictures and getting positive feedbacks on it provides a creative satisfaction and sense of achievement.
  4. Avoid reading too much – While some reading is great, I feel too much of it can be counter productive (including information or inspirational stuff). I believe reading should be done in small dose at low frequency, preferably towards end of the day when you are tired of working so that it can stimulate you to do some more work. It should not be done at beginning of the day as it can be fairly distracting and disruptive to your plan of action. I have often experienced that reading too much Hacker News or tech blogs, while greatly stimulating, made me read too many ‘next’ articles instead of actually converting that motivation and learning into execution. There is no point in getting motivated if no result comes out of it.
  5. Enjoying life – Ah, how simple and yet how tricky. When things are not going your way, it’s not easy to relish or enjoy life. Also, financial pressure may prevent you from spending on entertainment, travel etc. I feel one should not do that. Without going overboard, its healthier to keep yourself entertained, be it by dining with close friends or going for movies or simply traveling. Don’t count everything as an expense, its worth spending on yourself if it makes you happy. Please make yourself happy – sometimes, it takes an effort to do it. It becomes more critical if you are working solo. Remember, the whole purpose of starting your startup was to make yourself happy. Don’t lose that.

I understand many struggling founders feel the same and must be using some techniques to stay positive. I would love to hear if you have any particular ‘mantra’ too.

Festsy is always looking for passionate people, if you are interested, please contact n i s t h a

3 thoughts on “How do you stay sane while working on your startup?”

  1. Very interesting. I complete agree with you. We need to be ‘at it’ but not ‘at it’-24*7. The key is to have a balance(easier than done) along with un-wavering self belief /confidence sprinkled with spiritual insight. Am sure that not only would u be able to preserve your sanity but would come out a winner. May sai bless u.

  2. how true and how nostalgic! while i was working on my startup and decided to test pilot the project locally , i fell flat on my face. I mixed the two platforms – internet n local market together without realising the very idea i conceived was not for local peole. now i am on another journey , needless to say my idea has died premature death. when i see people like u , a woman more so, doing it all alone , i wish them all suceess and luck .i am not only sure but convinced that u have it all to make it large in life. can call it spiritual reading! best of luck.

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