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What Startup Life is Really Like; Entrepreneurs Share Candid Stories

Wish people told you

Entrepreneurs are the ones who throw away the rule book and write their own. But at some point along the way, they realize they’ve thrown away the rule book. Hence all the tips and tricks and advice and how to’s and to do’s and to don’ts.

But advice often reflects personal experience, rather than universal truths. I surveyed entrepreneurs, and they offered these tips: be more ambitious; be less ambitious; age matters; age doesn’t matter; don’t have a delicate ego; don’t have an inflated ego. And so on.

“I wish someone had told me early on that there is no ‘Yoda of Startups’ that has all the answers to how to make a startup successful,” says founder Wil Schroter of Fundable. “When it comes to startups, people’s past successes provide wisdom and support, but not a repeatable path to success that just simply needs to be followed.”

So I asked a different question: what do you wish someone had told you before starting a company? What do you wish you had known? Here’s what entrepreneurs said.

Lifestyle

“Entrepreneurship is not a part-time job, and it’s not even a full-time job. It’s a lifestyle,” says Carrie Layne, founder and CEO of BestBuzz. “There will be days that you wake up at 3 am to start working because there will be an idea stuck in your head, and there will be days when you work until 2 am. You know that you’re an entrepreneur when you get excited about weekends and holidays, and you start watching the clock for it to be 5pm on Friday, so that you can get some real work done.”

For entrepreneurs, work blends into life blends into all-nighters blend into weekends. And for some, personal relationships suffer. “It’s all consuming, so try real hard to maintain your relationships with your friends and family,” says Eddy Lu, Grubwithus CEO and cofounder. Candace Klein, the inspiring woman behind SoMoLend and Bad Girl Ventures, remembers working at home, propped up in bed with a laptop, and sometimes forgetting to shower for three or four days. “I feel like a bad daughter and a bad sister and a bad friend and a bad girlfriend,” she admits.

And all that time sitting and typing leaves little time for exercise or even sleep. “At a previous company I founded, I managed to put on about 30 pounds without even noticing it. When I made the change and got myself back under control, I felt infinitely better; health and stress are heavily intertwined,” says BUYSTAND CEO Joe Davy.

(See: 4 Neat Tricks for a Good Entrepreneurial Night’s Sleep and Startup Health Tips from FitKit.) 

And finally, it can be lonely. Family, friends, and even spouses may not understand why you’re pushing yourself so hard and working such long hours. One entrepreneur even compared it to the great divide between People With Kids and People Without Kids.

“You have 9 months of pregnancy, give birth, and then spend the next 18+ months realizing you’ve a living, breathing start up ‘child’ and none of your friends do. So your whole world changes because you now have 10% in common with everyone else,” says Heddi Cundle, the head of MyTab.

Emotional Roller Coaster 

“I wish someone had warned me that startups will give you the highest of highs and the lowest of lows…often in the same day. It’s such a roller coaster and I wished I was more prepared to temper my excitement during the highs, and not let my sadness overtake me during the lows. The next peak or valley is just around the corner,” says Jeff Martens of CPUsage.

Those highs can be exhilarating: the first paying customer, a surge in users, a round of funding. And the lows can be soul-crushing: firing someone because the money is running out, or seeing months of hard work amount to nothing.

It’s such a roller coaster because you’re right there on the front lines, and you can see and feel everything. Working at a corporation, where there are layers and layers of hierarchy between you and a successful product, is like being the star of The Princess and the Pea (without the superhuman sense of touch). Working at a startup is like sleeping on a chunky mattress with springs digging into your spine. Every decision, every day brings you closer to success or failure – to letting down your employees or investors, or validating their faith in you.

“Depending on the time of day, all ideas including your own sound either awesome or completely idiotic. There’s no in-between. You really feel bi-polar all the time,” says cofounder Leo Tenenblat of AppMesh.

“We joke that running a startup is the perfect balance between crippling insecurity and unshakeable conviction – it’s that odd mix that keeps us going in the business even when we aren’t sure if we’re making the right choices,” says cofounder Bridgette Hylton of ShopRagHouse. “Learning to cope with that fear and use it to motivate instead of debilitate is something you can’t teach necessarily, but you can learn.”

An unpredictable lifestyle and emotions – that’s the bad news. The good news is that, somehow, all this is worth it if you succeed. And that’s more likely to happen if you know what to expect.

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About the Author

Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and positive psychology. Since 2011, she has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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