Sherry Walling: “Don’t Burn-up in the Launch: Staying Emotionally and Relationally Healthy While Launching Your Startup” – MicroConf Europe 2013

The MicroConf Europe 2013 Hub Page with all the information can be found here

Speaker: Sherry Walling (@zenfounder)

The Transition Year 2007

  • Rob’s transition from employee to entrepreneur
  • Sherry gets her residency
  • Fighting every evening over whether to get a divorce and how to do it

Lessons Learned from that year

  1. Manage anxiety
  2. Invest well
  3. Go all in

Manage Anxiety

  • We didn’t recognize that we weren’t doing well. Too focused on our jobs
  • Study: Entrepreneurs are more likely to get prescribed anxiety medication than control group
  • Anxiety is:
    • unavoidable
    • (can be) useful
    • (can be) deadly
  • Yerkes-Dodson law:
    • low OR high arousal / anxiety leads to poor performance
    • moderate arousal / anxiety leads to great performance
    • Sweet spot is “lower” for high difficulty task than for easy tasks
  • Signs of Anxiety
    • Mind won’t stop
    • Muscle tension
    • Digestive problems
    • Sleeplessness
    • Increased heart rate
    • Irritability
    • Feeling frantic, distracted
  • Results of Unmanaged Anxiety
    • Damages Creativity, Concentration, Organization, Problem-solving and communication skills
    • Damages health
    • Linked to family violence, addiction, and risk of suicide
    • Too much anxiety for too long is bad for your business AND your life
  • How do you know when your anxiety is unmanaged?
    • You can’t shut it off (can’t focus on anything else)
    • Eating more / less
    • Haven’t had sex in two months

Managing Anxiety

  • Notice it!
    • Track the metrics (There’s an app for that)
    • Pay attention to your behaviour
  • Breathe
    • Anxiety is mainly a body reaction
    • focusing & telling your body it is OK to relax, will actually help
  • Double check it
    • Ask yourself “why?” – is it real or are you just getting used to being anxious?
  • Solve solvable problems
    • Throw money at solvable problems (house cleaning, babysitter, etc)
  • Keep track of what is going well
  • Take care of yourself
    • Eat well, sleep regularly, exercise
  • Same level of planning needed for personal life as for your business life
  • Those that care about you will shoulder the burden too. Emotion is contagious

Pre-Launch Communication

  • Why are you doing this?
  • What will it cost?
  • How much involvement?
  • How long do we try?
  • Plan B?
  • How will you know that you are not successful?
  • What about the worst case scenario?
  • Book recommendation: “For Better or Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and their Families”

Mid-Launch Communication

  • Weekly family meeting
  • What do each of us need this week?
  • How can we solve our solvable problems?
  • When is family time?
  • Don’t multitask your family

Post-Launch Reassessment

  • Take time for important conversations
    • Money
    • Time
    • Vision
    • Roles and expectations
  • What is sustainable? What is not?
  • Regular “time on your own” about every 6 months: check if you are happy with your life (both entrepreneur + spouse on their own)

Risk Intelligence

  • No linear relationship between risk tolerance and entrepreneurial success (Caliendo, Fossen & Kritikos – 2010)
  • Persons with low / high risk tolerance are more likely to fail than medium risk tolerance
  • Try with smaller numbers, work your way to bigger numbers

Invest in Relationships

  • 54% of entrepreneurs have a role model
  • 1/3 of the role model users claim that they would not have started their business without this role model
  • Master Mind Groups (same ventures, provide mental help for members)
  • Invest in others & their dreams (especially your girlfriend / boyfriend)
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    • Are you investing in the trust of your partner?
    • Are you investing in your relational network?
    • Are you investing in the dreams of others?
  • Don’t put your life on hold indefinitely

Go All In

  • Becoming a founder changes everything
  • Entrepreneurs enjoy work that fully utilizes their skills and gives them personal autonomy
  • Entrepreneurs were less depressed than their 9-5 colleagues
  • “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself” – Michel de
  • “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” – Mother Teresa
  • See the big picture

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About Christoph

Christoph lives in Munich, Germany and is bootstrapping his own SaaS application as a part-time entrepreneur.

He likes to write on this blog about anything of relevance to single-founder bootstrapped software startups.


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