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The human cost of the founder journey

While founder mental health is an important discussion to have, the effect the pressures can have on the founder's loved ones is an equally important topic. BizDojo co-founder Nick Shewring shares the lessons he's learnt on how to ensure friends and family are well supported when someone is undergoing a start-up journey. 

I have made no secret about my own mental health challenges on my founder journey. In my recent blog on this topic I focused a lot on the importance of support for founders, not only for the sake of their mental health but for the sake of achieving better business outcomes. 

Being able to talk openly about the pressure has been a huge part of me finding a path forward. 

I’ve found that it’s about the people I’ve surrounded myself with, and the people who I can talk through anything with, who have made the greatest impact on me navigating this journey.

But all this has me thinking - what about the people that are closest to me, who have supported me on this journey - what support do they have? Those people outside of the business and the startup community, who support us day in and day out - our family (and friends). These humans are impacted by the pressure that we are under as founders, but what support do they have?

This really hits home for me as I have seen and felt this tension firsthand. When you look at the reality of what the founder journey can mean, it is pretty clear the kind of impact that owning a business can have on partners, kids and close friends. Say, you are about to take investment, so you are running pretty lean before the next round comes. Working yourself and your team hard to meet targets put in front of you by a prospective investor. Money at home is tight, and time away from the office is virtually non-existent. You and your family are feeling under pressure. Without seeing you, your family are isolated and lonely - and anytime they are having with you is feeling tense. Your folks, who have always had your back, and in fact flicked you your seed capital, are now beginning to wonder if your time and energy is better put somewhere else. Your partner? More than a little freaked out that money is thin, and the rent/mortgage is getting harder to meet. Questions about what you are doing, and why you are putting resources at risk are beginning to be asked. And when was the last time you saw your friends?

Sounds stressful? Sounds normal? Sounds a lot like your situation right now?

It really got me thinking about what actions my family and I have put in place to help cope with the pressures - and started talking to other founders about what has worked for them. We did some research looking for information on the impact that starting a venture can have on founders’ family and friends, and support mechanisms available for them. We really didn’t find a lot, if anything, out there. So we thought we’d put together some thought starters around this - things that have helped me and my co-founder Jonah, as well as some tips from the people that I’ve talked to along the way.

Five things that you as a founder should think about to help support your family:

1. Starting your founder journey? Decide as a family what this should look and feel like

It can be easy to let things slip when no one has agreed what “normal” should look like. Before you set out on your venture talk to those in your life about what this will mean for you. What are the things you agree, as a family, that will be your new normal, what are the things you feel more flexible about, and what are the things your family absolutely need. Think of it as a family plan that sits alongside your business plan, and start off the the conversation by looking at the big questions; time, finances, availability, and how you as a family can raise concerns.

2. Talk about the finances from the start

Money is a stress point for most people, and when starting a venture this will only be exacerbated. No matter how uncomfortable it is, you have to have the cash conversation before you get started on your business.

You have to ask hard questions about reducing spending, saving more and just how much runway you have. Set up a financial plan, and expectations on what your financial situation will be like when the business is in play.

3. Set out support for yourself and your family now

Your plan to deal with stress can't just be to offload it on those around you.

If I think about the stress I have put the people in my life through I feel like a massive asshole. It’s never been my intention to make their lives stressful but they have been affected by my business and how I deal with my own stress.

It does not have to be this way. Seek out a neutral person like a counsellor or mentor to talk about your stress, anxiety, which will allow you to talk more constructively to those closest to you. It isn't about shutting down the conversation lines, but about making sure those conversation lines are good for all those involved - not just you.

4. Identify when a singular focus is useful, and when it is damaging

Often entrepreneurs talk about the need for a single focus for success. But putting all your energy into your business will mean that you are actively not putting your energy in elsewhere and at some stage something has to give; that could very well be the mental wellness of your partner or family.

For years, I believed that running a successful business meant working 24/7. I couldn't have been more wrong. It comes down to quality-not-quantity. There is still a massive amount of effort needed to get your business moving, but working every waking moment won't fix your problems. Most often, it’s during your downtime that the magic happens, where you come up with new ideas or begin to see a situation in a new light.

5. Check in frequently

The best laid plans can, and will, go awry. Doing the above will help set you and your family up for a less stressful founder journey. That said, it is up to you all to check-in and be honest about how the situation is playing out and adjust as you need to. Making sure time is set aside to check in, and then plan next steps keeps everyone honest, and all feelings out in the open.

The hardest part of been a founder is the pressure of not wanting to let people down. With that, just know that it's about acknowledging that you can't make everyone happy all the time, but you can try by starting with yourself and your family first then the business will follow.

How have you and your family coped with the founder journey? What tips have you learnt and what do you think organisations can do to support families better? My co-founder Jonah and I are keen to hear from people that have “been there and done that”, or are going through it now, as we look to craft resources and solutions with BizDojo, Founders Central and the other organisations out there supporting startups and founders in the ecosystem.

This was republished from Shewring's LinkedIn.

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