Startup life is often portrayed as a fast-paced and thrilling adventure. But there is a darker side that’s not often talked about. Startup life can wreak havoc on your mind and body. The red-eyes, the late nights, the non-stop mind-racing, the isolation - it’s an utterly exhausting journey that often doesn’t let up even as the company scales.
FUEL General Partner Leah Busque recently shared her story about the mental and physical toll that she endured as a founder in the hope that it helps other founders in similar situations. Here’s an excerpt:
The last round of financing I raised for TaskRabbit (our Series D) was by far the most difficult and stressful experience I had while leading the company. It was mid-2015 and we were about 2 weeks away from being completely cash out (read: We were 2 weeks away from not making payroll.). While the company was healthy and growing, I made a bad call in the previous fundraise; I simply did not raise enough in our Series C because I got distracted by things like dilution and speed to close. That raise was far too easy and now I was facing quite the opposite scenario - traveling non-stop and meeting with countless investors to get a deal done. (This was a huge lesson learned and probably a story for another day.)
On a particularly stressful day, I went for a walk with a fellow founder and was venting to him about the raise. While it was cathartic to lament, my stomach started to hurt later that afternoon and by bedtime the pain was so bad I could hardly move. I went to the hospital and after a few tests was admitted for five days. The diagnosis: stress-induced colitis. My friend later tells me that I looked a little green that afternoon. I bet I did.
The stress of the fundraise was so intense that my body literally crashed. At the time, I remember thinking, my company is going to fail because my body has given out on me. Yet, the frenetic pace didn’t slow and even from my hospital bed I was on calls with investors trying to secure financing. The first meeting I took after getting out of the hospital was a pitch with a debt financing firm. I could barely walk into the meeting on my own. Thankfully, I pushed through because this was the round that ultimately led to a deal with IKEA and got us to profitability.
Luckily, my story has a happy ending both from a company and health standpoint. Yet, it’s difficult to reflect on even 4 years later. Stress and anxiety are an inevitable part of being a founder and CEO (it’s kinda what you signed up for). So is the urge to push yourself to the limit. But, I’ve come to two important realizations over the years. The first is that constantly doing more doesn’t always result in improved performance. The second is that while there are many things outside of your control as a founder, there is one thing you can control - that is, how well you prepare your mind and your body for the stressful moments. How do you take care of yourself and recharge so you are physically and mentally prepared for what comes at you - not just in startup life but in life in general?
We appreciate Leah sharing her story as this is something that we at FUEL are deeply committed to. Our guiding principle has always been that we stand in our founders’ corners, not their kitchen and we want to be trusted confidantes always - but particularly during the difficult times. We believe that we need to go beyond the money and invest in our founders' health and well-being, giving them the time and space to recharge - to “fuel up” so to speak - for what’s bound to come their way. We believe this is fundamental to not only sustaining our founders but also creating sustainable companies and cultures.
So today, we are excited to announce the launch of ReFUEL. ReFUEL is a series of events focused on the physical and mental well-being of founders. The event series will focus on diet, fitness, recovery, meditation and improved sleep. We held our first ReFUEL event in the Bay Area in mid March where we were joined by a great group of over 50 founders and friends for a SoulCycle class and a Joe & the Juice smoothie bar. The energy, inspiration, and support in the room was palatable. A 4-minute rolling hill was the perfect analogy for building a company - grinding to the top with peaks and valleys along the way.
We have several ReFUEL events planned in the next few weeks in cities across the country, including:
LA (Downtown): April 17th at SoulCycle
SF (SOMA): April 19th at SoulCycle
NYC (Grand Central): May 3rd at SoulCycle
If you are an entrepreneur in need of a ReFUEL, please complete this short google form to attend one of our events.