Startups Anonymous: The Founder Meltdown
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]
A while ago, I broke down. I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried in my life. Like, ugly cried. My chest was tightening, my heart was going crazy and anxiety was taking hold of me. I asked my girlfriend (who was thankfully with me the entire time I was bawling, God bless her) why I was doing all this when my people only cared about themselves and wouldn’t hesitate to leave once the going gets tough. There was unrest within the team, the culture was getting toxic and I was burnt out as fuck. Worst of all, we were running out of money (we’re a bootstrapped startup that gets funding through services, not investors). I didn’t know how to get enough money in time to pay my people. I was scared, lonely and about to give up.
I asked myself why I was doing all this. Imagine me, working 12-16 hours a day, doing everything in my power to scrape together funds to get my people paid, and they turn out to be ungrateful. They work flexible hours and get unlimited leaves, while I stay in until way past midnight to finish projects and am always on the verge of personal bankruptcy just so they can get paid once salaries are disbursed. This is the thanks I get?
It felt horrible. I honestly felt like I did everything in my power to keep everybody afloat, despite being a solo founder. I felt so betrayed by the same people who I believed worked for the same vision I had. At one point the thought of disbanding everything and selling the company crossed my mind. But deep in my heart I didn’t want our story to end this way. I had to be strong, even though I was running out of steam.
Things did get better, eventually. I got another founder on board to help things on an organizational level. We’ve set systems and processes for the entire company, something that we did not focus on during the first years of the company (primarily due to us running lean the entire time). We’re also weeding out the bad apples from the team. We’re slowly graduating from a freewheeling startup culture to a more organized and stable corporate structure — kind of ironic, since I put up the company to get away from rigid and outdated corporate structures in the first place.
All in all, I’m happy. Probably for the first time in years, I felt comfortable with how things are turning out. A lot of pressure was taken off my shoulders, and my health has improved because of it (I used to suffer from asthma a lot, for some reason. Now the attacks have lessened drastically). And I’ve learned a lot from all the troubles we went through. Growing pains. Irreplaceable life lessons.
But still, man. You shoulda seen me when I was crying ugly.
[image: public domain]