evolvedMD announces the addition of Doris Huang, Director of Customer Success, and Jaye Williams, Director of Operations, to its executive leadership...
How Startup Founders Can Stay Mentally Fit Amidst Chaos
By Doris Huang, Director of Customer Success
One of the biggest threats to any company’s performance is burnout. This is especially true of founder burnout, an all-too-common reality that often gets swept under the rug. As a former founder and now executive leader at a behavioral health startup, I know how debilitating burnout can be. Stress is unavoidable when running a company, but burnout is preventable if entrepreneurs and executive leaders take proactive steps to care for themselves and their teams.
From my own experience, here are my tips for staying physically, mentally, and emotionally fit — even when times get rough.
Self-care is your fiduciary duty
Sentari Minor, Head of Strategy, in the middle
of his daily self-care routine.
In the startup world, any moment you’re not working on your company feels like a lost one. Before joining evolvedMD in early 2022, I co-founded The Deco Food + Drink in the heart of Manhattan’s historic Garment District and felt guilty any time I wasn’t working. But I quickly learned that the best thing you can do for your business is take care of and put yourself first. Otherwise, you’ll put all your hard work in jeopardy.
Take a moment to ask yourself who will keep your company thriving if you crash and burn because you simply didn’t take care of yourself?
Don’t let it get to that point. It’s a responsibility to your company to take care of yourself, however that looks for you. Take some time to think about what meaningful self-care looks like and curate a routine uniquely for you. If you need inspiration, you can find some from the evolvedMD team here.
For team-wide impact:
Set an example for your team and walk the walk. Your team takes cues from you as their leader, so if what you say (e.g. “self-care is really important so we don’t burn out”) doesn’t match up with what they see you do (e.g. not taking time for your own self-care), that creates confusion at best — and at worst, the belief that “it’s all just talk.” Self-care is often a personal journey, but practicing self-care in front of your team will show them it’s okay to take time during the workday to practice self-care, too. Also, people want their leaders to be confident and consistent so that employees will adopt similar attitudes and behaviors as well.
Build your own support circle
Evan Sakrison, Strategy & Marketing Specialist, with his ACEL mentor.
Every solopreneur and executive leader knows that relationships are key to success. I’m not talking about building trust with investors, prospective customers, or talent (although that’s also important); I’m talking about developing a support circle with other founders and leaders.
When building The Deco Food + Drink in New York City, I found a support group with a few other entrepreneurs I met through the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. They were also building their own brick-and-mortar businesses in New York City spanning a virtual reality lab, a café and bakery, and an express facial bar.
Although an eclectic mix, the problems you face when building a business are universal. The four of us would regularly get together to have coffee and workshop through practical problems, share advice, and provide emotional support. All of us representing different industries proved invaluable in getting different perspectives — with diversity of thought and approach leading to countless insights and “a ha” moments. Mostly, these colleagues were there to provide the psychological safety to vent, to be vulnerable, and to reflect to ensure I was taken care of, mentally.
For you, I recommend deliberately cultivating these relationships by attending Meetups through Meetup.com, leveraging your network to request introductions, or visiting startup incubators where you’re likely to meet entrepreneurs from all types of industries.
For team-wide impact:
Connect your employees to any opportunities that grab your attention to drive impact. Networking events, conferences, and Meetups will help them craft their own diverse support circles. Even better, connect them to a mentorship opportunity through a renowned organization or someone in your network whom you think would be a good match.
Manage your own expectations
Doris Huang, Customer of Success, with Team Utah
at evolvedMD's All Team Gathering.
Running a business is often compared to riding a roller coaster: The uncertainty of what’s next can be just as thrilling as it is stressful. In my experience, the roller coaster was full of psychological and emotional ups and downs that reflected the ups and downs you experience with the business.
For example, you close a big sale and feel amazing. Another day, a deal falls through — even if it was completely out of your control — and you feel terrible. As a founder, this constant whiplash can trigger heightened stress and lead to burnout.
If you want to manage whiplash, you must learn to manage your expectations. It’s natural for startup founders to beat up on themselves when things don’t work out the way they wanted, especially when things take a lot longer to happen than they anticipated.
If things do take longer or don’t work out how you planned, don’t compound that stress by making a conscious effort to put yourself down. Instead, I recommend journaling daily, doing breathing and meditation exercises, and anything that allows you to step back and see the big picture. When you effectively manage your expectations and take the long view, you’ll stay more balanced and realistic.
For team-wide impact:
Be realistic and human in your expectations of your team. Especially when the business is your baby, it can be hard not to push everybody (yourself included) all the time, but in the long run, that almost always leads to burnout and even turnover. Starting and running a company is a lot like a marathon — one that calls for an endurance mindset. That means pacing your team appropriately so they can conserve their energy.
Focus on the whole person with intention + help
The evolvedMD team at PHX Startup Week.
As entrepreneurs, it’s easy for us — and for others — to see ourselves as nothing more than our companies. We identify so closely with our businesses that we often forget to prioritize everything else that makes us a complete and healthy person: our families, friends, hobbies, and health.
Sometimes we need a reminder and perhaps some accountability to ensure we focus on more than the venture, with therapists and executive coaches as great options. I had both when building The Deco Food + Drink, and they were instrumental in helping me stay grounded amid chaos. I worked with the therapist to stay emotionally connected and engaged, while my executive coach helped me clarify goals and unlock my full potential. Both acted as sounding boards and helped me become more self-aware and confident in who I am as a whole person.
For team-wide impact:
It’s important that your team feels they have protected time for the other parts of their life outside of work. Whether it’s after hours, PTO, or even during the workday when it calls for it, respect their boundaries so they can do what they need to treat their whole person — including practicing self-care and seeing a therapist or coach. You should also encourage their growth outside of work – ask about hobbies and how they manage stress.
Working yourself to the edge of burnout shouldn’t be a requirement for building a successful company. I firmly believe that no startup — or any company for that matter — can outlive its founder’s burnout even if they get everything right. And if you follow my tips above to prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional health, I’m confident you’ll fortify your company’s health, too.