Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Entrepreneurship

The importance of taking time off from work

Career regret

A couple of weeks ago, a story about a woman who took a couple of days off from work to focus on her mental health went viral.

In summary, Madalyn Parker, an engineer who works for live chat company Olark, wrote an email to her team that said she was taking the next couple of days off to focus on her mental health. The company’s CEO responded, praising her for her email and stressing how important it is to take time off.

This is an ongoing issue in the startup world, where 80-hour work weeks are often the norm and considered cool. David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and CTO of Basecamp, completely disagrees.

In the early days of my career in consulting, I used very few of my vacation days, and the thought of taking time off to work on my mental health never even crossed my mind.

When I was working for the Washington Capitals, the seasonality of the job didn’t really allow us to take any days off between September and May (when the Caps would crap the bed in the playoffs). We would take some time of in the summer, but even then I didn’t take full advantage of it.

I thought that taking days off would slow my ascent up the ladder. If I was the hardest working person in the company, I would get promoted and get more responsibility and authority.

Looking back, all that crap didn’t matter.

Unless you have a terrible manager, no one is going to ding you for taking days off. And as important and valuable as you are, your big company will go on without you and will still be there when you return. It’s harsh but true.

But as an entrepreneur, taking days off matters more, both for better and worse.

Any day that you’re not working on your product or business is a day of progress and potentially revenue lost. For each day that you take off, your competitors may be moving ahead of you, and it’s a day where you’re just not learning anything.

But if you don’t take time off, you won’t be able to recharge and your mind will never be 100%. You likely won’t be able to make those creative breakthroughs that are so important to the success of a company. You’ll get burned out.

Quite a predicament, huh?

Personally, I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. I keep thinking that I don’t do enough for my day job, I don’t do enough for WinOptix, and I don’t do enough as a parent and husband. I don’t know how much of that is true or if it’s just me.

One possible answer is that I can work harder. Dedicate more hours to my day job, stay up later to work on WinOptix, and spend more time with my family.

You can see just how impossible that is.

Hopefully it’s just all in my head. And I think some time away will help clear my mind and be more comfortable with my situation. It has to be real time away though, where I’m truly physically and mentally disconnected from work. Otherwise, it’s not really time away.

On that note, I’ll be traveling to Thailand for the next couple of weeks to attend my cousin’s wedding, hang out with some elephants and tigers, see some temples, and eat some amazing Thai food. I’ll see family that I haven’t seen in a long time, and spend time with my family exploring very different environments.

I’m going to take this time to reflect on my current situation, think about the path forward, and reset my mind. So I won’t be blogging over the next three Fridays. Hopefully I’ll come back refreshed, less guilt-ridden, and ready to kick some ass.

See you in a few weeks. And remember, go take a day or two off from work and don’t feel guilty about it. It’ll help in the long run.

Alignment with Co-Founders – Lessons Learned From Past Startups Pt. 2

Last week I wrote about how aligning your idea with your current life situation, skills, and interests is really important.

This week, I’m going to talk about about how important it is to be aligned with your co-founders, which may be the most important aspect of your startup.

Man, have I learned some lessons here.

Mistakes with Dokkit – Getting Married Before Dating

My first startup was Dokkit, a smart calendar app where you can find your interests (e.g. the New York Yankees or the 9:30 Club) and easily download their event calendars to the calendar of your choice.

Dokkit didn’t get very far because the co-founding team wasn’t aligned at all.

This was completely my fault, because I recruited three engineers to join the team really quickly, and we didn’t take the time to feel each other out.

In essence, we got married before dating.

This led to a number of issues.

First, we had different work styles that didn’t mesh at all.

Next, all of the engineers had full-time jobs, while I was primarily working on Dokkit. So our schedules and time commitments didn’t align.

Finally, we just had different visions of what Dokkit could be.

It’s no wonder why Dokkit never got anywhere.

After Dokkit and Ribl

After we stopped working on Dokkit, I wanted to make sure that I had a strong relationship with anyone I might work with as a co-founder in the future.

My next co-founder would be Jeff Thorn, the CEO of Thorn Technologies, whom I worked with on ribl. I consulted for his company (and am now its CMO) for a couple of years before started ribl. So I knew that we worked well together, and we still do.

We launched and grew ribl, and it came and went. Oh well.

After we stopped working on ribl, we worked on deciding what our next startup project would be.

After almost a year of tossing around ideas, we couldn’t agree on anything.

Why not? I think this is where our alignment, or lack thereof, came into play.

I was more interested in products in the marketing and sales space, since that was where my expertise was strongest. He and the rest of the team were more interested in building tools for coders, since that is who they are.

I had a bigger appetite for risk. I could go a few months without a paycheck, while Jeff could not.

I wanted to move faster and dedicate more resources to launching a product. Jeff had a services business to run.

So while we’re still working together at Thorn Tech, we’re no longer working together on a startup.


Bottom line is that you gotta have alignment with your partners.

Do you work well together? Do you want the same things? Are you willing to sacrifice the same amount of time, money, and sanity? Are you on similar timelines?

If one of you wants to build a company that grows really fast while the other wants a lifestyle business, it ain’t gonna work.

If someone wants to sell the company within 5 years while the other wants to build a generational company, it ain’t gonna work.

If one wants to risk it all while the other is more conservative, it ain’t gonna work.

Founder alignment is so important. So don’t rush into getting married with a founder. Take the time to make sure you work well together and are aligned on most if not all of the aspects we discussed.

I’ve made multiple mistakes here. Learn from me and avoid these gaffes!

Have you had co-founder alignment issues like I have? I’d love to hear your story!

Should you work on your weaknesses or focus on your strengths?

I recently listened to an episode of the podcast Seeking Wisdom where David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt from Drift talked about why you should forget about your weaknesses and focus on your strengths. Read the blog post here and listen/watch the video at the end after you finish reading this post. :)

This point of view certainly makes sense. It’s frickin hard to learn or get better at something that you’re not good at. And because it’s hard, you’ll also get frustrated when you make slow progress.

So maybe that time would be better spent on focusing on your strengths so you can turn them into superpowers, and delegating the stuff you’re not good at.

Here’s an excerpt from the episode’s blog post about one of David’s weaknesses:

For example: I’m not great at following up (especially with email). I’m a momentum maker. And that means I’m better at focusing on the here and now than I am at staying organized and creating process. But I used to fight it and I would focus on every single hack and trick to try and help — from to do lists on my laptop, reminders on my computer, phones on my phone, notebooks, etc.

This lesson took me a decade to learn. But eventually I learned the secret: I needed to double down on my strengths and surround myself (and team) with people who complement my weaknesses.

As a non-technical startup founder, it would be faster for me to recruit a technical co-founder or a contractor to help build the app. So instead of learning how to code, I could focus on customer development, marketing, and sales, all stuff that I’m much better at doing.

I do think there are situations where spending time on your weaknesses makes a lot of sense.

High-leverage activities

The first is if that weakness is a high-leverage activity that will have a substantial benefit if it’s improved.

In David’s example, being good at responding to email is a positive trait to have. But is it a high-leverage activity? Is it worth spending a decade trying to figure out how to get better at it? Or can David easily hire someone to help him respond to emails and be more organized?

On the other hand, for my situation, coding is a high-leverage activity that would benefit me greatly to know how to do.

Software developers are tough to recruit, but I was able to snag one on a contracting basis to help build WinOptix. Things are going great, but what if he decides to leave? I’d be shit out of luck.

And if we continue to work together, understanding how to code will allow me to 1) better estimate how long it will take him and others to build features of the product, and 2) contribute to the development of the product myself (eventually).

If your weakness is a high-leverage activity, it might make sense to put in the time to improve it.

If you don’t really like your strengths, enjoy working on your weakness, or both

Let’s say I’m strong at marketing. But one day I just get sick of writing blog posts, promoting them, running paid ads, and all of the other tasks that marketing entails. What should I do then?

The first thing I should do is assess my career. But what next? Should I continue working on my marketing skills, even though it kills me inside?

And let’s say I’m weak at programming (I am), but I looooooooove it (I don’t. It’s aight, but I don’t know enough to love it yet). Should I not try to improve my coding skills, just because I’m not really good at it?

Or what if both were happening at the same time?

Focusing on my strengths certainly wouldn’t make me any happier or necessarily better at my job.

Over to you

While I do see David’s point, there are certain situations where shoring up your weaknesses might make sense. I think the decision will be unique to each individual’s situation.

What’s your situation like? Are you focusing on your strengths, or working on your weaknesses? I’d love to hear from you.

BTW, David Cancel was an awesome guest on my podcast. Thanks David!

The importance of understanding your weaknesses – Chris Sacca on TWIST

Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo

Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo on TWIST — Photo courtesy of TWIST

I recently listened to part 1 of an interview with Chris Sacca and Matt Mazzeo of Lowercase Capital on This Week in Startups.

If you’re not aware, Lowercase Capital is one of the most successful seed stage investment firms in existence. Chris and Matt have invested in companies like Twitter, Uber, Stripe, Kickstarter, and many, many more.

The interview was really insightful and interesting. One of the things that stood out to me was when Chris said that he passed on Snapchat because he thought it was only about dick pics. When he told Matt that he passed, Matt was livid because he was a Snapchat user and thought it was an amazing product.

Chris is a little older, has a family, and thus has never swiped right or left (i.e. never used Tinder).

He isn’t in tune with the new ways that people are interacting with apps and each other.

This made Chris realize that his strength isn’t in taking the first meeting with a startup. He doesn’t “get” many of the products that are targeted toward millennials and younger people, so he’s not a good judge of whether he should invest in them.

Thus, he relies on Matt to judge those potential investments.

I love how one of the most successful investors in the world can openly admit his weaknesses and even more importantly, bring in people who can complement those shortcomings.

I think many times ego gets in the way and entrepreneurs (or anyone, really) think they can do it all.

Continuing to learn and understand new concepts is powerful, but sometimes you just have to realize that you can’t improve certain weaknesses enough. So you need to bring in additional resources and share the responsibility.

If one of the most successful investors in the world can be introspective enough to identify his weaknesses, everyone can.

It’s a powerful thing.

Have you identified your weaknesses, and if so, how have you dealt with them? Talk to me in the comments!

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A chip on the shoulder. Hard working. High motor.

All of these words describe a trait that I’m really fond of – scrappiness.

Someone who earns that last dollar.  Someone who doesn’t feel entitled to anything. Someone who appreciates what they have and works hard for it.

I think of some professional athletes that are scrappy.

Old school basketball players like Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton, or even more recent stars like Stephen Curry. Small NFL wide receivers like Wes Welker or Julian Edelman. They don’t have the size and strength of some of their peers. Maybe they were overlooked. But they put in the work to get better and better everyday and fight each and every play.

I know many people who are scrappier than I am. But I like to think that I have some elements of scrappiness. Most entrepreneurs do.

I attended some pretty good schools, but nothing elite like an Ivy League school, a Stanford, or a Duke. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t good enough to get into those schools, and that puts a little chip on my shoulder.

Or maybe it was the way I was raised, by parents who had to work really hard to put food on the table. Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means poor growing up. I got everything that I needed as a kid. But my parents were immigrants who moved to the US for a better life for our family, and they had to start over and work extremely hard to provide for us. Maybe that’s where it comes from.

Regardless, I think scrappiness is a result of both nature and nurture.

You may or may not have had experiences that have hardened you, that made you scrappy. But you can learn how to work harder. You can teach yourself how to fight and claw. You can learn how to be more appreciative of what you have.

You can teach yourself to be scrappier. I try to do it everyday.

In what ways are you scrappy?  I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at!

Have your career goals changed, and what have you done about it?

In only 15 years of post-college work, I’ve already had three careers. Not coincidentally, my career goals and objectives have changed.

When I graduated from grad school at Georgia Tech in 2001 (yeah, I’m old), I was very focused on money.

My goal was to score a high salary and my objective was to make over $100,000 by the age of 30. If I didn’t achieve that, I would have considered myself a failure.

I was well on my way. At 26, I was a consultant getting paid $90,000.

Then I got bored of that shit and took a complete salary U-turn.

I took off for business school to get into the sports business industry. I made almost nothing for the two years I was in school (my internships were either for no or little pay), then landed a sports marketing job that paid a little more than half of what I was making as a consultant.

I was cool with working for less money. At this point, my goal was recognition. My objective was to make the SportsBusiness Journal’s 40 Under 40 list.

Whether I was on my way to that award was debatable, but I was doing pretty well in my gig at the Washington Capitals.

After 4.5 years, that job ran its course, and then I became an entrepreneur.

My objective isn’t quite as clear, and I do need to work on that. But my goal now is to build and grow a company.

Things have been ebbing and flowing over the last four years, and I’ve gone through the ups and downs of the startup and entrepreneurial life. But it’s where I want to be right now, and that goal still endures.

While I hate not achieving goals and objectives that I set for myself, I’m not upset that I didn’t achieve the ones I mentioned above.

My point of all this is that as we go through life, priorities change, and thus the same goes with our goals and objectives. And that’s cool.

As you assess your career, think about your priorities and where you want to be. If those are different from the goals that you set prior, it’s OK to write off those goals and make a change to pursue a new one.

Have your career goals changed, and what did you do about it? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at!



Reflecting on 2015, big changes coming in 2016


Another year flies by! It’s amazing how fast 2015 went and how quickly 2016 will be here.

Here are my thoughts on how I did with the resolutions I made in 2015.

And I’m not making resolutions for 2016!

Read on…

Recapping 2015

Here were my resolutions for 2015 and how I did:

1) Publicly launch ribl and gain over 100,000 users: ribl launched, but we didn’t get close to 100K users

We launched ribl publicly at SXSW in March, but we certainly did not gain over 100,000 users.

While we worked hard to launch our app, we couldn’t keep up with the fast pace necessary to maintain and grow a consumer mobile application.

We’re bootstrapping ribl, which means that we’re funding the company with our own money. Bootstrapping a startup is hard; it’s difficult to find a balance between working for paying clients and building a product that won’t bring in any revenue for the foreseeable future.

Because we had to spend a lot of time on consulting engagements, we didn’t quite get as far as we expected with ribl. Sucks.

Rating: 5 out of 10

2) Measure more: not bad

I made a resolution to be more analytical and more frequently look at the metrics of my clients’ websites, my blog, the ribl app, and any other property that I managed.

I did spend more time on analytics and learned some new measurement tools, but probably didn’t do as much as I could.

Rating: 6 out of 10

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter: total fail

Jeez, I totally forgot about this one. Again.

Absolute fail.

Rating: 1 out of 10

4) Be a great dad: pretty good!

Baby Maya was born on May 14, 2015 and she is incredible!

It’s tough for me to truly judge how great of a dad I’ve been, but I think I’ve done a solid job so far.

Vicky and I have been working well together to balance our schedules to take care of Maya. We also have the help of Vicky’s mother and my Mom, which has been a godsend.

Maya is happy and healthy, and that’s all that really matters.

Rating: 8 out of 10

One more thing for 2015 – launch of my podcast

Another big thing that happened in 2015 is that I launched a podcast, the Go and Grow Podcast.

At the beginning of the year, I hadn’t ever listened to a podcast. But by October, I launched my own!

It’s been a great ride so far.

My podcast has reached #1 on a few iTunes New and Noteworthy categories.

More importantly, I just love speaking with entrepreneurs about how they’ve launched and grown their companies. I’ve learned so much and have been inspired by their stories.

Looking forward to 2016

To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like making any resolutions for 2016, and maybe ever again.

I just wind up forgetting about the resolutions I’ve made and then get depressed when I write this blog post at the end of each year.

Yeah, I know, it seems like a cop out. The better solution may be to actually remember the resolutions I’ve made and stick to them, right?

Instead, I’m just going to work hard, make progress every day, and balance my career and life as a whole.

I do want to highlight some major changes that are coming in 2016.

Career changes

As I stated in my recap of resolution #1, we didn’t even come close to progressing with ribl as we hoped. This was because we lacked the time and resources to focus on building and growing the app.

The ideal situation would be for me and my co-founders to dedicate 100% of our time on building ribl or whatever product we choose to develop. But life doesn’t work that way, as we all have families for which to provide, so we need income.

So I’ve decided to join my co-founders in growing their software development firm, Thorn Technologies, where I’ll be Chief Marketing Officer!

The structure that we’ve had the past couple of years wasn’t quite working.

I consulted for Thorn Technologies for a few hours per week to help market the firm and sell software development projects. And whenever we had some free time, we would work on ribl.

Thorn Tech would grow a little, ribl would grow a little, but we would still be strapped for resources and not get as far as we’d like on either.

Now I’ll be working full-time to grow Thorn Tech faster.

The hope is that by dedicating more time to growing Thorn Tech, we’ll have a larger portfolio of projects and more robust pipeline of potential clients. This in turn will put us in a better financial situation, allow us to hire more resources to both cover our client projects and help us build a product, whether that’s ribl as it exists, ribl in another form, or something in a completely different direction.

Will this new structure work? We think it will, but who knows.

It’s clear that what we had didn’t work, so we need to try something else. It wouldn’t make sense to keep going as-is and just hope that things will get better.

So we’re going to give this experiment a shot and see how much progress we can make on the product front.

I’ll still continue to grow my podcast on my free time, and maybe even launch a show for Thorn Tech!

Life changes

With the birth of Maya, our condo is getting pretty cramped. And with Maya growing so quickly, it will only continue to get more crowded.

So Vicky and I have been looking for a larger home that will accommodate our growing family.

We’re not sure where we’ll wind up, as we have to balance our love for the city, the quality of schools, availability of houses within our budget, and many more factors.

It’ll be a lot of work to find and transition to a new place. We’re not even sure if the move will happen in 2016 but it’s certainly a possibility.


2015 was a fun but up-and-down year.

The birth of Maya was certainly the highlight of 2015. Though it’s a tough job raising a child – many sleepless nights and lots of uncertainty – it has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

And while I’ve had early success with my podcast, I didn’t come close to achieving as much as I would have liked with the startup, which is my #1 career priority.

2016 is going to be full of change and excitement.

I can’t wait to see how much Maya develops, and look forward to the changes her growth brings to our lives.

I’m pumped about my new role at Thorn Tech, as I do believe it will help us progress in building a product.

And I’m excited to continue working on my podcast and growing my audience.

See you later, 2015, it was nice knowing you. Hello 2016, looking forward to finding out more about you!

What changes are coming your way and what will you focus on in 2016? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Guest Post for The Good Men Project – I’m a Husband, Father, and Entrepreneur, Thanks to My Wife

Good men project image

Check out my guest post on The Good Men Project titled “I’m a Husband, Father, and Entrepreneur, Thanks to My Wife.

I’ve been a husband for over three years, and a father to my beautiful baby girl Maya for just over six months. Of course, I couldn’t be a husband and father without Vicky.

I’ve also been an entrepreneur since July 2012. I owe that to Vicky as well.

Being a husband and a father were inevitable. Being an entrepreneur didn’t have to happen. But it did, and I couldn’t be an entrepreneur without the financial and emotional support from my wife.

Being a husband, father, and entrepreneur all at once takes a lot of sacrifice and compromise, and of course, not only on my part. Vicky arguably has sacrificed more than I have, and I owe everything to her.

Read our full story on The Good Men Project.

Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito on Flickr

Do you regret your past career decisions? Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Career regret

Studies have shown that workers can have up to seven careers in their lifetime. If you’re one of these people, this means that you may have had to take a few steps back and completely start over with little experience in your new job or industry.

Thus, when thinking about your career trajectory, it’s easy to say “I wish I had done that sooner,” or “Man, if I knew then what I know now, I’d totally be killing it today,” or whatever else people say about the career and life decisions that they regret.

Many people who have made career changes wish that they realized sooner what they wanted to do with their lives. They think that they’re really late to the game and regret not doing things differently in the past.

My career has been a winding, swerving roller coaster, and I think this way sometimes. But it’s bullshit. And when I do think this way, I always call myself out, because things change all the time, and you never know how past experiences can help your current or future prospects.

Here’s what I mean.

My convoluted career path

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2000 but had no desire to work in that field after graduation. After all, life wasn’t to be spent in a lab or steel mill.

Thus, I pursued my Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering (IE) to hopefully start my career in the consulting industry. After obtaining that diploma in 2001 and getting a consulting gig, I wished I was interested in IE sooner. I felt that my four years of undergrad could have been better spent pursuing an IE major, and I wouldn’t have had to attend grad school.

Oh, regret.

The consulting career then ran its course.

When I started my career in sports business a few years later, I then wished that I had jumped into that industry sooner.

I was living the dream at my marketing job at the Washington Capitals. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine working in another industry.

Even when basking in the glow of my dream sports marketing job, I thought about how far up the corporate ladder I would have been had I started working in sports business after undergrad, instead of seven years and two graduate degrees (and lots of debt) later.

Oh, regret.

Until, of course, that career ran its course and I became an entrepreneur.

Do I wish that I had pursued entrepreneurship earlier in my career? Not at all.

You are the sum of your experiences

Your experiences make you the person you are now, and your current career is the aggregate result of your past careers. Even if your past careers seem completely disconnected from what you’re doing now, don’t ever regret the path you took nor take your past experience for granted.

I never came close to using materials science and engineering concepts in any of my careers, but that degree laid the foundation for the analytical thinking I use everyday.

I actually did use my IE degree in my consulting career, which is a plus. And even though I don’t directly apply IE to my current job, the concepts of efficient work, project and time management, and process analytics certainly influence each task that I execute on a daily basis.

And looking back, the MBA that I attained isn’t a necessary credential for an entrepreneur; rather, many say the degree is a detriment. But do I regret getting that degree? No way.

Although I attended NYU Stern to pursue a career in sports business, I learned so much about marketing, branding, and management, skills that I use every day. And much of my professional network stems from my time at NYU, which has helped and will continue to benefit my career in the future.


Sure, everyone wishes they had pursued certain career paths earlier, but hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t even waste time looking back and regretting your choices.

Just know that your past experiences make you who you are now, and that’s a good thing.

Your turn

Have you made career decisions that you regret? How do you think those decisions have impacted your career trajectory? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

How to avoid burning out when running your startup (and promoting it at SXSW)


This time last week I was in Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive to promote my startup, ribl. And this time last week, I was as mentally and physically drained and depressed as I have ever been in my life.

Those who know me know that I’m a pretty high-energy and positive person, and “depressed” is hardly ever in my vocabulary. But SXSW, and the startup game, took its toll on me for a little while. Here’s what I learned from the situation, how it applies to startups overall, and how you can avoid the temporary burnout that I experienced.

Multi-day conferences, and startups, are marathons, not sprints

If you read my recap of SXSW on the ribl website, you might see that I had a pretty stressful start to the conference.

The week prior to the event, I was really busy preparing for my demos and garnering press for our launch. On Friday, it took longer than we expected to publish the app on Google Play, which was really nerve-wracking. On Saturday, my demo at Austin TechBreakfast did not go well, and I spent all day and night in a frog suit doing demos and promoting ribl, which was very tiring.

mike in frog costume

This frog was not that happy at the end of SXSW.

By Sunday, on only the third of five days of SXSW, I was already feeling the effects of burnout. I was tired, hungover, and mentally fried, and didn’t attend any SXSW events during the day. I did not want to get into that frog suit again. But I did, and attended a few parties that evening.

On Monday, I took a full day off from the conference and did nothing. On Tuesday, I attended a few panels and took a couple of meetings sans frog suit. On Wednesday, I was really happy to leave Austin and head home.

The lesson here is that for these long conferences, you need to pace yourself to get the most out of them. Maybe I wouldn’t be saying this if I were 10 years younger, but who knows. I was really busy and went out really hard in the beginning and was totally worn down by day three.

The same can be said about startups and entrepreneurship overall. I think one of the reasons I was depressed was that our product wasn’t ready for prime time and while we received great feedback, we didn’t achieve the number of downloads and engagement level that we wanted to see from the event. And because of this lack of success, I felt even more guilty when I wasn’t wearing the frog suit and promoting ribl. It was a pretty vicious cycle.

But I realized that this is just the beginning. While SXSW didn’t go perfectly, we actually launched the app, which is a win in itself, and laid the foundation to grow in the future. I met a bunch of people who really loved the app and want to help promote it. And I learned that SXSW is not the be-all, end-all for tech startups; it’s only a step in the process.

I’m not usually this short-sighted, and I think the fatigue and time away from home just wore me down. The ribl team and I are in this for the long haul and SXSW is only the beginning of a long, fruitful journey. Running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t go it alone

If you’re attending a conference to promote your startup or company, do not do it alone. Don’t do it!

First of all, SXSW and many other conferences are so big that you can’t possibly get the most out of them if you’re working by yourself. You can only put up so many stickers and talk to so many people, and it won’t be enough.

Second, because promoting your company is such a grind, you’ll want to have someone to lean on and speak with when you’re tired and worn out.

Third, it sucks attending events and showing up at parties alone. It’s much better when you have that other person you know will be by your side.

This is the same for startups in general.

There’s just too much to do, and you likely don’t have all the skills you need to build a successful business on your own.

Building a startup is a grind, and you need that shoulder to lean on when times are tough.

And knowing that your co-founder(s) will be by your side will make the journey all that more enjoyable.

Businesses with multiple founders are more likely to succeed for the reasons above, so don’t try to do it alone.

Care a little less sometimes

One of the reasons why I got so down at SXSW was that I care A LOT about ribl. The development of the app wasn’t where we thought it would be and we didn’t garner as many downloads as we wanted, and the combination of this lack of success with the passion I have for the company really dampened my spirit.

I realized that sometimes you just need to disconnect and care a little less about your work. When I took time away from SXSW on Sunday and Monday, I spent time with the friends at whose home I was staying. We ate some great BBQ, hung out at Zilker Park, and just relaxed. I also went for a run to clear my mind. And even though ribl was still in the back of my mind, I was able to disconnect a little bit and enjoy Austin outside of SXSW.

The same can be applied to the everyday grind of building a startup. Running a business can be an all-encompassing endeavor and if you don’t disconnect sometimes, burnout will be inevitable. Make sure you set time aside to exercise, take a vacation, and relax. Go out to eat, have your friends over, and turn off your cell phone. Care a little less sometimes.


SXSW was a great event at which to promote ribl but it certainly had its side effects on me. I learned a lot about how not to burn out at multi-day conferences, and these lessons can be applied to the everyday grind of building a business. If you remind yourself that startups are marathons, having a co-founder is a great thing, and caring a little less can really help, you’ll avoid burning out.

What do you think about my experience? Do you have any stories or additional tips to avoid burnout? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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