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.
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!
Photo courtesy of Healthylifestyleart.com.