Startup Therapy Podcast

Episode #170

Ryan Rutan: Welcome back to another episode of the Startup therapy podcast. This is Ryan Rotan joined as always by Will Schroeder, my friend, the founder and CEO of startups dot com. Well, we always set out to accomplish lots of stuff with our startups but getting bags under our eyes, uh love handles, wrinkles, gray hair, no hair. These weren't really part of the brochure and not necessarily things that we, we set out to, to gain, but I seem to have gained some of those. When does this stop? Well, if

Wil Schroter: you're about, I was gonna say never. And I think that's, that's the wrong answer. But if we're treating ourselves like we typically treat ourselves at a startup, it's only going to get worse. It's, it's bananas how shitty we treat ourselves. In spite of the fact, in spite of the fact, we know the opposite. We're all smart people. We know that we should be trying to perform at the best that we possibly can and yet we do everything possible to destroy ourselves or more specifically let ourselves become destroyed. So I think what would be interesting in this episode is talking about what happens. How do we let ourselves get to this point and more most importantly, being very clear that it is actually not ok to destroy ourselves, to go through this process and physically and mentally and emotionally destroy ourselves. I think we've got to unpack that because we think that it's the cost of doing business and it's not, it is the cost of mis maintaining ourselves and there's nothing else to it. Yeah. That's

Ryan Rutan: absolutely it. That's absolutely it. So, where does it start? Right. I mean, like, because it starts early, right? It starts with the idea that, you know, there's this mountain of work and front of us that we have to do and therefore we just have to begin to sacrifice. And like time is the only resource I have that I can plow into this. And so I'll just start to spend all my time on this. Ergo, all my energy. Ergo, not sleeping, not exercising, not doing those things. This is the genesis of it. Yeah.

Wil Schroter: Well, I think what happens and this has become kind of part of the startup ethos, which is, this is all about sacrifice. If you're not sacrificing, you're not building a startup, you're not sacrificing, you're not truly a startup founder. And there's some truth to that. How could there not be? Right? This is a sacrifice. We sacrifice many things but to what end and to what limit, what is the limit at which point we're not willing to sacrifice any more. At which point are we actually hurting ourselves more than we're helping ourselves. For example, at which point we've ruined all the relationships in our lives. Is that too much? Kind of feels like too much. Sounds like too much. Yeah. At which point we are wildly unhealthy. We've gained X amount of pounds and I don't just mean a couple of pounds here and there. I mean, the point to where we are physically unhealthy beasts, right? What happened there? Why were we willing to sacrifice so much? Why were we willing, willing to let all this go? We won't even talk about the financial sacrifices and everything there, the whole episodes, right. Yeah. Yeah. Different episodes. But physically, mentally, emotionally beating ourselves into the ground. And the worst part about it feeling good about it, feeling good to the extent that we think it's noble, we think it's noble. We think other people. Yeah, we brag about how hard we're working and how much we're doing at every cost we could possibly take to ourselves. Why do you think that is?

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, the nobility aspect of this for so many reasons, right. And, and we've, we've talked about this in a couple of episodes whereby we get all kinds of pressure as startup founders, right? Because we chose to do this, right? And it's one of those things that you'll hear the minute you start to complain about your startup to somebody who's not in the startup. They're like, well, you decided to do this, you picked this life. This is right. And so there's this sense that like, I have to show that I'm putting in effort that I am suffering and that I'm doing something right. This isn't just me being unemployable. This isn't just me being lazy. This isn't just me not getting a job. So there's all of these weird, like external emotional forces that make us feel like we have to somehow demonstrate this. Like it's like going through the streets and then flagellating ourselves to show that, you know, like, hey, look, we are really working hard at this, right? I'm literally hurting myself to do this.

Wil Schroter: I was gonna say, I think there's a culture to it. I think we built this culture, right? You and I are are at the heart of this culture that got us here. This work hard, play hard and no one stops and says, well, work exactly how hard and again and at what cost at what point do we look around and say, you know what? I actually feel like? Shit. Not I'm just tired, right? Not that that's OK. Not that I'm just tired anymore. I actually am not OK. Right. I may be in a depressive state. Not OK. Right. Not something we can, can look over or overlook, right? I may be in a state where physically I'm having panic attacks, right? So my heart stopping like mine did Right. I can tell you firsthand when, when your heart stops, you're pretty much dead. Right. So, not, ok, death is pretty bad. Right there, there's a part where we push so hard. We talked to founders all day about this. We talk to them about how hard they're running their bodies. And we say, when's the last time you took a day off? Well, I haven't taken a day off because I've been working so much. And that sounds again. It sounds mighty right. Oh, I have a, you know, work hard.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, there's, there's some chest pounding to that at some point. I was

Wil Schroter: the king of that chest pounding. And to this day we, we tell those stories where I worked every waking hour for years and years and years and, you know, I look back at all of those years and I think to myself, what an idiot. Right. I look back and I thought, I think to myself, you could have played that so much differently and you chose not to what's worse while you were doing it. This is young me. I was so proud of it. I held it as such a badge of honor that I was in the office later than anybody else that I was working harder than anybody else that I was getting less sleep than anybody else. And I was like, look at me, I'm committed and I looked back and I was like, you're an idiot. You could have gotten all that done and taken as many vacations as you needed. Maybe not as many as you wanted. You could have done so many other things you could have had so many better relationships in your life you could have. Oh, my God. I, I looked back and I was like, what a giant mistake. Hence this show,

Ryan Rutan: right. Yeah. You know, I think that you, you ask, like, where's that point? And, and you've brought up a whole bunch of them? And I think that generally speaking, right, the, the easy answer that's hard to find is at the point of diminishing return, right at the point where it starts to truly cost you more than it's benefiting you. And, and I think this is, this is a place where we get this math wrong every time we assume that each extra hour, each extra day that we put in and we didn't actually have to has some sort of magical compounding effect, right? That somehow that like those, those hours between eight and midnight that nobody else was working are, are worth the even more. It's the fucking opposite, they're worth less. You are not at your best. Your next day is gonna be screwed up because of it. It's just a downhill slope and it's a diminishing return. This is the point at which you need to be able to recognize and say, OK, enough is enough, this is the point of too much right. Again, easy for me to say that very simple concept. It can be really hard to find that point. But you have to. And I think that's the other side of this is you have to be aware that this stuff is going to happen and that it cannot be left as a circumstance of what will be, will be. Well, what will be at the end is you will be a heap of a human who's barely recognizable from the person who started their startup company. And that will be a sad

Wil Schroter: failure. And there's so much cost, I'll never forget. This is like circa 2008. I don't remember exactly. Of course, you

Ryan Rutan: don't, 2000

Wil Schroter: eight. I'm out to dinner with a bunch of founders. It was like nine o'clock maybe. And as we're leaving our restaurant where we were at, uh we're walking back and there's a group of us and Jason Nazar who's the founder of at the time of a company called Doc Stock. Great guy. Uh We were walking by his office and Jason says, hey, I want to show you guys something. We go into his office. Most of his staff is still there. It's nine o'clock on like a Tuesday, right? And, and they had no plans of leaving and Jason said he was going back to work. So like what he was saying is, hey, I'm gonna stop by here, but I'm actually gonna go back to my desk and go keep working. And so was my staff till about midnight. And I remember at the time being so envious to give you a sense for how off my compass was, right. I was like, man, what a champion? This guy is not only willing to, you know, to commit those hours, right. But at the same time, he's got his whole staff doing it too. And now I look back and this isn't to disparage Jason. This is about me, not him. Now, I look back and think how much better would have been to have just sent all those people home, you know, to be with their families, to rest, to rejuvenate to recoup to sleep. So when they come back tomorrow, because there's going to be another day after this one, they're actually better off and it took me so long, it didn't occur to me at all. And that night again, I was in the polar opposite camp. I was like, oh my, if you can work all night, get your staff to work all night, you guys are committed. And now it's like, why would we think we could defy the laws of human physics? Like I could just keep burning energy and not putting the energy back. What a mess. Yeah.

Ryan Rutan: And the even sadder part of that is, and we talk about uncertainty in, in startup land all the time, right? It's most of what we're doing is uncertain. This is where it really pains me to see people do this because let's say you're a high price corporate attorney, you want to burn those midnight hours, right? You've got a billable rate. You know exactly what the benefit of that time put in is as a startup founder. You absolutely do not have any calculable idea of what the value of, of a return on that is. And so you're just spending into this void where there's highly unlikely a financial return or even a company growth return. And to your point, you're making tomorrow worse and the next day worse and the next day worse and you're just wearing yourself out without any real measurable return or at least without any certainty of that return. And it just kills me to watch people do this to themselves serially

Wil Schroter: agreed. But we all believe that other people want us to do this. Now here is the, the big illusion. This is the grand illusion. If there, if there's any one part of this episode that I want you to kind of double click on. It's this one. We all believe someone else wants us to do it. And we have this mythical force. I know I did and I'm sure you did too, Ryan, this mythical force, this third person and this one thing that cannot be validated that wants us to do this. For example, when my investors put money into me, they, they expect me to do this do they, have you asked him specifically? Exactly. How much of my health should I be sacrificing for your money? I guarantee it won't be as much as you're about to sacrifice. They, yeah, they, they have no interest in seeing you destroy yourself. It's actually the worst thing because they actually need to be healthy to see this whole thing through. So, actually being unhealthy, what are some of the other ones that you think of the, the invisible forces that maybe push you along and you were convinced they were right. And then they wanted you to do this

Ryan Rutan: at the early stages. I think it was, I think it was those the pressures that I talked about earlier, which is like the, the friends and family given the timing of when I started the first business uh to some degree like college professors and advisor and other people in that academic environment who were watching me sacrifice and sort of like to me, it felt like I had to do this. I had to prove I had to go above and beyond or I had to maintain the grades. I had to do all the stuff. And I had to show that I could put in a 40 hour work week and then another 40 hour work week on top of that just to prove that I, that I could, right? And again, nobody was asking me for that. Nobody was like, you know, if you're gonna do this. We're gonna need to see you kill yourself to prove that you meant it. Nobody, literally nobody. And in fact, quite the opposite and I'm sure the same thing happened to you at those early stages. I had people asking me like, are you OK, like are you thinking that maybe this is a bit too much? Are you biting off more than you can chew? And I was like, everything's fine here, right? Like, no, I'm good. Uh And I wasn't good, right? I wasn't good. I think I talked about this in, in an episode some time ago, but there was a point at which the sound of my cell phone ringing would induce a near narcoleptic episode because it was like there was this a huge amount of anxiety around what that phone call was gonna bring with it. Does that sound healthy? It's not, it's not. Now. I wish that when my phone rang, I would go to sleep. I would use that every night and be like, hey, call me go bed.

Wil Schroter: I think of all the things that I genuinely believed were AAA right for me to stay up later or to work harder or really to destroy my health is what we're really talking about. OK. Work harder. Can be taken in the the wrong context. Destroy our health cannot be taken in the wrong context. Right? I thought as a company was growing, we added more employees I needed to be there. I need to be there before they were there. So I need to be there at like six or seven AM on a, on a regular, at a regular time. I need to be there after they left because I had to show them that I was willing to work harder. Mostly bullshit. By the way, they didn't care, they just want to go home. Second. I was like, it's ok if I sacrifice myself so long as all the people that believed in me know that I'm willing to work this hard to get it. Right. Exactly. And then you zoom out and you're like, did you ask them that or did you make that up and then systematically destroy yourself to support some goal that no one ever set out for you? It's this ridiculous amorphous, completely made up goal that we continually chase that we continually ruin ourselves for. And after a while, if we looked at it, if we looked at it rationally and we said, who told me that? Who told me exactly that the way I'm feeling right now, I should be feeling it and that should happen. Exactly. Nobody. And yet we're convinced. What about when you thought about future family? When you thought like, you know, future wife, kids, et cetera, how much pressure did you create for yourself on giving them a better life? You know, something that's really funny about everything we talk about here is that none of it is new. Everything you're dealing with right now has been done 1000 times before you, which means the answer already exists. You may just not know it, but that's ok. That's kind of what we're here to do. We talk about this stuff on the show, but we actually solve these problems all day long at groups dot startups dot com. So if any of this sounds familiar, stop guessing about what to do, let us just give you the answers to the test and be done with

Ryan Rutan: it. Oh man. Oh my God. So like, and it's funny how far back that goes because at that point, I was young and, and nowhere near marriage, I nowhere near marriage material and nobody would have had me at that point. Um And, and yet, even then it was like, I was wanting to create these situations and saying, you know, investing this time now, working hard, now we create these other opportunities in the future. And we talked about just a couple of episodes ago. But, you know, I was highly driven by performance. I was highly driven by this idea that, you know, a lot of my family were high performers in, in some categories, you know, they were doctors and lawyers and, and, and whatever, right? And so that the these were performant people and there were the standard that I would need to look up to. And a lot of that was driven by my dad, they're not negatively so, but like there was this sense, right? And a lot of what I planned around was like, how will I create that same opportunity? How will I create that same situation? How am I gonna be able to take a year and a half off in the middle of my career and drive around the United States in a motor home with my kids? Right? How am I gonna do all these things? And so there was that level of pressure and again, like these kids didn't even exist yet, they even glimmers in my eye at that point. Nothing. And yet I was already starting to put pressure on myself so that I could create this future situation where I could do those things, whether they wanted to or not. Well, they certainly didn't want to, they didn't exist yet. Right? And so, yeah, it can come, it can come from anywhere, right? What's interesting is I'm not sure that had like those ideas not existed that something else wouldn't have just simply taken its place.

Wil Schroter: Yeah, it almost doesn't matter, you know, which thing it is, it, it's,

Ryan Rutan: it, it feels like there's this sort of this performance need void that exists within founders where we feel like we have to make these sacrifices. And I honestly, I'm trying to think of like what the origin story for this would have been. How did we all get fooled into this? There's certainly plenty of examples of it now. But like where did it start? And who the hell kept telling this damn story? I find them, I'm gonna shake them. I feel

Wil Schroter: like it's a projection. Um And so, you know, I'll give you my version. My version is, you know, we've talked about this before. I had a tough childhood and I wanted to run as far from that as possible. You know, I wanted to be able to kind of build my own thing and I wanted to be able to build a life that didn't rely on other people in that same way. Entrepreneurship, sort of if it goes well is the way of doing it, it does goes poorly is not the best way out to this. But my concept simply I want to be able to provide a life for my kids, for my family that I did not have. Well, what is that? That's me projecting what I didn't have onto them in the same way. Parents do this all the time, don't you find it funny that parents just inherently will they realize they're not project all their shit on to their kids, right? If they were great academic students and they think academics is all that matters for kids, right? If they are entrepreneurs like us, then they think kids should be entrepreneurial, right? It's funny how these kids had no input on any of this. My kids, my kids have no input on this. They don't care that they got to go to a private school. That wasn't what they were all about. They would have gone to any school. They don't know the difference. Right. I took what mattered to me and created this kind of paper demon. If you will, we've talked about this, you know, another episode. I don't take, I don't wanna call my, my kids paper demons. But I created this thing where my future kids are somehow talking down to me where they're saying no daddy, you have to work harder. We have to get a better life. And it turns out they didn't say any of these things for me to say I was doing it for them. It sounds true. But if I'm being honest, I was doing it for myself.

Ryan Rutan: You were doing it so you could say you did it for them, right? That's it. Right.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. But, but it's, it's such an easy target because the moment we put our kids on the block and say it's for them. It's because of them, et cetera. Then there is no limit. Both of us would go to the ends of the earth and most parents would for their kids, regardless of who, who ever, ever asked them whether they wanted any of this more often than not when you talk to kids and say, what do you wish your parents gave you more of when they were younger? What do they say? Skittles? Skittles. Time.

Ryan Rutan: Oh, time. Right. Time. Yeah, that's it. I just wanted more Skittles.

Wil Schroter: They just wanted more time with you. Which ironically is the first thing to go when we're going out and building our startups. Right. My kids won't look back and say, dad, I wish you had put more money in our trust fund or college account or whatever it might be. Oh, they probably say that too. But, yeah, I

Ryan Rutan: was, they might

Wil Schroter: if you were never there for me right at the track me or at the soccer game or whatever it was, right? If you were never there for me, that's all I cared about. I just don't want to look in the stands and not see you there. That's what I cared about as a kid, right? Whether or not we had more money to do X Y Z, that was what you wanted to accomplish. So don't put that on me. And by way of that, if you're out there killing yourself, don't blame me. It wasn't on me. If you look at all these things, right? If you look at all of these targets that we use the investors, the employees, the Children, whatever, none of them are saying what we think that they're saying it's all bullshit which kills me, right?

Ryan Rutan: It does. So many of these things that we discuss in this podcast come down to self-inflicted punishment, self-inflicted stress, self inflicted anxieties simply because we don't adjust for some things that need to be adjusted for. I think this is one of the, one of the things that I'm starting to, to have a better understanding of is that because this is a specific lifestyle, there are some things that come with it. There are some necessary changes, there are some necessary observations and concessions that we, that we need to make in order to be performing, right? They're not necessarily even sacrifices, they turn into sacrifices because we don't properly adjust. We don't give it the weight that it has. I had a conversation with the founder last week around this specifically because he was feeling a little tired, a little burnt out, little like he was slogging through the mud and didn't have an exit just from the mud, not an exit from the company, not even close to that, but just even getting through this current state. And we started to talk about the fact that like, well, did you make any necessary changes to account for the fact that this isn't your old job because that was one of the places that he took it. He was like, you know, I used to be, you know, a high performer. I used to be a, you know, you know, one of the top this and that. And I said, yeah, in an environment where the there was certainty around this type of input will get you this type of output and you get this result right. That's not where we are. And so you have to adjust for that because if, what you're saying was before you would put in as much energy as needed to achieve the thing. And then you knew you could, you could stop cool. But what happens when there's no certainty when there's no measure, there's no meter, there's no top line. You can't see when you're red lining. Did you account for that? Did you adjust for that? And the answer was, you know, across the board? No. And this is where we start to get ourselves in trouble because this isn't like another job. This isn't like another, their lifestyle. And I'm not trying to make this sound like more than this. I'm not dramatizing here, but it is very different and it requires a different mindset and it requires different decisions and actions, things that would otherwise not be a sacrifice and not cost you in what I'm just gonna call normal life. Normal career will cost you as a startup founder. They will compound, they will hurt you if you don't take adequate action to avoid them, minimize them so forth.

Wil Schroter: Well, here's the contradiction of all of it though for as much as we are all about how hard we work and how much we're killing ourselves. That is the polar opposite of what we actually need to do in order to be performing to be at the top of our game. And so here's the part that kills me when people go all Gary V about this. But you have to work hard and kill yourself and all these things, I think to myself and I, and I ask these folks, let me ask you this. Do you honestly think that by working all the time not sleeping, being a poor physical state, mental state, emotional state that you're at the top of your game, aren't you actually at the bottom of your game? I think if we thought of ourselves as founders, as professional athletes in the ath the our, our sport, if you will is entrepreneurship and we thought ourselves as professional athletes who in their right mind would say that I'm gonna be at the top of my game and I'm gonna win championships by getting no sleep, being chronically depressed,

Ryan Rutan: a bad diet. Right? No supplementation, right?

Wil Schroter: How, who would ever think that that's actually the way you're gonna be at the top of your game. What professional athlete would ever give that response? And yet here we are as professional athletes,

Ryan Rutan: maybe Charles Barkley.

Wil Schroter: But yeah, who knows? Right. Like it's crazy and like from our standpoint as founders, we don't take that stuff seriously. And I just want to expand that for a second. We've talked about this in other episodes. If we don't take it seriously, it means our staff doesn't take it seriously because we lead by example, that is definitely true. And now what we're doing is compounding this problem. Not only are we saying that we're not going to be healthy, we're not gonna be able to survive, but we're actually gonna expand that out to all of our staff as well. I'll give you an example and this is a tough one because it's so kind of vaunted. But we look at somebody like Elon Musk who is championing the fact that he wants everybody to work crazy hours, 100 hour weeks. That that's how I want it to kill. And you ask yourself, well, that sounds noble in the traditional startup sense. And Ryan, you and I both did it for a very long time. So we get it. Yes,

Ryan Rutan: we did. Carried this, carried that shield. What

Wil Schroter: we wish, I wished I listened to this podcast back then and said, oh huh. That actually just makes a ton of sense, right? Yeah. If I get no sleep, I'm not gonna perform better tomorrow. Same thing with that Jason Nazar Docks Stock example I gave you, if he was really smart about motivating his staff, he would have made sure they got home, make sure they ate well, make sure they they got to bed early and got plenty of sleep. And he would have been saying I want top performers and top performers take their health as a major milestone of a building block. Yes. And,

Ryan Rutan: and not just athletics, right? Or you're not talking about just athletes now, right? People who are top performers tend to optimize all aspects of their life because they understand that's how it works. It's a system, right? You can't be, you know, letting your sleep and your health slide on one side and be highly mentally performant on the other. Right. Getting all these things in some level of balance is, is super important, right? I'll, I'll use the example of my woops strap, which I've probably talked about on, on other episodes. And no, I don't have an affiliate link. Don't ask, I just go by when they're, they're amazing. But what this thing helped me figure out was is I was trying to get back on this journey of being a performance athlete and, and being able to compete again. I was doing the same thing I did. I took the same, same startup mentality. Go hard, go crazy train as much as I can and just, and what I, what did I do? I wore myself out, I wore myself out, I wore myself down, I injured myself and I had to stop for a while. Right? And so what, what this thing helped me to do? And it's just just a metaphor for, for taking care of ourselves and thinking about these things. It helped me balance my output, which is measured against my recovery, which is measured against my sleep, which is, which is measured. I had to see it and once I could see it and understand it and it's funny. But now, like, I know what kind of work day I'm gonna have based on this thing now. Right. This isn't just about my athletic performance, about my overall performance. I know if I had a shit night's sleep and I had a huge strain day yesterday, today is not going to be a day for high cerebral work because I'm not going to have the processing power to do that. right. I'm not gonna have the energy, I'm not gonna have the creativity. And so, you know, whether or not you get to the point where you're scientifically measuring this stuff or not, doesn't really matter, highly encourage it. But being deliberate about balancing these things in your life can make a major difference between kind of like and well, I was gonna say it's not life or death but can get pretty damn close, right? You got pretty damn close to life or death moment. And so we have to treat these things seriously and we do have at our fingertips, the ability to measure some of this stuff and to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to peak perform, right? Not every day, not all the time because that's literally against the definition of peak performance. That would just be plateaued performance and it would probably be a very low plateau because you just wear yourself out.

Wil Schroter: I think when we look at, at our lives and we say Hey, I haven't taken a vacation in a long time. I'm not exercising anymore. I've got a terrible emotional state instead of calling those the costs of being a fan under the costs of running a startup. And we need to take that off the table. We can take that vocabulary off the table. We need to talk about that as you being a shitty manager of yourself. And at which point you can't be a good manager of yourself. There's no way you're gonna be a good manager of your career, your startup, or the entire group of people that you're set out to employ, that your job is to look over. And until we change that, until we change that within ourselves, we're never going to do our jobs as well as we want. So, in addition to all the stuff related to founder groups, you've also got full access to everything on startups dot com. That includes all of our education tracks, which will be funding customer acquisition, even how to manage your monthly finances. They're so much stuff in there. All of our software including Biz plan for putting together detailed business plans and financials launch rock for attracting early customers and of course, fund for attracting investment capital. When you log into the startups dot com site, you'll find all of these resources available.

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