Startup Therapy Podcast

Episode #42

Ryan Rutan: we're back again for another episode of startup therapy from startups dot com. I'm Ryan Rutan joined as always by my partner Wil Schroder ceo startups dot com. Today, we're gonna do something a little different. Um, you know, there's there's often a little bit of education to what we're doing today. This is really gonna be about storytelling. Um, we often talk about issues that affect us as founders on this as kind of the point of startup therapy. Um, today we're gonna, we're really going to turn the lens back on ourselves and will and I are going to share some stories about some things that we've gone through, personally, um, things that most founders will go through at some point, right there. There's a lot of struggle involved in the game. Yeah. And and sadly, you know, for as bad as both these things were, I know people who have been through even worse. Um, but it's it's the kind of thing where, you know, it definitely does have an impact when you're going through it yourself, you may often feel isolated and alone. The reality is, you're probably not. This is something that most of us will face at some point. So what we're talking about today is how, you know, the startup can be going fine, It can be growing well and doing all the right things that can be very healthy and he was the founder quite to the contrary can be exactly the opposite, right? Your health can really suffer,

Wil Schroter: how to deal with that, how to deal with it can sometimes be a career ending health issue or life circumstance, especially as it relates to a startup, because you're in command of all that, all that responsibility sits on you. If you work at a company and you're an employee, not that that's not important, but you know, they'll replace you and the company will be okay when you are the company, a little different, little bit different. Um and so I think today, Ryan, I think if we dig into a couple of stories, because let's face it over the last, I mean, we're talking a few years ago, you and I both separately went through essentially what, what would have, what would have, could have been career ending health issues significant, and absolutely don't talk through what we went through, what was going through her head at the time, because it wasn't very positive uh and how we dealt with it. And, and again, I think if nothing else or some of the folks that are out there that are listening, they're either dealing with this or kind of, wondering what if this is the story about what happens when the what if comes. So, with that said Ryan, I'd love for you to share your story because it was, it was a long arc coming, remember specifically how the whole thing went down. Uh and I'd love to hear more about.

Ryan Rutan: Absolutely, yeah, so, so for me, um, it started back in my, in my twenties and if I if I really dig back, there were probably signs showing even earlier than that, but it really kind of started to get ahead. And I was diagnosed In my 20s is having psoriasis and, you know, psoriasis is an interesting challenge in that there are psychological impacts, their obviously physical impacts emotional impact. Um and I have fairly thick skin and that is not a psoriasis joke. Um, but I have fairly thick skin. And so I wasn't terribly bothered by by a lot of the, the early symptoms, you know, you know, patchy skin, you know, itchy stuff showing up here and there. Um but the thing that bothered me from the very beginning was, and it happened like, right, as the diagnosis, and in fact, I think he delivered before the diagnosis, I think he said, like, I want you to know there's no cure for this, but there's treatment. I'm like, okay, we're starting off on a really great foot here, doc, Thanks, thanks a lot. Right, where should I deposit all of my hope? Should I just leave it over here? Um, and but there, there are treatments, Right? And so, per conventional medicine, there's no cure for psoriasis. And so I mentally had to kind of check myself there and say like, okay, I'm going to be dealing with this forever. And then the second statement was, there are treatments, there are there are things to do to mitigate the symptoms, but it will continuously get worse as you get older. I'm thinking, what's the worst that could get, wow, It can get pretty severe. So there's two aspects of, of psoriasis that you end up dealing with in terms of symptoms. One is the, is the skin issue right? Where it is really heavy, thick, scaling, flaky skin and it can appear anywhere on the body. Um and it can, you know, can come and go. Um but you know, I've seen, I've seen cases where people have 70-80% body coverage, meaning that 70-80% of the surface of the skin.

Wil Schroter: I remember at one point you were saying you were literally bleeding across your back at night.

Ryan Rutan: So, that was one of the really exciting uh symptoms was that I had this huge patch on my back and would get really, really dry and you know, like you do that the wake up and stretch at night or like, you just, you know, bend or change positions a little bit. The skin across my back was so dry and so tight that when I would do that, it would just split and then I would lay there and I would just wait and then I would feel the blood running down my back onto the sheets and like, it's, it's brutal, right? It's just, it's, you know, and like, is it the worst thing that could be happening to me? No, but like dealing with this kind of stuff on a daily basis. it's just, it just wore me down, wore me out. So I started digging into all the options systemic steroids that you take, you know that go throughout your entire body. So you're impacting all of your organs, your your lymph system, your circular everything starts to get impacted by these these systemic steroids and they weren't helping much. And so I stopped taking those went to topical, so I'm smearing myself in creams and salves and lotions and liquids. Um and they do have an effect. Um They'll also cause you to thin skin over time. They can they can lead to bone density loss, hair loss, all sorts of really fun stuff and my scalp was one of the areas where I had it the worst and I would just scratch the hell out of myself, right? Which is socially not awesome, right? You're the guy who stands at the corner like constantly, you know, fanning the dandruff off his shoulders because he's he's scratching the hell out of his scalp. Not awesome. Um So I decided none of this was really working very well for me. And so then you start to go down the rabbit hole, right? And there's no shortage of information out there for any any any health condition, right? So I go down the rabbit hole, I'm looking for gurus and experts and alternate therapies. I was doing a juice fast and diets starving myself taking supplements um you know sunbathing, saltwater bathing all these different things, some pharmaceuticals as well. Um and I was able to keep it under control, right? And this is in my late twenties, like really early thirties. Now here's something else about psoriasis, stress is a major contributor to the flare ups, right? It's not a cause of psoriasis, but if you already have it Um if you get stressed it dials it from, you know a five or 6 to 15 quick and get

Wil Schroter: involved in a startup is

Ryan Rutan: what you should do. So,

Wil Schroter: so here

Ryan Rutan: here is my trajectory, Here's how I decided to test this theory of stress

Wil Schroter: and psoriasis. I'm going to add all

Ryan Rutan: startups. Startups are kind of our kind of stressful right having your first child can be a little stressful. International moves are kind of stressful and within a 12-month period my wife and I did all of those things. And so yeah, it got a little worse, it got a little worse during that period. Um And then the other thing and the other side of of psoriasis, the is not the skin issue is the the general inflammatory condition within the joints. They'll call it psoriatic arthritis. And this is where it really, really started to mess with me, I've been,

Wil Schroter: how old are you at the time

Ryan Rutan: again, like I really realized that it was psoriatic arthritis in my early thirties, but I've been having joint pain and joint issues for years before that. And it started to slow down some of my sport activities, uh swimming, soccer, volleyball, surfing. A lot of things that I had done when I was younger became more difficult and I was just kind of like chalking it up to aging, right? Well, it turned out that my joints in my body were aging a lot faster than they should have been because of all this, I was just basically a big bag of inflammation and then I think that, you know, the stress is really what then kicked that off and made it so obvious that this wasn't physical activity before that, I thought like, oh, I will do something physical and then I'll get some inflammation, the joints will hurt, well, you know, I'll get some ligament pain, some joint pain, some tendon pain, but then it'll it'll ease off and I'll feel better and then I realized this was happening and I was doing nothing physical, right? Nothing, nothing physically stressful. And we were running the startup, you know, we started startups dot com um it was dealing with baby, we had done the international move, I was still trying to figure out life back in the US now for the first time in, in in half a decade for me, and it just got worse and worse and worse and it got to the point where, like, they weren't getting better, alright, I had gotten used to this sort of ebb and flow of this joint pain and it just stayed right and it really hit ahead chronic pain somewhere. Like sometimes it goes from like left knee to right knee or maybe both my shoulders, but on my back um to the point where like you remember remember me hobbling around the office, like the ghost of startups passed right? I was I was a shell

Wil Schroter: Bad, you're like an 80 year old man.

Ryan Rutan: I felt like an eight year old man. I mean I was, it was things like I couldn't sit through a meeting on the couch in our conference room without like I'd have to shift positions constantly, I'd be moving around people asking like, are you okay alright like or look like I just had to take a leak all the time. Like I was just constantly kind of moving a little bit to try to take pressure off whatever joint was hurting the most. Um it really hit ahead when, when a couple of things happen, Our 2nd daughter, ARIA was born and that in and of itself, you know, another, another kind of semi stressful experience um having a newborn going back to not sleeping all that stuff when she started crawling and not even crawling and she's like, like the roll over on the floor thing, I realized I could not get up and down off the floor At 36 years old to be with my daughter and or I would decide not to, I'd see her on the floor and should be doing something cute and I want to get up and be like you know what, I'm just going to I'm going to watch it from up here because I know if I get down It's going to be like a good this 92nd process of re establishing vertical posture that just hurts like hell. And so it really started to have impacts on daily life

Wil Schroter: and so at this point, you know, you're sitting down with your wife and what's that conversation look like?

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, yeah, it doesn't look good, right? And and she's she's stressed and she's worried about it and she's done like over the top type stuff to try to help me with this to the extent where she went and found a full protocol involving diet and and a bunch of other therapies. Um some of which are not very pleasant at all. And she was working hard to help me fix this problem and it was taking a toll on her, but she was preparing separate meals for me and then for herself and her older daughter and then she was home making you know the baby food for for the the little one. So she's doing like three different meal prep three times a day and then keep getting huge. It keeps getting worse. We found some things that would make it a little bit better for a period of time. Um And then it would come back, like every time we get a little bit of hope, like ah this is, I'm feeling a little bit better, I'm able to sleep a little bit better. That was the other thing man sleeping through the night between the, I might just wake up bleeding and I'm definitely not going to sleep comfortably because of all the joint pain. My sleep was probably down to maybe three good hours a night and it was taking a toll. Well,

Wil Schroter: Yes, but stick with this for 1/2. A startup is hard enough as it is. We have enough stress and enough stuff to deal with all day long stuff that's keeping us up at night,

Ryan Rutan: 100%

Wil Schroter: now add persistent chronic physical pain to the equation so that you can't sleep even if you, if you had the opportunity on top of that every day you wake up, you feel worse than the day before and, and that's before you have to deal with all this stuff we're dealing with in the formative stages of building a company and so your energy levels are for ship at that point, your, what's your mental state, like at that point,

Ryan Rutan: it's a, it's a very mixed bag because to some degree work was a good escape, right? Like coming in and knowing we're building something that matters, we're working with good people like that did give me something to kind of pour my energies into that to some degree, could be separated from the pain and suffering that was going through at a, at a physical level, um but was I at peak performance? Not even close, right? Like very little sleep, the distraction of pain, the scratching, the itching, like all of those things really start to take a toll and then I start to wonder, is anybody else noticing this? Right? So then you add that other, that third party stress, like who else is observing the way? And I knew they were right, because people were constantly asking, you know, okay, how are you feeling? How, how is it today? Um and I did some extremely, remember when I shaved my head,

Wil Schroter: Yeah,

Ryan Rutan: for the first time and I walk into the office and everybody's like, holy sh it,

Wil Schroter: who's

Ryan Rutan: that? And then I don't remember who it was, but then like somehow they hadn't picked up on the whole reason behind this, like, which was to get a little more sun on my head and to remove some of the, you know, like the, the obstruction to removing the scaling and all that stuff, Somebody was like, hey, your head's really red, are you okay? I'm

Wil Schroter: like literally

Ryan Rutan: across our entire open office structure, somebody shouted that at me and I was like, yeah, not so much, this wasn't, this wasn't a style move, I didn't do this because I thought it looked really cool with a shaved head. Um so yeah, so,

Wil Schroter: so at that point though, uh things are going horribly startup as stressful as it is, you're you're building a family as well. So there's all kinds of things there and you don't know that this is going to get better.

Ryan Rutan: Well, I'm told that it won't, I'm told that it will get worse.

Wil Schroter: Okay,

Ryan Rutan: I'm told that this continues to go that direction.

Wil Schroter: How are you processing it? In other words? You know, how are you forecasting Ryan's future at 36 years old with chronic pain trying to build a startup?

Ryan Rutan: Well, look, luckily having been through startups before, I'm that kind of optimist. I'm the kind that can be told it's not going to work, it's going to get worse. This, this can't happen, this, this is going to fail and I'm still just dumb enough to keep trying. Right? I think that's that's a tenant of a startup. Founder. Right? So I applied, I applied the exact same approach to to my my condition. I said, you know what? I don't believe you. I think I can find a solution. I'll make this better. I can do it better. I can think about it more than you can, I can be better at this than you are. And so I just set out to do psoriasis better than anybody else could. All right. Um and uh it's It's not proved to be 100% successful. I'm managing right. But so at that point, right, at that point it was, it was starting to get more serious. The introduction of the, of the joint pain and all that, that really felt like it was going to change life in ways that I couldn't just work around right, like the skin issue if I'm okay with it and it causes people to stare at me or something like that. Okay. Alright fine. No big deal. I can process that. I can deal with that if I can't get up and down off the floor, if I can't get out of bed, if I can't get out of an office chair, I can't walk to grab a coffee from the kitchen. That's a problem. Right? And and and that's one where that continues to get worse. I'm thinking like, am I going to be, you know, I'm not thinking wheelchair level, but like at some point am I going to be like that, am I going to need help with motility And that at 36. That's not, that's not something you want to be thinking about, right? And so that was really where I started to say like, look, we're doing a lot of things. Um what else can we do? Are there other extreme moves that we can make? Um And you know, that's when that's when we started to have the conversation and like, well, you know, you asked me specifically like, well what has ever made this better and I said, you know, there was the period that I lived in Cyprus, I had warm weather sun saltwater all year round, right? And yes, those are also the ingredients of a typical vacation. In my case, it just, it just so happens, those things do also also impact uh the condition right. The cold, long dry winters of Ohio made everything worse every year compound and getting worse, getting worse, not recovering as much across the summer. So I was used to, I was used to a period of like really bad inflammation, really bad skin issues and then everything would kind of get better right? The springwood would bloom and I would feel good again and it didn't happen that year. All right, 2015, it didn't happen. Spring came summer came or heading into fall. I feel as bad as I did at the worst part of winter and I'm staring at another winter coming in a couple of months and I think that was what broke me. I think that was the point where I was like I said to my wife, I was like, I can't do this, I can't face another winter having not improved at all knowing that the trajectory is downhill and it's going to get worse this winter, I got to do something like it was hard to watch it too.

Wil Schroter: And I just mean like to watch a friend of mine in pain like that it was, it was brutal to to watch. You get worse and worse. I mean in in knowing that there wasn't, you know at the time, not thinking that there was a solution in sight. That was that was tough to watch man.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. Well I appreciate the empathy and I it was hard to go through right and the other the other challenges and this is the one where it's like yes, it's chronic. Yes, it's bad. Um there's no cure for it and yet I always knew somebody that had something worse. Right? And so just that aspect, it was like there was always this nagging voice in the back of my head saying, you know, just suck it up man, don't let this bother you that much. This could be a lot worse. And so therefore you shouldn't let this bother you that much. And that itself drove stress. Just like not even allowing myself to feel bad about it right now. Is it as bad as it could be? No. Was it bad? Yes. Was it bad enough to be worried about? Yes. Did I give myself the space to do that? No. Right. Because just power through it muscle through, just do what you gotta do and it'll be okay. Alright. So this is the point where you know, I sat down with you and Elliot in the conference room inside guys. Um it's broken. Like I've got to change something fundamentally and that was when we started to talk about what if we play test me not being in the office. I mean not being in Ohio and and me going to a very much or all remote position and well, you know, technically possible. And, and I had, I had your buy in, I had Elliot's buying, you know, you guys were very, very kind and understanding about that situation. There was still a lot of doubt in my mind as to whether that would work. We were at a critical point in building the business. If you recall, we had just acquired, we had just acquired virtual, we had just gone through and I think that was another, I mean that was a very stressful situation. You know the way we went through that acquisition that the timing, the lack of time, the urgency around the way that happened

Wil Schroter: And that was what our 4th fifth acquisition and we're buying companies every six months. So if you've ever gone through an acquisition on either side of it, you'll know, it's it's a hellacious process doing a whole bunch of them stacked on top of each other. Not awesome. Um, so to your point right in stressful as hell

Ryan Rutan: did not help my condition at all. In fact, I think it was, it was probably one of the, it wasn't the last straw, but it was one of the last straws that really got me to that point where I felt that breaking point and so

Wil Schroter: Ryan, it puts you at a point where you will, you'll do whatever it takes to make the pain go away.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah that that was where I was because I could see I was, I was waiting for more, right? And it was that anticipation of of the worsening condition that really got me right? Like physically I was still at the point where I could handle it mentally. I just, I tapped out, I said like I just, I cannot imagine being here in january and being okay. Like I felt like if it's already getting to me just anticipating it when the reality hits it's it's gonna be bad. And so you know, we had the conversation, we worked out a way to test it and say like, well let's let's try it, let's let's I'm gonna take my family, I'm going to move to florida, I'm going to be one flight but you know, I'm at least you know, a day away, same time zone and all that, but I'm not going to be in the office. And at that point that was a more significant issue because we had we were doing work from home Wednesdays

Wil Schroter: but that we weren't that remote as a company.

Ryan Rutan: We were not, we were not, I would say, oh my gosh, I mean at that point the search will change that a bit two or three remote people if you don't account research which was so brand new that it didn't feel integrated yet. And so yeah there were two or three remote people. Um, and and a couple of those have always been remote and we're always contractors and you know, they were an integral part of the team, but we had never had them in the office. So we had built a relationship with them that way. And so I'm going through and saying, you know, like how is this going to work fundamentally? How are we going to make this work? And I think this is the other major challenge when you're suffering from something like this in a startup, the startup certainly contributes to the issues, right? The stress was there, you know, the fact that you can't just take time whenever you need it. Um that there are expectations on your time, on your performance, that you desperately holistically want it to work, right? You are pouring yourself into this and you just have less and less of yourself to pour, it makes it harder to keep up on the startup side, which contributes to the stress and anxiety and pain and you have less and less energy to actually deal with the problem. And so there's just this horrible cyclone of self perpetuating problem, right? And so figuring out ways to isolate those things and actually get in a position where you can make yourself better, I would say is infinitely harder, right? You know, if you're, like you said, if you're working in a company, you can take time off or you could quit, You could, you know, you could stop for a while, right and come back, get a job somewhere else. It is not the same thing, right? And you don't, and this is the difference, you don't feel trapped by it. I didn't feel trapped at all. I felt so compelled to keep doing what I was doing that I couldn't imagine not doing it. The thought of not doing it was more painful than the continuation of doing it with

Wil Schroter: pain of course, right?

Ryan Rutan: And that's powerful, right? And and that's that's a that's a good thing on one hand, right? It does not help you solve your problem, but it shows the level of connectivity, the level of care, the level of, of, of passion that we put into these things, right? And this isn't, this isn't me, you know saying like you must suffer in order to be successful, let's start up, right? No, not that

Wil Schroter: I

Ryan Rutan: hope nobody suffers, but if you do um you know, it can be hard to separate those things. Um and so we went through the physical separation in the office, right? I moved to florida moved my family who had just kind of started to celebrate where two kids in at this point um I had just imported an in law from overseas to stay with us, but I sold the house, sold house, bought a house. My, my father in law had just arrived uh two weeks prior to us making decisions. So you know, his plan was to come live with us in Ohio and now we're like, hey, welcome, welcome to Ohio baba by the way. Um uh we're packing up to leave, starting tomorrow, right? So a lot going on. Um and then, we had to we had 10 days in Florida that we've already booked for a vacation that we then turned into the move to figure out What to do, where to stay, where to live, right, where to plant our family. A decision that we were not had not spent a lot of time or effort, you know, thinking about, so we had 10 days, so dial up the stress again, right? And, and so things definitely got worse before they got better uh significantly in fact because there was the psychological impact of being away from my friends, my family, my company, um, all of that compounded. Um, and you know the stress of the move all of those things, um you know, it was tough for the kids, you know, they had started develop their little friendships. My eldest was already in school, there was a lot going on. Um but there is a bit of a rainbow at the end of the story so that it doesn't all all sound awful, you know, with support from, from you, Elliot and the rest of the team. Um I was able to quickly fall into a great work rhythm, right, took a couple of weeks and I found my stride. We had a couple of hiccups early on. You know, I, I needed to figure out how to dial up communication. Um, while also solving, you know, my, my, my own personal, she's trained to work through those at the same time as trying to develop a new pattern of work wasn't easy. You guys made it easier and I'm forever grateful for that. And you know, eventually things things started to improve, right? I was getting out every morning on the beach and, and you know, early before work, getting some sun, getting some salt water, body started to feel better. Um, and the other thing was just not being in the office where I had to put on a face, try not to grimace, try not to let the conditions show. I didn't realize how much of an impact that was having, that turned out to be huge. And when I isolated myself uh, from the office and I no longer had to put on the game face. Um, it became a lot easier. I could just be me. I could just have pain, I could suffer when I needed to, I could feel good when I needed to and, and that made it a lot easier.

Wil Schroter: And so, uh, where are you today? Like, you know, what's your day look like now versus just a few years ago.

Ryan Rutan: Um, it's pretty incredible actually, this is going to sound like one of those terrible before and after from a, from a fad diet commercials. Um, I am now running multiple times a week. I'm training jiu jitsu three times a week, Why am I running? Um, because I hate running, that's something most people know, I hate running. I'm a dog, you bounce a ball, I will chase it. I'm running because I have now joined a second division professional soccer team here in Guatemala where I moved my family to and I could not like, I think of, and that's, this is at 40, I think about 36 year old Ryan and what he would have been capable of doing it is not this. And even the mindset would have been like, if you told me, ah yeah, you're going to get better and you're going to be doing these specific things if you like, thanks for trying to motivate me, but that's total bullsh it. There's no way I'm going from this to that. Right? At that point, I was thinking, how do I just put the brakes on this condition? How do I just slow things down so that it doesn't get worse as fast as an hour. All I was trying to do is change the velocity of, of the progression of the condition and instead of, I've reversed a fair amount of it, it came down to diet, which is huge access to healthy local grown food. I don't want to go off on a diatribe about how I fixed myself, it's not what this is about, but I did have to make fundamental changes and we worked together as a family to do that. We work together as partners to do that. Um and you know, having that motivation of wanting to be there for my family, for the company and for myself, right, and I'm now doing things that I literally would not have thought were possible, they weren't possible, I could not have done this, then I had so much pain, like I would have, I would have just broken myself, you know, that life is going

Wil Schroter: to be the beginning and end of the story though. Uh and I'm just gonna use the startups dot com timeline portion of it because you kind of hit the peak right in the middle, if you will of the, of your startups time and figure, you know, we've been doing this for about seven years now and it's the flare ups begun, you know, around the time we were getting started, they peaked when shit really hit the fan across the whole business couldn't have come at a worse time. And it also seemed to have kind of 1 80 around the time that the business settled down to. I'm not saying that there's any correlation necessarily, I'm just saying that it's a seven year arc, it's not, this isn't something that, that was a problem for a month and you knocked it out, It wasn't a bad cold.

Ryan Rutan: This was a really

Wil Schroter: long, Yeah, yeah, this, this was a really, really long period where you had to go through and figure out how bad it was going to get, how to deal with how bad it's going to get and then how to correct it. Um, and, and I'm so happy that you're on the other side of it, but I remember every bit of the entire journey and the reason I say this is because for folks that are listening that may be dealing with some, some stuff now and it could be all kinds of life problems, it doesn't have to be just health problems. It takes time, you know, these, these arcs are long. You know, if you're just getting into the issue now, This may be something that's going to take you two or 3 years to resolve, not everything can get resolved right away. Ryan, what you did was you kept optimism through the whole thing and he kept looking to, to try to beat it, uh, which takes so many cycles to do. And, and for a lot of folks, they see the big life issue come up and they say, well, I guess everything is, you know, it's, it's over now and, you know, we both dealt with points where we thought it was gonna be over, not necessarily life's long, you know, you've got a long time to figure these problems out

Ryan Rutan: and again, I think I think being being in a startup is great training for that anyways really it's it's the same same cycle there, right? You can you can basically look at how long is it gonna take to solve this problem? Right of starting a company. It's the same trajectory. Optimism. It takes time. It takes optimism, right? It's exactly it. Well look, man, we both went through stuff at the same time, right? So let's let's let's turn back to to you now. Um And you know, there were a lot of parallels, a lot of similarities, but there were there were some some big differences and the biggest difference for me was that I came into this knowing what I was dealing

Wil Schroter: with right there.

Ryan Rutan: I knew right? I knew what it was. There wasn't there wasn't a question as to to what the condition was or what the trajectory looked like, what the treatments were, anything like that. Um When we turn to your story, it's it's very different. Right? What did it, how do I have the time learned? It took every bit of 2.5, 3 years just to get to the proper diagnosis.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. So ah the the T. L. D. R. And this one is three years ago I was planning on ending my career. Uh like I 33 years ago I sat down with my wife and we were planning what would happen for me to never have a job ever again. So when things hit kind of peek awfulness for me, uh it was that bad. So I'll kind of give you a

Ryan Rutan: crazy conversation to have, right,

Wil Schroter: I mean, but it was real and and and at the time it didn't look like there were any other options. So uh

Ryan Rutan: three years ago, so 29 at that point

Wil Schroter: I wish 21 just drinking age. Um so for me it started Probably around 2007, I was living in santa Monica at the time and I'll never forget, I'm in the shower washing my hair and I feel like this weird tingle shoot across my head and I didn't think much of it at the time, it could be anything. You know, sometimes you twist your neck the wrong way and you kind of get whatever. Um but then as the weeks and months went on, it kept happening specific to whenever I was basically washing my hair, which meant I was rubbing my hands across my scalp, I went to a doctor, it wasn't persistent enough. It wasn't painful enough to like warrant anymore investigation. The doctor kind of wrote it off, didn't think much of it uh years go by and it starts getting slightly progressively worse. It goes from uh you know, if I were to give a tooth pain example, hey, that feels a little bit uncomfortable all the way to um holy sh it, I think somebody's putting a a knife in my, in my gums, right? It escalated. Uh so again, at the time, I have no idea what's causing it. We start the company again. This is uh, this is starting, it's starting to get worse, but it's not peak yet and it's getting triggered every single time I move my mouth and if you listen to this podcast ever, Ryan, this is the longest I've not talked your story was the longest, I've shut up and let someone else stop

Ryan Rutan: movement. Yes.

Wil Schroter: Yes. So me talking isn't isn't an inconsistent thing. Um but it was getting triggered in my face whenever I would talk or eat. So when I was moving my jaw muscles and it was getting triggered on one side of my face and what it was was a pain that would shoot across my forehead across kind of like below my eyes and below my jaw on the right side of my face. And it started to get really bad again. At first it felt like a tingle and then when it started to fire, as I got further into this condition, getting worse. It started to really, really crank and it started happening a lot. Remember I'd be in meetings.

Ryan Rutan: Yes. Oh man. Now, I mean, what's interesting, I can, I can go through the, the, the entire arc with this one as well, in the same way that you watched me devolved in my condition. I remember that you would call it out when it would happen early on, you'd be like, oh I can, I can feel it again, but it went from, I can feel it again, right? Which meant that there was some sensation there, like it's happening and maybe that would be like once a week, you mentioned it then the frequency of how often it happens, like, you know, at least once a day, I was like, oh man, this is like you say like this is the third time this happened today, you put your hand up to your face, right? It was a sensation right? Then it went into a pain where like you would, you would say like, oh, you know, like you would start to call out the pain and then it went beyond that to where you would just like seize up. Alright. So for anybody listening, this isn't like, oh ouch, you know, I bit my tongue, this was like full body arresting level pain, Your expression would change, like all that, like it was brutal, you would just stop talking and like the first couple of times it happened, I just remember like everybody kind of look at each other like just like mid sentence, you just stop and we're all okay. What happened at some point we got used to it and like, it became a, it became a, like a gut response, like it was a trigger, it's like they want to say like, okay, you know, and then one of us would just pick up and take on, like if it happened in, in it, you know, in an internal meeting, that's one thing. But if, you know, we had clients in or we had a partner in or we're doing video companies or something buying companies, right? We're doing a lot of that, right? And then, you know, suddenly, you know, you stopped talking in the, in the middle of the negotiation. Um, it was a challenge, right? It was both for you physically and and for us as a company, like, okay, well we gotta, we gotta fill the silence here. We can't just not talk right now.

Wil Schroter: It was super weird. It was, it was brutal. Would be in front of, we're doing tons of business development at the time. I would have tons of meetings. Imagine you're in a meeting and you're presenting to say investors and to slides into the deck, you're in so much physical pain that you can't move your mouth, which means you can't explain to the people in the room why you're not talking. Like they have no idea what's happening, right? And all of a sudden you're in such physical pain that if you move your mouth again, you'll be on the floor and tears and be on the floor and tears started to happen a lot. I mean, this is, this is the kind of pain where you can't tough it out. This is specifically the equivalent of getting tasered in the face and as it started to escalate, the pain became so excruciating and so consistent um that like once or twice a week I would be on the floor crying. It was that bad of pain. We'd

Ryan Rutan: find you disappear off to the conference room or get out of the basement, in the workout room, laid down

Wil Schroter: and I had no idea what was happening. And so I start going on this long journey, this epic journey of trying to find my medicine man to figure out what the f is wrong with me. And I went I went to everybody, I went from everybody from acupuncturist to dentists to see if it was a TMJ issue um Pain Doctors, of course you remember when the pain doctors started prescribing me all the pain meds

Ryan Rutan: I was sleeping. But do you do you remember that period? I mean seriously? That was that was a crazy time. I remember you were sleeping so out

Wil Schroter: of it so out of it. I was sleeping for 16 hours a day and not because I was tired because

Ryan Rutan: I was so

Wil Schroter: much. Do you remember it got to the point where like, it was so bad, I couldn't even remember words like I would be, I'd be struggling and I was on so much medication again guys, this is in the middle of the most critical point in our business. Ryan, you're covered in blood because you can't sleep at night, I can't talk.

Ryan Rutan: We were the two worst startup superheroes ever, head scratching lockjaw, right?

Wil Schroter: It's so bad and and you know, we're both really optimistic people, but we're also very pragmatic and so as this thing starts to escalate, I remember a couple of things happen, I remember just like you were talking about with your daughter, you couldn't you know, reached down to grab her. I remember my daughter summer, I go to reach down and kiss her and mind you, she's you know, newborn and I can't, I physically can't pull my lips together to kiss her, I'm in so much pain, right? And I'm like dude, come on, right? So I sit down with my wife trying not to do very much talking because I wasn't very good at that time. And I remember telling her, you know, as as 37 at the time um and I remember telling her, I was like I'm I'm at a point in my life where everything I do is very conversationally, everything I do is presentation, business development, very outgoing. I'm never going to be able to talk for the rest of my life. I mean this is only getting worse. So if I can't talk now, um there's a 99% chance as the months and years follow. I'm never gonna be able to talk again uh eating is an issue like it's a whole thing if I didn't move my mouth, it didn't hurt, right? So there was that

Ryan Rutan: that left you with sleeping?

Wil Schroter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like I was basically going to be on an instant messenger for the rest of my life trying to, you know, with all my, my relationship um

Ryan Rutan: and that Ladies and gentlemen is how slack was born.

Wil Schroter: Yeah.

Ryan Rutan: Specifically to solve wills problem. Yeah,

Wil Schroter: exactly. And so um, so this problem is getting worse and worse on a fluke of all people, my G. P. My doc, um over text message as we're going back and forth in this because I'm on so many pain medicines, I'm trying to coordinate with him all the things that are happening. He said, you know, it might be this super rare condition called trigeminal neuralgia. And I remember there was a guy camp Travis something or other um that was on joe Rogan talking about it. He has it too. And you know, here's a musician having, I can't imagine what that's like. And it's this super rare condition where your trigeminal nerve, there's one on either side of your face and it controls all the sensation in your face. It doesn't control the muscles. Just the sensation. So if you, if you poke yourself, if you, if you were to put a needle on your face or something like that, That nerve is what's firing to tell you something, is there every now and again one in a gazillion times, there's a little tiny um vein or something in your face that will just grow the wrong direction a my car and millimeter off and rub the outer layer of that nerve until it's rubbed raw. Until every time that you move your face it moves that, that that part of that part of your nerve and it fires just like you're getting tasered in the face and it happens all the time. And so that nerve is reserved for the absolute worst pain, right? That's the only time that that nerve should ever be telling you anything. And now it's just sending all these faults constantly right across your face. By

Ryan Rutan: the way, what kind of things make you make you clench your jaw right? Like too much caffeine stress.

Wil Schroter: Uh you know,

Ryan Rutan: any of those things happening to you at that point?

Wil Schroter: All of those things remember we did a different podcast episode where I talked about at the same time within a year. That was also you guys taking me to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, we all thought you were having a heart attack. Remember shoving you across the back seat of the car? That was a I was in such

Wil Schroter: bad shape. I mean really bad shape. I

Ryan Rutan: think we can summarize that period of like that, that the middle part of our ark? We could summarize that we were, the three of us were starring in a documentary called Fat Sick and nearly startup right? Like it's funny to me even look back at the photos of us from that period. We look like our older uncles or like uncles or cousins or something. We don't look like ourselves. We look like weird. Like actually like right now I would say we look so much better that we're like the lifetime versions of ourselves at that point. We're like the lifetime movie actors that would play those people like it's night and day

Wil Schroter: were the Benjamin buttons of ourselves. Right? Exactly, terrible. We're in such horrible shape and doing the most stressful, high impact things that we've done, you know, in the entire span of the company, we have so many things going on, so many high stress things. Um all the money was at stake everything. Um, during all of that crazy ship and, and we were able to kind of, you know, motor through it. But, but it was, it was, I think the hardest part for me and Ryan, I think you probably feel the same way is, it's hard to not know that there is light at the end of that tunnel, right? I mean it's bad enough startups are hard enough to deal with as it is at the time again. I'm sitting with my wife saying, hey, I don't think I'm ever gonna be able to work again. Like I don't think I'm going to make it to the end of this year for sure. And it was only a fluke that my doctor over text message just happened to have me checked out for it. And lo and behold that's what it was and and Ryan, do you remember to one of the doctors I saw thought that the issue was was with the muscles in my face. So he thought the cool move would be to fire Botox across the entire side of my face so it just wouldn't move. That looks sweet. Like I've got some great pictures of that.

Ryan Rutan: Who's the talking wax figure in the corner. Oh

Wil Schroter: God, what a disaster. And so so I go, I go to a specialist. He looks at what I have and he's like, oh yes, this is that's absolutely what it is. I mean, you have every, you know every sign for it. He said Good News. I can put you on some nerve blockers upside, is there going to totally make the pain go away downside is you're back to sleeping 16 hours a day. And once again you won't be able to remember words. And it's, it's the weirdest thing, the medicine, they destroys your ability to recall things. And so I would be trying to explain something and I couldn't remember the word shirt, right? I was like, oh yeah, this morning. I got on, got up and then I put on my oh man, what's that called? And I couldn't, I mean it was that just fundamental words.

Ryan Rutan: I remember copying and pasting. We, you know, we have the slack chats going and you'd ask a question and answer it a couple minutes later you'd ask it again and I would literally just copy paste in the beginning. I remember like telling you like, dude, I just just scroll up like five lines, you'll find it. And at some point I realized like how frustrating that was for you. I just started answering the questions again. I stopped telling you that I've already answered this question. Well, it wasn't your fault that there was anything you could do about it. You needed the answer. Um, and it was just a matter of like, how many times will we say it before it sticks, right? It was an 80 year old man

Wil Schroter: In a 40 year old body. Yeah. So Doc says to me, hey, you've got trigeminal neuralgia. I go home and I google it. Do you remember the first thing that came up when I googled it? Ryan?

Ryan Rutan: It wasn't good. It's not good at all. The

Wil Schroter: suicide.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, that's, that's what you told us. Yeah, I know right? Like really? Like if you're

Wil Schroter: gonna google any condition, that's like, that's the absolute last thing you want to come up, right? And its history

Ryan Rutan: for planting the seed because

Wil Schroter: the pain is so bad. And historically there was, there was no correction for it that people literally killed themselves because they couldn't deal with the disease, right? Doc says to me, he says, good news, there's two options for surgery. Both of them are horrible, right? One option is this is so great. I'm not even really get into it. But one option is basically stick a needle through your entire head and pour acid on it. That sounds horrible. But the worst option is we cut a hole in your skull the size of like a half dollar and go in there with forceps and try to put some teflon over it. What are you kidding? Like, that's actually a real way. We're

Ryan Rutan: just gonna, we're just gonna wrap it up. And this is like, this is the surgical version of rub some dirt on it. Like, are you kidding?

Wil Schroter: God, What kind of fred Flintstone surgery is that? Right? So, uh, so anyway, I opted for the first one and it mostly worked. Uh, you know, I've had to go in multiple times that have it done again, which is, which is no picnic. But the alternative is 1000 times worse. And you know, now it flares up from time to time, but it's, it's 100 times better than it was before. But you know, Ryan both of us are at that point, uh, in the middle of these stories where there's no hope in sight. There's 100% chance that this can't keep happening, right? We can't function at this level. We have so many people. Yeah, we have so many people relying on us, right. I remember thinking at the time, hey, we just bought these companies. I just told these people, I gave them my word that I'm going to buy the company and kind of making something great. We hired all these people, I sat across from these people tried to talk and and said, Hey, we're gonna make something great. How can I walk

Ryan Rutan: towards the exit door, pull it open and jump out of the airplane. Right. That's the worst mic drop ever. You

Wil Schroter: can't do that by I, you know, I just, I didn't know, um, how I would be able to continue moving forward and making commitments in the face of knowing, uh, I may never be able to see any of them through physically. It's, it's no different than if you had a cancer diagnosis or anything else like that were like, well, what do I do now? Right. You know, how do I, uh, how do I make future looking decisions when my future may not have a future, right? It

Ryan Rutan: was changes everything.

Wil Schroter: It was brutal. It's another

Ryan Rutan: type of runway, right? It's the same. It starts to put the same kind of pressure that you get when you have a financial runway. And if you're a funded startup and you know, you know, your, your, your burn rate, um, leaves you four or 56 months, whatever it is, you start to make decisions based on thinking, that's how much time you've got left to get this right, right. And it's really no different when we were going through these things were thinking like how much longer I can do this. Like for me it was literally like january. I know in january this is going to be that much worse And I'm gonna be a basket case. I will not mentally, but I had already decided I couldn't handle it, which meant that it would 100% be true when we got to that time, I had already figured out I wasn't gonna be able to do it right. And that type of run rate is agonizing, terrifying.

Wil Schroter: It is too. I think what worked for us, I think at its core, again, focusing on the business part of this, we were all very empathetic about each other's situation. Now, that's not always the case. I'm not saying people are horrible people. I'm saying that you know, often you'll have a lot of players, uh, that are part of this and not all of them are necessarily sympathetic to uh, what, what you have to deal with it again. So, of course these life issues aren't health, health is kind of hard not to care about what's happening with somebody. Um, but think about it this way, if you've got a life condition that could be putting you in a tough position to move forward with the business. What are the investors thinking? I mean the investors can can feel for you. But at the end of the day, they still have to put somebody in there in order to run the company, You know, and that's a really tough conversation to have. However, what I have found, and I know some folks who have gone through this with investors, what I've found is sitting across from the investors face to face whenever possible and trying to explain exactly where you stand, exactly what you're trying to get done exactly how you're plotting a course moving forward. It's always the right move. It is hiding it always the worst move. The

Ryan Rutan: hardest part of that move in this case, in my opinion, is is having that clarity yourself, right? You've got to get to that point where you can actually see like going back in time. I don't think that you could have sat down at the peak and said with any certainty, here's, here's what I'm going through and here's how it's gonna work out. You didn't have that clarity at that point. You know, pre diagnosis. You certainly didn't. You had no idea what was happening or why or how much worse it would get. Once you had the diagnosis, you weren't sure, you know, you knew that the medication wasn't going to work long term, right? It was 100% impacting your ability to to run the company and you couldn't you couldn't you couldn't function. And so, you know, and this is the other interesting thing, you know, we've talked about, you know, where we were empathetic and you know, how we supported each other. Um and I'm sure that there were times where you you had the same, same questions in your mind, like will Ryan actually be able to to pull this off? Is he going to come out of the other side of this? I'm willing to support him through the effort. But like at some point, if it doesn't get any better, what happens when you have to think about these things? Same thing, you know, for me, same thing for Elliot is we're watching your progression. We're going like, alright, we're supporting as much as we can. But

Wil Schroter: what if he

Ryan Rutan: doesn't have any what if he doesn't have any certainty about what's gonna happen? How can we write? Like, so what are we going to do? And it's and it's you know, it's not necessarily dire straits, but like, you do have to start to consider those things and and you know, talk about unexpected pivots, right? Like, yeah, we're gonna we're gonna change a major portion of the leadership of the company over this. Like, that is a huge, huge impact.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. And I think what worked well for us was that uh we kind of took it took it as it came up, like, you know, even though things were getting worse, we were still saying, okay, well, let's, let's see where things are in a month, let's see, you know, let's see what happens next. We didn't try to get to a point where we have to solve the whole thing now, you know, Ryan has to go where will, has to go because it might be a problem in the future. Again, some businesses can't afford to take that position. Um, and so this isn't, you know, it doesn't work for everybody. Your mileage may vary. Um, but I definitely think that one of the things that helped us a lot to say, hey, this is the problem as it stands now, but like, with every problem, there is a longer arc towards solving this problem. We're just at chapter one or two in this story. I don't think that this is the final chapter necessarily, and that's why I was pointing out that, you know, your arc to the story, my arc to the story spanned over really over a decade. Yeah. And so what I would have loved to have seen, you know, if I went back in time, which I seem to love to do, uh, to go back to to will having this problem. And if I could have given no other advice, I would have said, look, plan this out over two years, five years, don't try to plan this out over six months, right? Because things take a long time to evolve and you need to be able to plan for a longer arc than just what's happening today, if you can in every situation.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. And, and again, like we can tie that directly back to the same advice. We'd give somebody suffering from a startup challenge, not a health challenge. It's the same thing, right? You've got to give yourself reasonable horizons to solve these problems because if you set the expectation that I have to solve this, I have to have this figured out within six months, that may be impossible. Right? And so then you're setting yourself up for a false negative on this business and you're saying like, look, I'm gonna give it six months. If it's not solved, then, you know, we're just gonna, we're gonna bag it and maybe that's the right choice. Maybe it's not. Again, mileage will vary in the situations are all very different dynamic. Um, but you've got to be reasonable with yourself and with the company, with the staff, with everybody involved, investors in setting reasonable horizons for accomplishing these things. And particularly again, just like with the health conditions, the startup, they're both operating under terms of relative uncertainty and therefore you've got to have that space to let things come into focus.

Wil Schroter: Yeah, I agree. I I think the longer you give yourself, the more you can do about anything, I think in the startup world, we're so used to doing things so quickly, right? We're so used to making fast decisions, raising money quickly, doing everything quickly. This is one of those times where doing things quickly isn't necessarily your friend. Right?

Ryan Rutan: Not at all. Not at all. Right. Yeah, I think it I think you won't find the time and space to solve the problems adequately and you're also going to add a ton of mental stress by putting an arbitrary short timer on these things that make you feel more pressure than you should in trying to solve.

Wil Schroter: I agree.

Ryan Rutan: That's a wrap for this episode of the startup therapy podcast. This is Ryan Rutan on behalf of my partner Wil Schroder and all the startups dot com family thanking you for joining us and we hope you'll continue to join us. Be sure to subscribe rate and comment on itunes or wherever you love to listen to startup therapy. You can find all of our episodes at startups dot com

Wil Schroter: slash podcast.

Ryan Rutan: If you're looking for more amazing resources to launch or grow your startup, be sure to head to startups dot com and check out startups unlimited. It's everything we have to offer from our online university to our amazing community of experts and founders and even all the tools we've built like biz plan, fungible and launch rock. It's everything a founder needs visit startups dot com slash begin that startups dot com slash b E G I N. You'll thank me later

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