Finding Balance as a First Time Entrepreneur



Before I quit my last full time job to start my first company, I read a lot about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. It seemed that the overwhelming consensus was pretty straightforward – as a founder of an early stage company, your business is your life.

It didn’t take long for me to realize how true that was. During the first year developing, gathering feedback, launching, and marketing our iOS app, TAABS was my life. And you know what? I fucking loved it. I woke up every day and couldn’t wait to get to work. I maintained a pretty healthy routine too, by most standards. I ate well (even went Paleo), went to the gym every day, and spent every remaining hour of the week building my business. My co-founder and I were both so sure that we were creating something game changing and we were 100% committed to our goal of revolutionizing the way people searched for bars and restaurants.

But, as any startup founder knows, that first year isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Of course, there were plenty of internal struggles that we had to overcome, but my biggest struggle was in maintaining any semblance of a personal life.

Before pursuing TAABS full time, I had a fairly active social calendar. Nothing crazy, but I enjoyed spending time with a close group of friends and family. Once TAABS became my life, I stopped seeing my friends and family as much. My entire social circle consisted of my six-person team, and the occasional acquaintance encountered at a tech meet-up. I started to feel resentment from the people I cared about most. At the time, I was so invested in what I was working on that I didn’t even notice. But gradually, friends stopped asking me what I was doing on weekends because they already knew my answer – “working.”

Truth is, I really wasn’t doing anything that I used to enjoy. I wasn’t traveling. I wasn’t writing. I stopped playing basketball. I wasn’t sleeping. I even stopped eating foods that I loved because I was so obsessed with maintaining this seemingly healthy routine.

Towards the end of last summer, I started to experience burnout for the first time. This coincided with a terrifying thought – what if TAABS does not become the massive success that I was once so sure it would be? I remember the day that I first admitted this out loud because I sat down to write something totally unrelated to TAABS for the first time in a year and a half. It was July 29th at 3:46am and it was a five-page reflection on what my life had become. That disquisition will never see the light of day.

It took me a while to get from there to where I am now, but looking back, this was a crucial realization. My temporary solution was to take a step back. Start having fun again and stop taking things so seriously. I wanted to get back to being me.

It was a gradual process, re-acclimating to my old world, but it started paying dividends immediately. Most importantly, I was happier. And isn’t that what’s most important?

Now I still don’t know what the future holds for TAABS. But taking a step back helped me reevaluate things and determine how I want to fit my business into my life, instead of how I can fit my life into my business.

Over the last few months, I’ve started working on other things that keep me fulfilled and motivated, particularly my newest passion project, Startup Island. I’ve also started volunteering again. Before TAABS, I was an active volunteer with NY Cares, an amazing organization where it’s so easy to get involved in any capacity (seriously, do it!). When I started working on TAABS full time, I thought I didn’t have time for it anymore. Until recently, I forgot how rewarding this type of work could be. Yesterday I played literacy games with 3rd and 4th graders at an elementary school on the Lower East Side and it was by far the most fun I’ve had all week.

So it’s been over two years since I left my last full time job to start TAABS. What have I learned?
As an entrepreneur, you’re always pressed for time. Especially in the early stages, you’re juggling so many different responsibilities, and it seems like there are never enough hours in the day. But my grandma once told me at a very young age, “The busiest person makes time for everything.” I never truly understood this until very recently.

As an entrepreneur, it is your responsibility to prioritize what’s important to you. Perhaps even more importantly, figure out what you’re spending time on that isn’t getting you closer to your goals and stop doing it. Work smarter, not harder. Things you’ve heard a million times but are much more difficult in practice.

In order to maintain a healthy balance, your startup shouldn’t occupy every waking hour of your life. Of course it’s always on your mind. But when you make time for other things that you love, and allow yourself to have fun, you feel more refreshed and energized to give your business your undivided attention when you need to.

So here’s your challenge – DO LESS! Mix it up. Do something different, something completely unrelated to your startup. Train yourself to make time for things that you enjoy doing. And check in with yourself to make sure whatever you’re spending your time on is getting you closer to your goals.

Image credit: CC by Jed Sullivan

About the author: Brian Helfman

Brian Helfman is a co-founder at Startup Island, an exclusive retreat for aspiring entrepreneurs. Brian is also co-founder and CEO of TAABS, a nightlife venue search engine. Before entering the startup world, Brian worked in ad sales at CBS, and spent a winter as a ski instructor in Colorado.

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