Why I Sought a Partner: Startup Burnout, Survival, and Sustainability
Restless, staring at the ceiling, clutching my girlfriend for comfort, I found myself at a cognitive tipping point. An immensely heavy load of pressing tasks ran through my mind and I had no one to call for help because I was the management team. Craft an email to pilot stakeholders in Brooklyn, develop comprehensive written instructions and youtube clips for camera setup, get 10 new coaches onboarded into the payroll system, add testimonials to the website, finish the application to the startup incubator. The list was seemingly endless, my time was painfully finite, and the last of my mental energy to get it all done had just evaporated. Burnout. It hit me like a slow moving ton of bricks.
For the last two years, I have operated my ed-startup EdConnective primarily as a lone-wolf. This venture did not spring to life after a dorm room conversation with some college buddies. It manifested slowly as the result of determination and a thousand small forward steps I have personally taken. It's not like I hadn't thought about adding someone to "team me" either. While participating in a Social Innovations Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, a professor bluntly told me point blank: "You don't have a partner...that means you are going to fail." To be fair, there are plenty of reasons why partners are very beneficial for startups, but there is also support behind the one-man army approach. Disregarding my professor, I began my march towards startup victory alone.
During college, there was always a lot on my plate. I juggled fraternity leadership, award-winning service initiatives, and plenty of classes, excelling on all fronts and I figured I could do the same with my startup. Past success did come at a price though. All nighters, cramming a semester's worth of content into one day of studying, sequestering myself in my apartment and sometimes isolating myself from friends proved commonplace. For better, and eventually worse, I attacked EdConnective in the same way. For some time, I've worked practically seven days a week, nights included while greatly limiting my interactions with friends and family. I've done this for two reasons: first, there are countless things that need to get done for a startup to succeed. Second, one feels obligated to put everything into their venture when it is their only means of revenue.
How could I justify spending a bunch of time twiddling my thumbs and hanging out with friends with student loans and health insurance payments looming over my head. Parents help tremendously—they will always make sure you are fed. Yet, running the startup life is like driving a plane down an incredibly short runway. If you get the plane up to speed, you takeoff and fly into the sunset. If not, well, you run out of gas and someone repossesses your plane.
When most folks in the startup space talk about runway, they specifically refer to a financial runway i.e. how much longer can one work on building the venture before running out of money. Just as important, I posit, is one's cognitive runway. One cannot run at breakneck pace forever. it's just not sustainable. This lesson became extremely clear to me about a month ago while running through that extensive to-do list with no reprieve in sight. Being a solo entrepreneur requires doing the jobs of five people while having the time of one. I've learned that startup life is not meant to be shouldered by one person forever. As such, I vowed to bring on a partner to help shoulder the load and amplify my bandwidth and as of late, I accomplished that goal. Albeit, finding the perfect partner wasn't easy. I actually went through four potential partners from the start of EdConnective until now, making numerous missteps along the way. I will share more about my current partner and what I learned from previous partner failures in a future post.
For more information follow Will Morris on Twitter @edconnective.