The Unintended Consequences of Startups

Apr 18, 2009 73 Comments by

There is only one way I can imagine running a startup, obsessively giving it everything you’ve got. In my opinion its what separates the winners from everyone else, and it’s the only way I’d ever be able to look back on this experience without regret. But that kind of dedication comes with a price. And anyone who has chosen a path of starting a business can tell you the unintended consequences of startups.

For the past 2 years I’ve neglected my health, family, and friends. For most of my adult life, I was about 165 pounds. I’m almost 210 pounds these days, and trust me when I say my body’s not meant to carry this much weight. 2 years ago I was running 6 miles a day 3 times a week, and playing competitive basketball and tennis.

After we raised our first round of capital I regularly started staying in the office until 2am. I found myself so physically and mentally spent by the weekend that I typically slept most the day on Saturday, before I went back to work on Sundays. I was so inactive, I’m convinced now my muscles started to atrophy and I tore the ligament in my right foot, trying to finally exercise one day. Compensating for that injury I tore my left calf, and it’s been 5 months since I’ve been able to run or jog.

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It took me a while to admit that I was stressed out, and even longer to realize I would turn to food to compensate for that stress. Over the past year, I’ve become a more solitary person with my thoughts and emotions than I’ve ever been, while increasingly becoming a public figure who’s known as an outgoing social networker and showman. It’s a strange dichotomy.

My family has been both incredibly supportive but also upset that I’ve seemingly disappeared. I have three (quite) older siblings, and we’re undeniably close. But while they’re all proud of me, they disapprove of my unbalanced lifestyle. My brother and I share opposing sides of duplex, he’s literally a wall away from me. But I can often go 2 weeks without seeing or talking to him. My sisters are busy raising their kids, so they can relate a bit more. But like so many others, our conversation often come back to them asking me “why don’t you ever want to talk about what’s going on in your life”.

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My father who I love dearly, isn’t only from another generation/country, he might as well be from another planet. He struggles the most to be supportive; I know he’s at least a little disappointed I didn’t practice law and take over the family real estate business. A lot of what I do is to make him proud and prove to him that all his hard work for his children was not in vain. If it were up to my father, we’d spend everyday together going to lunch and “working” side by side. I get to see him about once a week. He’s almost 80 and every time I see him I try and cherish the interactions, because I don’t know how many will be left.

When it comes to my family though, my lack of time affects me most in relation to my mom. My mother has been severely ill for the last 6 years. Due to mental illness that set in later in life, and a very early onset of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, she can’t hold a conversation, stand, eat, or function at all without full time caregivers. She is the person that has done more for me than anyone else, and was always my biggest cheerleader. She lives about 5 minutes away from my home. She doesn’t always remember my name, but every time I see her she lights up, and when I say “I love you”, she always says it back. I could leave the office every night at 8:00pm and give her a hug and kiss, spend a half hour with her, but I don’t. Our first office was across the street from her (not accidentally), and I’d walk over during the day to check on her. Since we moved further away, I typically go by to see her once every two weeks. It’s a choice I’m not very proud of.

Friends are a little bit easier to handle, I’ve have the same ones since I was 5, and you build up a little bit of “friendship equity” after 20+ years. But for a long time they did stop calling me, knowing I always turned down plans for work. It was a little disconcerting to see my closest friends just write me off for the time being as someone who was never free to hang out. But there were also cases of severe strains with some of my close friends. I pulled back from engaging and interacting with them, and felt that if someone wasn’t at that startup with me on a daily basis, that it took too much effort to try and explain the intricacies and emotions of the experience.

Dating has been a totally surreal experience. I went from being a hopeless romantic “when harry met sally” type, to literally not even thinking about relationships in the least bit. The extent of my effort with girls for a long time consisted of texting them on a Friday/Saturday night at 11pm to meet up when I had finished my work.

I think I’ve reached my breaking point, at least for now, and mostly in regards to my health. Somehow I know my relationships will work out, but I often find myself feeling like I’m working at 40% of my capacity and energy, and I think its due in large part to poor physical habits. So I’m going to drop 30lbs in the next 60 days, and will take a bet against anybody that thinks I can’t do it. As you can see even that I have to do obsessively.

In the last year I’ve probably met close to a thousand entrepreneurs. And the ones I’ve consistently bonded with the most, were those folks willing to do whatever it took, and make any sacrifices to be successful. Starting and running a company is the joy of my life right now, and gives me a greater sense of purpose than anything I’ve done before. Its come with a price though, and I know a lot of other folks like me are thinking through and struggling with issues of balance and the unintended consequences of pouring yourself into that which you love and defines you.

docstoc, Personal, Stuff

About the author

Jason is the Co-Founder and CEO of Docstoc.com, the premier destination to start and grow businesses, offering the best selection of documents and content resources. Jason is also the creator of Startups Uncensored the long running and most widely attended tech mixer in Southern California. Before starting Docstoc, he was a partner in a venture consulting firm in Los Angeles where he worked with dozens of startups. Jason holds a BA from UCSB and his JD/MBA from Pepperdine University, where he was the Student Body President of both Universities.

73 Responses to “The Unintended Consequences of Startups”

  1. Cost of doing startups « Raja Jasti’s Blog - Renaissance Thinking says:

    [...] is a touching blog post on this topic by Jason Nazar, founder of DocStoc. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t miss [...]

  2. Tyler Crowley says:

    Can’t wait to see the new slimmer Jason.. and the follow up posts.

  3. News and Links of the Week | Rob Grady says:

    [...] The Unintended Consequences of Startups [...]

  4. Katrina K. says:

    Should be retitled “The Obvious Consequences of Completely Irresponsibly Mismanaging Your Life and Work”

    | There is only one way I can imagine running a startup, obsessively giving it everything you’ve got.

    And that means running yourself into the ground?

    Buddy. Get a clue. Is the only way to run a marathon sprinting until you’re forced to stop? Is it? Get a sustainable work lifestyle and you’ll be able to build more, better, and more ambitious ventures.

    Or you could see if you make it to the first water station. (You won’t)

  5. pete says:

    good stuff.

    write it down

    act on it

  6. Laura says:

    Once, back when I was a documentary filmmaker (which is another name for entrepreneur, only with much less money and literally no instinct for self-preservation), I’d spun around to face a very large, very savagely-fanged, VERY pissed off Mother Bear…who’d just chased me 50 yards down a deserted trail in maternal defense of her cubs. Feeling my demise was at hand, I spun around and yelled at her—like she was some Rodeo Drive poodle with a pompom tail. Quite surprisingly, and to my everlasting gratitude, she did not devour me.

    I’ve been patting myself on the back for years thinking what a courageous act that was, but now…well…you’ve raised the bar, Jason Lawrence. Raised it high. I feel incredibly honored that you shared the link to this post with me. Honored and—to be honest—amazed at your profound courage.

    Few people are truly willing to scrutinize their life situation, and then take full responsibility for whatever quagmire they find themselves floundering in. Fewer still are willing to reveal their “unintended consequences” to an audience, much less commit to reversing the entropy of connection they’ve allowed with others…but particularly with themselves. What sheer, unadulterated bravery–obviously just one of many wonderful attributes you possess.

    Of the 423 bits of hard-earned wisdom I’d love to share with you concerning this subject, however, I’ll grace you with only 2 (since it is your blog, not mine):

    1. It is not your body’s fault you’ve put on weight. Punishing it with crash-dieting is an odd way of showing gratitude to a beautiful vehicle that’s done everything you’ve asked of it—and so much more—under extremely adverse conditions. Making health part of your business model might serve you far better than blitzkrieging your liver with released toxins (one of the many ill-effects of rapid weight loss).

    2. That photo of you seated in the chair is not who you are, nor does it even slightly resemble the amazing person I met in March. Wanting to return to that state of athletic grace you once reveled in is one thing; it’s quite another if you’re carrying that image around in your head, thinking that’s who you are, what you look like, or even what other people see. A definite case of mistaken identity.

  7. Clyde says:

    Jason, I agree with your viewpoint on start-ups. But I also agree with what Katrina K. Says: posted on April 26th, 2009 at 6:15 pm.

    I spend more than 14 hours a day on my startup [ http://txpsf.org but one has to balance both. I have sacrificed and sacrificed to get my busniness to the point where I am ready launch . Now I need funding which caused me to pause and take a breath.

    The economy slow down made me realize that now matter how hard you work you must take time to smell the roses. Your business won’t benefit you if you are dead – God forbid – or in ill health and unable to enjoy the fruit of your labor.

    You got it right. We all must cherish those around us and the support that they offer . Thanks for allowing this time to think about what is most important to me. God bless you and your family.

  8. Greg says:

    Jason,

    Great, honest post (that I just stumbled across). All of us type A startup founders are in the same boat so I can more than empathize. I just moved to LA (after spending most of my career in the SF startup world) and I’ve heard a ton about what you’ve done to energize the LA startup community (its a ton to do in addition to running a startup full-time).

    Good luck with the new fitness regime… I disagree with those saying it’s an extreme approach (all of us only really have one mode and that’s a tad extreme, so might as well roll with it). For what its worth, I’ve been practicing yoga pretty regularly now and its been quite helpful for both fitness and relaxation. It’s easy to keep thinking about work when you’re on a run, easier to get away from it for an hour when you’re in a yoga class. Just a tip!

    Drop a line if you ever need a running partner.

    Greg

  9. sandeep pande says:

    SocialTwist, the company behind the Tell A Friend plugin, has launched TAF4 Ads, a widget to refer ads to friends. Visitors to websites that have implemented TAF4 ADs can pass on any banner ad to their friends and an accompanying comment with it. So, for instance, if I visit this demo page and think that the ad banner is interesting, I can click the TAF link and send it to my friends. They emphasize that this word of mouth personal referral approach should result in higher click throughs for an ad.
    However, I dont buy it. Online ad banners are obtrusive and hardly ever have I found ad banners engaging enough that I want my friends to take a peek at it. In fact, I block all ads using the AdBlock Firefox plugin. I mean, think of it – who in their right minds will click on the banner and want to send a link to your friends about it ?
    I guess in their effort to desperately monetize the Tell a Friend plugin, SocialTwist has come out with this lame advertising model.
    What do you think ?

  10. Ricardo Oliveira says:

    Jason, you should have a look at this blog:
    http://steveblank.com/2009/06/18/epitaph-for-an-entrepreneur/

    cheers,

    –Ricardo

  11. Ryan Graves says:

    Jason-

    I don’t know you at all and haven’t read your blog more than a few times but I want you to know that after reading this post I have an incredible amount of respect for the honesty that you were able to embrace here.

    For people at all stages of the entrepreneurial process this post is an incredible value!
    Well done.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

  12. Conrad says:

    Jason,

    I will hold you to your goal of losing weight and getting back in shape. believe me when I say being in top physical shape can make you a more fucused, productive worker.

    I suggest two reccomendations to make your goal extremly attainable:

    1. Diet: For the next 30 days, do not eat anything that is white. If it is white, was white, or is going to be white, dont eat it!! howeve 1 day a week, (my prefrence is Sunday), you can have anything you want. I got this diet from Tim Ferris’s blog, and it has been EXTREMLY effective. I promise, body fat will come flying off.

    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/04/06/how-to-lose-20-lbs-of-fat-in-30-days-without-doing-any-exercise/

    2. Excersise: Two words… Cross Fit. (www.crossfit.com) Take a moment to read through this website and educate yourself on this program. In short, it combines aerobic exercists and strength training into high intensity condensed workouts. My workouts range from 7 minutes to 20 minutes max! It works well for busy people.

    Good luck brother.

    Conrad

  13. David Smuts says:

    Hi Jason

    How are things since you posted this back in April? Your family must be so proud of you and all that you are doing!

    They should be proud of the fact that you are a HELPER. You have helped thousands of entreprenuers and countless numbers of people through docstat and through your various activities promoting entreprenuership.

    It’s a great acheivement for any parent to have raised a successful businessman, but it’s an ever greater acheivement to have raised a HELPER.

    all the best
    David

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    Your topic Does the Church Control Members? | FAIR Blog was interesting when I found it on Saturday searching for firm excercise…

  15. My 30 Day Challenge #1: 30 Straight Days of Charitable Giving Jason Nazar’s Blog says:

    [...] thought about doing something around my health/family (which I’ve written about at length) or maybe something related to Docstoc and our new Docstore.  But those are the things I think [...]

  16. mark verma says:

    Hi informatic Post. YOu should wright more article on same topic.

  17. olympic weight bench says:

    Hi I was just wondering do you do all the writing yourself or do you have guest posters. I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks.

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    I saw the P90X advertisement this morning and I’m interested. I will look into it before I make a purchase. It is kind of expensive with all the accessories.

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  21. joanna says:

    It is good to be at a point where you can put yourself as a priority over your business. Wish you luck with that.
    Just reaching that mark where at least the business will self sustain and not fall apart the moment you look away is an accomplishment.

    As far as letting family relations be second priority I think that’s the one thing that any entreprenuer should never do.
    I myself have let this happen especially since my family won’t accept my choice to do business rather than have a safe job, and ignored them happily out of spite.
    However, I know at the point when my grandmother passes or some other tragedy may occur, I foresee absolutely regretting the decision to put human relations, predominantly family, on the backburner.

    Because being an overdriven, relentless entrepreneur obviously isn’t really by choice, just like being gay or lazy.
    Some personality traits you can’t change.

    But seriously, I don’t foresee entrepreneurship leading to happiness unless the things in life aside from work at Some point are balanced. Until then it’s a dark, lonely and rocky road of which you can slowly die along the way unless you once in a while remember what is important besides the end goal.

    Good luck with your new personal goals.

    PS. Caffeine actually releases free floating fatty acids to give you more endurance before working out..seriously helps.
    Also nitric oxide is an otc supplement that helps also but is a supplement whereas caffeine at least is natural. and coffee has tons of antioxidants to boot.
    Most people think coffee before working out is weird but it actually makes alot of sense. Water post workout though of course!

  22. Nick Sanchez says:

    Nice post. You will lose the weight. I lost 55lbs in 5 months and still going strong. The easiest….and healthiest way to lose weight in my opinion is to eat only Raw Foods (raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds).

    Wish you the best.

  23. Chris says:

    Good post. Sorry to see that you have had more than your share of difficulties in you life. How goes your weight loss progress? You can check out some resources on how to lose weight here.

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