Reprise: The Unintended Consequences of Startups (4 Years Later…)

Seven months ago I sold the company I founded in 2007; seemingly all’s well that ends well.  But, over the years I’ve been very vocal about the emotional highs and lows of running a startup, and the dark side people don’t talk about.  In 2009, still at the beginning of the journey, I wrote a post on my blog about my challenges at the time.  It struck a deep cord and hundreds of entrepreneurs shared their parallel emotional tolls and scarifies with me.  I’m including an abbreviated post below, this time with more than five years perspective and the coveted successful exit in hand. April 2009: The Unintended Consequences of Startups  There is only one way I can imagine running a startup, obsessively giving it everything you’ve got. In my opinion it’s 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 two 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.  After we raised our first round of capital I regularly started staying in the office until 2 a.m. 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. 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 that’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 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 a duplex; he’s literally a wall away from me.  But I can often go two 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?” 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.  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. My lack of time affects me most in relation to my mom. My mother has been severely ill for the last six 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.  I could leave the office every night at 8 p.m. 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 or twice a week.  It’s a choice I’m not very proud of. Friends are a little bit easier, I’ve have the same ones since I was five. But for a long time they did stop calling me, knowing I always turned down plans for work.  I felt that if someone wasn’t at our startup with me on a daily basis, that it took too much effort to try and explain the intricacies and emotions of the experience. 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 it’s due in large part to poor physical habits. 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. It’s 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. Epilogue I had no idea I was embarking on an eight-year marathon and emotional roller coaster when we started Docstoc.  Startups are a dichotomy of taking control of your destiny while letting go of all other illusions of control.  I can unequivocally say it was worth the sacrifice, but I came out a different person on the other side. I eventually found peace in the wisdom, “Don’t struggle with the struggle”.  Struggle with the daily challenges you’ll inevitably have to face, but embrace the fact that struggle will be the consistent state you live in for the next many years.  Today, I may get to enjoy the outcome of our success, but the pain of the process is what’s forever shaped me as a person. There are few things in life that will push us, demand of us, beat us down or raise us up as much as starting a company.   This post originally appeared in the WSj:

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