(This article is part of a series by our resident SocialTimes entrepreneur, Ellie Cachette. Cachette is the founder of ConsumerBell and also writes on topics covering Consumer Web. For more articles by Ellie, click here.)
Entrepreneurs are amazing: part superhero, part lunatic, all at once we can go days without sleep and without artificial help because we love working THAT MUCH. A few conferences ago I realized that no matter where in the world we are or what our start-up does or what language we speak at home, launching and building a start-up is hard work. Entrepreneurship is not a mystic venture, it is a common journey of like-minded individuals who are trying to solve a major problem and scale to be bigger than imaginable. Some are hoping to get rich but those only interested in the money will get weeded out quickly when the heat goes up.
There are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs in this world so when I went to pick up my 23 year old Colombian start-up Founder/CEO friend in San Francisco and he was holding a Walgreens bag filled with Tums, Nyquil, a heating pack and migraine medicine I realized we have a common bond: certain things will affect us the same if we have the same work-aholic lifestyle.
The list below is not medical advice, but things to lookout for if you work like a machine, never sleep, and forget to listen to your body.
1. Back Problems
Soon from leaning over a laptop all day and night you will get back problems. Stress tightens the muscles, driving to meetings or sitting on a train will make it worse and before you know it you will have developed “the 2am lean.” Its the position your body makes when you can finally switch to personal emails and realized you have a conference call with some foreign place at 7am. Best plan is to take a few minutes every couple of hours to lay flat on the ground. Might be good for the mind as well. In the case of many friends, instant heating packs that can be found at most pharmacies work great.
2. Acid Reflux
You won’t know what this is called but you will slowly develop it. One morning you will have a coffee, just like normal, and head out to a meeting. You will think that something didn’t settle right or maybe you are nauseous but it has nothing to do with the contents per se. One morning you will take a sip of coffee and gag outloud. You will sip coffee and find your body almost rejecting it, check. Tums, Mylanta and assorted antacids will help as well as (I have heard) bubble water. Not medical advice, just Founder advice of what works.
Every little germ on the planet that crosses your path will almost wipe you out. Being sleep deprived, overly caffeinated, and uber stressed will make your immune system into a pansy. Little kids, airports, city streets will start to take on a new perspective. When you do get a cold you will eye every sniffling four year old at the Mac store like a loaded gun.
Not just headaches, real doozies. Migraines so bad you might even take to laying on the ground quickly or forget your name. They come rapid fast, are directly related to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or getting over-pinged, plus you are probably not drinking enough water. Excedrin helps, aspirin helps. Just remember you are not dying or having a heart attack, this is all stress and how you manage it.
5. Kidney Stones
This is the hidden issue amongst entrepreneurs. It wasn’t until I passed stones myself that I realized this is common with executives. Long hours, not enough water, too much Red Bull, too much alcohol. Work hard, play hard, right? One friend of mine accepted a prestigious industry award only to be in a hospital bed getting saline via IV only a few hours later. I can remember being at a Web 2.0 After-Party hosted by Canaan Partners standing in the most pain I have ever felt my body generate and thinking “wow, my body is only 25 years old.” Remember what is in must come out, drink lots of fluids and try to have a doctor in your life at some point.
6. Separation Anxiety–Laptop
You will not be able to leave it or enjoy your time by any considerable means. Even going to the bathroom you will realize while sitting on the toilet, ‘where’s my phone?!” If you think this comment is gross, it’s because you already have your phone with you, this article is probably being read by a couple founders at this moment while they are checking email and Twitter on the John. Kidding aside, be prepared to no longer be able to enjoy life unless your laptop is one, it will go away after your Series A funding or if you can manage a vacation after Seed Funding, though unlikely.
7. Weird Skin Issues
Everywhere. Rashes, zits, all kinds of bizarre things. You can go to a doctor and swear you have an ancient disease but its straight up stress. Weird stuff too, like a random red rash on your belly, or a pimple the size of a quarter on your shoulder. You should appreciate the amazingness that your body can produce and keep all kinds of itch and blemish creams in your toolbox.
22 year old founder or 32? Won’t matter, at some point the stress will get so high your body will tingle all over, then your side will itch and before you know it there’s a little path of red Pop Rocks on your body. The cool thing and key here is to pay attention to your body. If you start noticing blisters or early warning signs of Shingles you can go to a doctor and get medicine to help. Similar to kidney stones, if caught in the beginning your quality of life can be drastically changed. However if ignored, breakouts and Shingles can last for weeks so paying attention ultimately pays off.
While some experts vary on the causes and symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder you will undoubtedly be unable to maintain any stream of attention for more than a few seconds and your ability to emote with other humans will be gone. It doesn’t make you a bad person just understand when you are trying to close a $400k gap or round, your friend’s issue (enter something minor with little consequences here) will bore you. Try not to look bored, say you are stressed. On the other hand, at times it might be relaxing to listen to OPP (Other People’s Problems) but eventually your mind will wander onto something more shiny.
10. Becoming a Wimp
Remember a time in your life when you partied super hard, like in college at that frat house or maybe grad school? Won’t happen again or for a while. You will soon find yourself only being able to handle a glass or two of wine at max. Part of it will be your stomach/ Acid-reflex/ ulcer and part of it will be physical exhaustion. Either you won’t be able to drink what you used to or stay awake like you used to. Find yourself getting heckled by friends on a Tuesday night for not going out on the town for “fun” or random drinking. Remember they aren’t running a company, they get to hide in cube the next day. If you were into random weeknight drinking you wouldn’t have started your own company.
That said, is there any hope for an entrepreneur? Of course! First, talk with friends that are both “ahead” of you and “behind” you. In the beginning you won’t know what that means but soon you will figure out where you are on the food chain: bootstrapped, Seed stage, Series Valued. You will be able to look at products or websites and appreciate the work it has taken them to get there, then you can measure up and realize you are 6 months ahead of someone or 1 year behind someone. Getting the information and passing it on keeps your mind sharp and karma aligned.
Some other (maybe helpful) tips:
- Vitamins and Water: are your friends. Drink that water and try to take vitamins especially if you aren’t getting enough sleep.
- Sleep: this is very important, it can be hard to wind down but force yourself to sleep even if it means a early rise.
- Get a Small Health Plan: there are affordable plans with small deductibles especially if you are in your early 20’s. Shop around, search online. Its possible. Don’t make it an excuse.