Both Ends Burning

Avoiding Founder Burnout.

“In case of a cabin pressure emergency, put on your own mask first before assisting others.”

Starting a business is not easy. Growing a business is even harder. As founders, we're all taught that we need to be super-human, that the hustle is everything.

That getting burned out is a weakness—simply not an option. The problem is that we are not super-human, we are human. And startups in the growth stage are hard.

Every founder that’s had burnout says the same thing: "Nah, I won't get burnt out." "I'm good." "I got this."

Until they don't. Burnout sneaks up on you like a bat outta hell. Just because you came up with a good idea and a good business model, doesn’t mean you can do everything. That’s a difficult realization, because founders are entrepreneurs and typically think they can do everything. But frankly, until you understand this—and take action on it—you’re extremely likely to burnout. 

From my own personal example, I burned out by trying to build a business as fast as I could—something completely contrary to the wiser route of growing smart while growing fast.

Growing smart means that when you think about scaling your business, you should also think about scaling your personal growth. You can’t just “muscle through it.” And if you try to, not only does it affect you negatively, but there’s also a negative impact on your team. All of a sudden you’re in a place where you’ve lost sight of why you set out on this journey in the first place. In my case, I became so enmeshed in the business, I could no longer see the big picture—especially my personal life. 

It’s critical to take a step back, and  look at it all through a human lens. For me, it was a three pronged approach:

  • Carve out personal time.
  • Work with an executive coach.
  • Develop a three to five year personal journey.

Ironically, this focused approach—not around the business, but around myself—has been transformative in not only helping my personal mindset, but in building the company and the team. It’s all been the result of this system I developed with my executive coach.

Build the Team

 A major component  to avoiding burnout is to be able to rely on your team. Of course, this is not natural for many entrepreneurs, but when you look at any list of the toughest challenges for business owners, you'll find hiring and retaining employees right at the top.

It’s key to identify and place the right talent in the right place to maximize value. John Semyan, one of Orchid Black’s Operating Partners, has 30+ years of recruiting experience. He always makes the point that “the cost of a hiring mistake is extremely expensive, both in lost time as well as dollars.”

This is especially true with millennial talent. Fifty five percent % of millennials are not engaged at work, and 42 percent  of them change jobs every two years. Bottom line: building a team of qualified talent that are going to treat your clients like you would treat them is not easy, and it's even harder at the earlier stages of a company. Hiring is particularly difficult in a startup, since it’s a time-consuming process, and it’s often difficult to match the cash that larger, more established companies are offering.

But you have a secret weapon: the ability to allow your talent to take on as much responsibility as they're capable of, to build a meritocracy from the top down.

Of course, there's nothing that gets people fired up like a great value proposition. So, in the same way it’s valuable to the market, it’s also valuable to talent. That’s how you appeal to millennials—and Gen Z right behind them.

Ask the Questions

Take an honest look at the impact you're having within your organization—and in your personal life. Are you a candidate for burnout? Do you have team members you can rely on?

What do you really want to achieve? A great exit? Becoming an investor? Starting another company?

These goals are critical to recognize and internalize. Then you can determine what kind of help you need—because you likely need help. Is it an executive coach? Or outside experts to drive the value of your business?

Once you understand these goals, you can roadmap how to accomplish them, while being purposeful about what you build—and what’s on the other side of the build.

About the Author

Jim Barnish is a strategic change leader with over 15 years of leadership experience in global and integrated operations, M&A, and strategic go-to-market planning. Drawing on deep operational and investment experience at startup and scale-up businesses, he’s created and curated a collection of proven, data-driven processes and methodologies to help companies build scalable and fundable solutions—accelerating organic growth.

Jim can be reached at: