Building a business from the ground up can be exhilarating and rewarding. But the experience can also be remarkably frustrating and painful. To be sure, the startup game is not for everyone.
For people who are used to lots of structure at work and enjoy a stable work/life balance, becoming an entrepreneur provides a crash course in a different kind of job experience. Indeed, entrepreneurship offers a variety of potent lessons, including what it's like to work long hours, how to maintain focus amid multiple opportunities and pitfalls and ways to overcome risk aversion.
This is not necessarily bad: Many entrepreneurs thrive upon the intensity that comes with launching a startup. But countless other entrepreneurs find the weight of the experience unbearable, yielding personal damage that outweighs the potential benefits. In fact, in our 2014 Startup Survey, Consero found that over a third of entrepreneurs surveyed said they sometimes actually regretted starting their business.
How can entrepreneurs avoid such pitfalls? Here are three warning signs that it may be time to take a break from the startup world and embrace a calmer work experience for a while.
1. You exhibit work addiction.
Addiction is a disease that can arise in a variety of contexts. And while work addiction may seem trivial at first blush, there are circumstances in which over-commitment to one’s work may be quite serious. The warning signs of work addiction can be hard to spot, given the expectations of most entrepreneurs and those around them regarding work ethic and the importance of dedication to the business.
But when entrepreneurs become focused on work at the expense of everything else, including health, hygiene and family, it may be time to detach.
Certainly, other jobs bring intensity and pressure that can yield addiction-like symptoms, but entrepreneurship seems particularly prone to enabling work addiction. Given the absence of rules regarding work hours, the pressure to get a product or service to market quickly and the obvious risks, it can be quite easy for entrepreneurs to fall into an addictive work pattern.
When you begin to develop addiction-like symptoms arising from your startup work, the damage can be far reaching, impacting your health and well-being, and eventually everyone around you. Keep an eye out for when your behavior or routine becomes too unhealthy to justify, and listen to friends and colleagues who may flag the issue for you. Better to pare back and return to fight another day than risk running yourself and your business into the ground.
2. The financial strain becomes debilitating.
Startups are financed differently. Some are bootstrapped by a single individual, while others are awash in VC funding. But most impose some financial strain on the founding team -- due either to the absence of market-level salaries, an investment of personal funds to pay the early bills and loans or other guarantees or all of the above.
Most entrepreneurs anticipate a rough ride at the outset, as they burn through cash, and the prospect of a financial loss becomes a palpable reality. But some startup founders become incapacitated by the possibility of financial ruin, recognizing that they may have taken on too much risk and finding themselves unable to focus or otherwise help the business.
There are rarely any easy options for an entrepreneur who has become incapable of focusing on the work of the business because of fixation on potential financial harm. However, it is important to recognize when you have reached this point and to take some action to mitigate the situation. Some appealing options may be to find someone to purchase your stake or to seek additional capital to add stability.
But when these options are not feasible, or your mental health is taking too much of a beating to justify continuing your current battles in the startup realm, consider leaving it all behind. While no one wants to fail, many entrepreneurs have closed up shop and found greener pastures elsewhere, or returned to fight another day.
3. It’s no longer fun.
People create startups for a variety of reasons. Some are after wealth, others seek to solve a problem and many just want to do something off the beaten path. But if you ask most entrepreneurs why they started their companies, most likely have in common an interest in the adventure, the challenge, the opportunity to be their own boss -- and the fun of it.
These are good reasons to start a business at some point. Life is short, so why not create a work experience that you love?
Many startups yield the experiences their founders envisioned, providing excitement and challenges that continue long into the future. For others, though, the excitement is long gone, leaving the entrepreneur with a job that feels a lot more like the options that he or she sought to avoid in the first place.
When you’re no longer enjoying the experience, you shouldn't necessarily cut and run or leave your team and investors in a lurch. But once you reach an exit, or have an opportunity to let the team replace you comfortably, be honest with yourself about what is best for you and the business.
Maybe it is time to take a different course and find something you enjoy more. Your colleagues cannot fault you for looking to put more joy back into your life, though they may be jealous.
Entrepreneurship can provide a great experience on so many levels. But it isn’t necessarily a perfect lifelong fit for everyone. As you take your own entrepreneurial journey, think critically about how you are handling the experience, and whether entrepreneurship remains a good fit for you. Better to get out when you recognize that you should, rather than suffer through an adverse startup experience indefinitely.