When I was launching my first company, someone told me a cautionary tale of a failed startup that blew half of its seed round on the perfect DJ for their launch party. It stuck with me, since it played right into a certain narrative about irresponsible startups -- the ones who pat themselves on the back constantly and pop open a bottle of Cristal to christen the office’s new ping-pong table.
The reality for most entrepreneurs, though, is quite different. In fact, the problem most entrepreneurs face isn’t that they frivolously celebrate every little win, but that they don’t celebrate enough. They forget to savor the good times, hurting themselves in the process. I should know. I used to make that very mistake myself.
My co-founder and I opened our first Industrious location in September 2013. From day one, it went better than either of us could have imagined, so we devoted ourselves full-time to expanding the business on a national scale. Despite our early successes, we were under no illusions. We knew it was going to be extremely hard work. We embraced the struggle to an almost masochistic degree -- nose-to-the-grindstone, 120-hour work weeks, pounding the pavement trying to scrounge up capital.
When, after six punishing months of work, we finally closed our first major round of funding, we knew it was a huge milestone. Some celebration was obviously in order. The team kicked around the various options. A trip? Too extravagant. A party? Too distracting. A day off work? No, it would send the wrong message to the new investors who had just put their faith in us. A glass of champagne? Not during the workday. We kept negotiating down the celebration until we settled on an option that we all agreed would not be an absolute dereliction of duty. We’d take our usual lunch break, except this time, we’d make it really special. Instead of our traditional 20-minute break, we’d really cut loose, let our hair down a little, blow off some steam.
And so Industrious’s founding team, to celebrate the funding round that would transform our company, went absolutely buck wild and stayed out to lunch… for a full 30 minutes.
That instinctive reaction, to deny oneself pleasure and gratification when there’s still work to be done, is undoubtedly an impulse that’s familiar to most entrepreneurs. Even during those scant extra ten minutes, there was a nagging guilt in the back of our heads that we were neglecting our growing business. Instead of basking in our own success, we made the celebration of a goal that we’d worked so hard for into a completely forgettable moment.
In gung-ho, macho startup culture, many entrepreneurs would wear that attitude as a badge of honor. We certainly did at the time. But looking back at it a few years later, I’ve come to believe that we were wrong to not take the proper amount of time to savor our own success. In fact, a growing body of psychological research suggests a stance like that is actually counterproductive in the long run.
For example, a recent study from Washington State University found that taking the time to savor and dwell on pleasurable experiences greatly improves the mental and physical well-being of individuals. Most importantly, it has a measurable and positive impact on subjects’ future ability to deal with stressful situations. And the founders of any new company are going to have more than their fair share of stress.
I’ve come to believe that any activity that better equips the team to handle that stress, or to tackle crises as they arrive without cracking, is ultimately worth the temporary tradeoff in lost productivity.
By the time we reached our next big company milestone, the completion of our first round of national expansion, we had this new philosophy in mind. The celebratory 30-minute lunch break of previous years became a multi-day, company-wide retreat in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley. We relaxed, cooked delicious food together, went on nature walks and chatted about (gasp!) non-work stuff. We indulged in all the things we hadn’t allowed ourselves the last time and made ourselves some new memories that we can fall back on to help keep us sane the next time the stress level ratchets up.
I can’t recommend enough that you follow similar practices at your own organizations. It doesn’t have to be something as elaborate as our retreat. It can be as simple as letting everyone off early on a nice summer afternoon, a glass of champagne after work, even a shout-out and round of applause at a meeting for a high-performing employee.
Taking moments like these every so often helps to ensure that you and your team have a reservoir of mental energy that you’ll need to deal with any thorny issues that will inevitably crop up, giving your fledgling company a better chance to succeed. By savoring the wins of today, you’re making it that much more likely that you’ll have even more wins to savor in the future.