Founders: You need to treat yourself like an athlete

Founders: You need to treat yourself like an athlete

In order to sustain through the founder journey, you need to build habits and a personal support team that enable you to run at peak performance in perpetuity. 

The stressors of being a Founder can be overwhelming and incalculable, and since most founders don’t realize actual value in the form of a financial outcome from their companies 8-10 years it’s critical that they treat themselves like athletes to enable them operate at peak performance for the duration of their tenure. 

You will break down – the pace of a startup is simply not sustainable long term without maintenance – Great Founders have a personal plan that encompasses a team around to help them achieve this. A great way to create a plan is to model yourself like a professional athlete. A well-rounded athlete (meaning you) will have the following support systems and habits in place:

Great coaches

You should have a few key coaches that as your sage counsel. These are people who have ideally lived through the experiences that you’re going through now so you can bring your biggest challenges to them without fear or judgement - struggles with fundraising, making payroll, problematic team members – and they can act as a sounding board to help you assimilate a path forward. Having access to founders and executives who have achieved things your aspire to is one of the fastest ways to raise your game.
bounce issues –thoughtful approach


The emotional toll of being a founder is real and the role can be incredibly isolating and lonely, so much so that depression and suicide rates are dramatically highler amongst them. 

Having someone to talk to on a regular basis where you can be at ease and voice and vent your major fears is essential and can help you curb becoming depressed or worse. As a side note, I do not recommend doing this with your friends or souse/partner, as your problems will be pervasive and therefore run the risk of burning out your personal relationships. Hire a professional. 

A Wellness Plan

Managing both your mental and physical are critical to avoid burnout. The essential pillars are the three you already know about: Sleep, diet, and exercise. These may sound obvious, but as a start-up ramps up they will be the first things to fall to the wayside – Andrew Mason, the Founder of Groupon famously talked about the “Groupon 40” where he gained 40lbs during his tenure. It takes discipline and some planning to ensure that you’re eating the right foods throughout your day, as opposed to working through the night and stress eating or grabbing junk food that may be around the office. Have a meal plan brought to you each day if needed (If your start-up is taking off, having healthy meals brought in daily is not an unreasonable expense) and set timers on your phone/laptop to force you to pause for workouts, meditation and shutting down for the day. 

Beyond the basics of diet and exercise, stress management should be an ongoing priority; As your role ramps up, stress will rise with it and meditation is the simplest and most cost-effective way to deal with this stress. Research shows that 15 minutes of meditation a day can be incredibly impactful to the way we perceive the world around us (removes biases), make decisions (i.e. get smarter) and destress (here), and has also proved meditation builds the brain’s gray matter. 


During my tenures as a Founder, I rarely went on vacation, and like others, I wore it as a badge of honor; This was incredibly short sighted. Vacations are empirically shown to reduce stress, improve sleep and heart health, and boost brainpower – but most importantly, vacations allow Founders to get perspective. Operating in the role day after day tends to make a person myopic. Taking a week to yourself enables Founders to get a more global view on their business and separate from the tactical daily issues to see what’s really important to both their businesses and their lives. 

Lastly, and most importantly, research has shown that those who take shorter vacations are associated with higher mortality; they work more and slept less than those who took longer vacations, which only increased stress in their lives. 

Your start-up may feel like your start-up is your entire life and that it cannot live without you, even for a week, but I can assure you that its not worth dying for. Plan your vacations early and commit to taking them.

Your Daily Routine 

A daily routine that centers and grounds you is also essential to your wellness plan. For years, I have used a model called SAVERS, which stands for Silence (meditation), Affirmations, Visualizations, Exercise, Reading and Scripting (this can be a gratitude journal or simple journaling). I used this most mornings when I was a CEO to tame the insurmountable feelings of what I had to deal with during the day, center myself and my thoughts, and prioritize what tackle to be most effective. 

Over time I have seen that the Founders who are most successful build a similar routine and rigor into their day with the basics being meditation and working out to start their day. 

time goes on and stress starts to ramp, coming up with methods and strategies to ground yourself and calm the noise around you will likely be needed more and more as your company and the challenges with scaling it grow. 

Medical Care

Other critical elements for a wellness plan are frequent visits with your doctor, and as you have more financial resources, you should consider a personalized physicians or a provider such as Parsley Heath that go well beyond what traditional Primary Care does, including testing for your energetic expenditure tests (OATS), gut health (ex. GI Effects), and creating a customized supplement regimen based on what you’re deficient in to optimize your performance and wellbeing. 

Personal assistant

You need someone to help you plan everything encompassed in your plan and keep it on track, and a great assistant can do that. In addition, a strong assistant can fend of the onslaught of daily noise of people trying to constantly gain access to you to ensure that you have the time and space to focus on your company’s biggest problems, as opposed to being pulled in many directions.


Last but not least, I have found that Cheerleaders are an important part of the start-up game – the people in your personal circle that keep you motivated. Most Founders are innately critical of themselves and their own worst critic. Therefore, having someone that’s always on your side and rooting for you, even when you’re had a few bad innings. A spouse, good friend, or parent can fill this role. 

Can you skip all this and make it? Maybe, but if you do your chances of burnout are higher and odds of success are less probable. More importantly, when you’re at the end of your journey and your start-up game is over, wouldn’t you rather be mentally and physically heathy to enjoy the next stages of your life (and maybe your next start-up!) Prioritize yourself first and your success will follow

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