Saturday 16 November 2019

Quitting my job for startup dream ruined my life

Ali Mese
Ali Mese

I used to work for one of the top three global strategy consulting firms. It was a life packed in a suitcase. A consulting life where you miss out on everything and everyone in life, except Excel spreadsheets.

I would get an SMS on Sunday evenings telling me my destination and client for the coming week.

After a few hours of sleep, a private driver would take me to the airport for my business class flight to Rome or New York. Upon arrival, I would check in to a fancy five-star hotel and head to my client's office afterwards.

The salary? It was fancy, too. The company was proud to be among the top payers of the industry.

There was something wrong with this consulting life, though. I couldn't stand it any longer.

So I decided to start my own startup. I told everyone that I just quit my job to follow my startup dream. Some of my friends gradually stopped seeing me, probably because they thought there was something wrong with me (the consultancy job was the second "fancy" job I had quit in a short period of time).

The rest of my friends were supportive. But there was still something wrong with my relationship with them. I soon realised I was starting to pull myself away from social gatherings. Every time I met with those friends, I didn't have many updates to give them in response to their repeated questions, such as: "so, how is your startup going? You are going to be the next Zuckerberg, right?" Or: "oh man, we are so proud of you and we are so sure you will soon receive a huge round of investment."

Doing a startup was a long journey and I was putting myself under so much pressure by giving such a damn about what other people think.

Day by day, I was getting lonelier and more depressed as I avoided social occasions. My startup progress was not as fast as my social circle imagined it to be and I was fed up with telling people it took years for startups like Facebook and Twitter to arrive at where they are now.

The only comfortable place was next to my few entrepreneur friends. The cliché was true: only an entrepreneur could understand an entrepreneur. As if the social pressure and loneliness were not enough, I was meeting the mother of all stresses: running out of cash much faster than I had imagined. This was killing my productivity and ability to make proper decisions. I was panicking and rushing to be successful and to make money.

One day, I even found myself asking my girlfriend for a few cents because I had no money to buy bottled water. I didn't know that it was just the beginning of such a difficult life full of ups and downs.

Fast forward to today, two years later. Everything's fine. My freelance business has a constant stream of cash that allows me to travel the world and to work from wherever there is wifi.

There are, however, five things I wish I had asked myself before starting this painful journey.

1 Are you ready for the social pressure?

If you have friends and family who are not entrepreneurs, they won't truly understand what you are trying to achieve and the public pressure will be even higher. I cared so much about what other people thought of me, so much so that it ruined my life. I was so hard on myself and punished myself with even more work so I could announce my success as soon as possible. That is, until the day I realised that no one gave a damn. You are no more than a few seconds of attention other people give to a Facebook status.

2 Are you single or do you have an extremely supportive partner?

As we grow up, we share more of our life with our partners than with our friends or family. While I was lucky to have such an amazing girl, it was so sad to see many of my entrepreneur friends breaking up with their girlfriends along the way.

Doing your own business is tough - way tougher than I could have ever imagined. Your mind is constantly screwed up with a million things going on inside and no other person, including your girlfriend, has a single clue what is going on in there.

If you are not single, make sure your partner understands it's sometimes normal not to have a mindset even for a simple kiss.

3 Do you have enough cash to last at least a year?

Good, then multiply that amount at least by three because you will be running out of your savings way faster than you ever imagined. Along the way, there will be so many hidden costs: accountants' fees, lawyers' needs, broken iPhones or PCs and so on.

Get ready for a smaller apartment, smaller food portions, or counting your cents, which you never cared about in your life previously.

The last few months before you totally run out of your cash will be especially difficult and the pressure will grow so exponentially that you won't be able to sleep properly.

Success will come slowly, and cash will burn fast. Be smart - plan from day one.

4 Are you ready to sleep only few hours a day?

Having escaped from the corporate consulting world, I was thinking I was finally going to live the dream by working whenever I wanted to work - until I read Lori Greiner's following quote: "entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week."

It all started by little wake-ups in the middle of the night. At the beginning, it was because I was too excited about my ideas and I had so many of them. I simply couldn't wait for the morning to arrive so that I could start working again.

Then came the exaggeration phase. I was working too much because I never had enough of working for my idea and I wanted to do more. However, the more I worked and the later I went to bed, the more difficult it was to fall asleep and the lower the quality of my sleep became. As a result, at least two or three days of every week I was having days with almost no productivity.

Don't be fooled by over-hyped funding news about startup founders becoming millionaires. The stories behind the scenes have so many painful days, sleepless nights, and continuous rejections and failures.

The journey to success is long. Very often, too long.

5 How do you define success?

People define it differently. If money and public success are what matters to you most, you are likely to have a hard time. Successful entrepreneurs are not necessarily those who raise millions of investment rounds. Don't forget, they are one in a million. But there are thousands of dreamers out there who manage to bootstrap their startups or live so well off on their own, but even they don't make it to the top of tech news.

Ali Mese is author of '500 Awesome Growth Tips For Entrepreneurs And Startups', which is available at www.growth.supply.

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