“Working with clients like Coinbase was exciting and stimulating. There was so much validation from customers and from the industry.”
Gabe’s professional success was also an escape from something far more personal and tragic.
“It tore me up”
Three weeks after he launched Incipia, Gabe’s mother passed away. She’d survived cancer and been in remission for 7 years. But suddenly, the cancer was back and it had spread.
In the weeks leading up to her death, Gabe could see that she was in pain. But there was nothing he could do. He remembers the terrible feeling of grief and helplessness as she went into hospice care.
“It hurt to see her suffer and not be able to take that pain away. It really tore me up.”
After she passed away, Gabe felt he had to “set that aside and be strong.” After all, he’d just started a new company. He reasoned that building a successful business would be a way to honour his mother and do justice to her memory. Throwing himself into his work also provided an escape from the grief.
“I took a couple days off and just came right back to work. I continued leaning into this place where I had validation because I felt good and I felt worthy. I wanted to be a success on her behalf.”
Instead of taking the time to process the grief, Gabe began focusing more and more on work as an outlet. The excitement and validation kept him going.
He avoided talking about his mother. But on New Year’s Eve that year, a close friend finally got him to open up. Initially he tried to brush it aside, but his friend persisted.
“At one point, the floodgates opened and I sobbed. I wept uncontrollably for three hours in the basement of this house. It felt like a cathartic release, like all the emotions that had been bottled up came rushing out.”
Afterwards, Gabe remembers thinking, “Okay, I’m good now. I’ve grieved. Now I can focus on my work again.”
But the success of the business would soon take a toll as well.
“I felt trapped being the CEO”
Gabe recalls the turning point when building and growing the company went from being fun and exciting to a serious responsibility—and almost a burden.
They’d grown to about a dozen employees, and had just landed Walmart as a client. Suddenly, there was a lot more at stake. People were relying on Incipia for their job and their wellbeing, and any mistakes would have a serious impact. Gabe and his cofounder began to feel the pressure. By now, he was working most evenings and weekends, rarely taking a day off.
“In the agency world if you slow down or start to flatline, you’ll lose your clients to your competitors. So the to-do list was never-ending. I couldn’t slow down or stop.”
Gabe also found it hard to delegate or let things go.
“The company meant so much to me that I developed a controlling streak. I’d think: let me just take over this task. And this one. And the next one. It all meant so much to me that I couldn’t let it go.”
But the more his work consumed him, the more Gabe started to feel tired and depleted. His creativity and productivity began to decline.