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How do founders separate their own wellbeing from their company’s?

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Idia Elsmore Dodsworth | Co-founder of Tinto, Jonathan Widawski | Co-founder & CEO of Maze, Maeva Cifuentes | Founder of Flying Cat Marketing, Javier Suarez | Co-founder & CEO at Oliva

Founding a company is a bit like having a child: beautiful, but terrifying. You get to mould something in your own image, nurture it towards success, and proudly watch it grow. But when shit hits the fan, it’s your responsibility—at least partly. Because in many ways, that thing is you.

So while many people’s professional and personal lives blur into one sometimes, for founders, it’s more like all the time. New customer? I’m doing great, thanks. Four people quit this week? Leave me alone while I self-loathe.

How can founders prevent their personal wellbeing from being swayed by the harsh winds of business that batter their company every day? Ask some—like the four we spoke to for this article—and their first answer will likely be: ‘Don’t ask me. I’m terrible at doing this.’

But in reality, most founders who’ve watched their personal lives spiral after an awful Q3 have lived to tell the tale. And each has their own strategies to manage this situation better in the future. Here’s how four founders handle this problem.

“Never skip your morning routine” - Maeva Cifuentes | Flying Cat Marketing

Maeva founded her content agency Flying Cat Marketing in 2019 to help companies do SEO properly. The agency now employs a tight-knit team of 10+ people full-time and its list of clients keeps growing.

How do you maintain your own wellbeing during challenging times for the company?

My main strategy is to never skip my morning routine—whatever happens. 

In summer I was journaling, reading, exercising, having breakfast, and then getting to work. But in the winter I've made sleeping part of my morning routine. It’s much easier to wake up in summer time!

Also on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’ve stopped taking calls completely to focus. Then on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—when I can end up having like 12 calls a day—I don't get any other work done in between calls. I'll just watch Netflix or something. 

And that makes me feel like I still have my time to myself. I'm not just a machine trying to get through calls and get work done at the same time. When you have another call coming in 15 minutes, how much are you really able to think anyway?

"Having your self-worth fully tied to your business is a slippery slope. It's like having your self-worth tied to a relationship."

<quote-author>Maeva Cifuentes<quote-author><quote-company>Founder & CEO at Flying Cat Marketing<quote-company>

What advice would you give to other founders who are struggling?

Having your self-worth fully tied to your business is a slippery slope. It's the same as having your self-worth tied to a relationship. If you get destroyed by it not working, you won't be able to continue to the next step—and businesses are a long term thing.

So take care of yourself and make that a priority. Protect your mental space by blocking out time to think.

“Rank your life priorities—and stick to them” - Javier Suarez | Oliva

Javi co-founded the business travel startup TravelPerk in 2013, scaling the company to 300+ employees and thousands of customers. After struggling with the pressure at work, in 2021 he co-founded Oliva: proper mental healthcare for companies and their employees.

How do you create a healthy distance between yourself and your company?

It's tough—I don't think there’s a golden rule on how to solve this problem. For me, it was about introspecting to really understand where my job stands in my list of priorities.

With help from my therapist, I literally wrote down the 10 most important things in my life in order of priority. And I thought really hard about the order of that list. So now whenever I feel that my job is starting to intrude on a priority that’s above it, I go back to that list. I still reference that document a lot.

Of course, ​​there's people out there who’d put work in the number one spot consciously—and I respect that as well. But for me, it’s not. My family is more important, for example.

What advice would you give to other founders who are struggling?

For me, the trick is to decide how many hours you’re going to work each day, then to leave the office every day thinking: ‘I did everything humanly possible in the best way that I could.’

As a Dad, I’m more aware that every minute counts—because I don’t have more minutes to play with. I can’t stay another hour to plow through a project and just get it done. I have to go home, see my kids, put them in the shower, and clean butts.

Like with most things in mental health, it’s a muscle you have to constantly exercise. So keep reminding yourself when you go home: ‘this is a new chapter of my day, the last one is now closed.’ If you truly felt like you did your best in the time you had, this can help you detach after work. It helps me, at least.

“Create a mantra” - Idia Elsmore Dodsworth | Tinto

Idia founded Tinto in 2019 to help women through each stage of motherhood. The company is still at an early stage but is already seeing signs of success.

How do you create a space for yourself away from the stress of your company?

Connecting with other people gives me the space I need to just be myself. Specifically if they’re old school friends, you’re like teenagers again. When you’re a professional who has children, it's good to go back and find the child within yourself. 

Also if I know I need replenishing sleep, I've discovered infrared sauna blankets. Oh my gosh, they’re revolutionary. It's basically a sleeping blanket with infrared panels. The infrared light heats up your cells so you sweat from within. In British winter, this boosts your serotonin and your mood dramatically. I love it!

Mental health is something that you've got to practice every single day—it's like brushing your teeth. So for me, eating well, taking my supplements, doing my infrared blanket, going to the gym—these are all key parts of the routine.

"Mental health is something that you've got to practice every single day—it's like brushing your teeth."

<quote-author>Idia Elsmore Dodsworth<quote-author><quote-company>Cofounder of Tinto<quote-company>

What advice would you give to other founders who are struggling?

I really love mantras and affirmations. Find that thing that resonates with you, like “I’m enough. I’m enough. I’m where I’m meant to be—I’m enough.” Whatever it is, find that mantra and use it to anchor yourself any time you feel overwhelmed.

“Find a mentor to give you perspective”
- Jonathan Widawski | Maze

Jonathan co-founded Maze in 2018 with the aim of making product research faster and easier. Maze raised Series A funding in 2020. Its headcount has since grown from ~30 to ~100 employees in a year.

How do you create a healthy distance between yourself and your company?

I have a document called: ‘Why am I stressed out?’ Once every month I sit down, open it, and take notes on whatever is stressing me out—both personally and professionally. Then I try to attach actions or people to each of these things.

So I look at my own problems in the same way I look at the company’s problems. But by doing this, I remind myself that I’m my own entity, with my own problems—and that I can solve these through either people or processes. Or if I can’t solve them, I just let them go. 

You also have to be very intentional about balancing friends, family, and relationships with work. I plan time for these things the same way I plan my calendar during the week. There’s a lot of rituals—I usually see my family on Fridays, then Saturday is for my girlfriend.

If you don’t actively think about these things, you can very, very easily lose yourself.

What advice would you give to other founders who are struggling?

The thing that helped me the most was finding a mentor in this space. I’d really recommend finding a founder that is one step ahead of you to give you perspective. 

When Maze was a pre-seed stage company, I’d worry about things like how I was going to announce we lost two customers to the team. Luckily, I had a bunch of great friends that were way ahead of me in the journey who helped me realise this was all just noise. Now things like this feel like nothing.

Opening up to someone that can be impartial, that can understand your struggles, give some perspective, or even just give an ear to the problems you're facing—sometimes that’s 50% of the solution.

Also, take time off.

Oliva therapist photograph

by Oliva therapist