Oct 15th, 2018 ⋅ 6 min read

Riding the startup rollercoaster


Ever since I was a kid, I have been surrounded by tech people. I always admired how goal-oriented they are but I took a different path. I was always volunteering and helping people, so the natural path for me was to study social work. Now I want to connect those two parts of my life so I conducted this research, and used it as my master thesis. I am sharing the results to help the startup community. I would like the startup community to be aware of the risks and the existence of solutions.

To be aware

It is a state of mind. To observe yourself and your development as a person. If you don’t feel aware, or you don’t feel aware enough, then you should give yourself some more time. I do believe that awareness comes with knowledge and peaceful mind. That is very important because startup environment is always looking for new ways of creating value and achieving happiness, but – if you are not self-aware, it is impossible to self-improve.

Every human has its personal and professional side. During the startup phase, everybody is full of advice on how to improve your business, how to reach costumers or how to develop your product.

Therefore, it is normal that your focus shifts towards your startup and makes it a top priority. I would like to explore further how to balance your private and professional life, how to improve your physical health and how to develop your mental health.

Startup family

Balancing private and professional life is the hardest for startup founders because difficulties are almost unavoidable. More than half of founders (55%) said that they are either dissatisfied with the balance or are out of balance completely. Sometimes they are aware of the problem as for example they would say: “My only focus is work now and everything else is on pause.”. That is something they would say since they are separated from family while participating in an accelerator or incubator program. Sometimes they are aware that they would feel better if they knew how to achieve a better balance. The feeling of guilt that occurs when they are away from their families can be controlled by better balance. But what all founders have in common is that they blame the problem on the working conditions such as the frequency of business travel. None of them thought that the cause of the problem is within the family environment. Thus, there is a significant relationship between work engagement and imbalance of private and professional life.

It’s not possible to be in two places at once, but when creating your schedule – first book the family time. You can always move it around but try to keep it as is as much as possible. Even if you are separated from your family, booking the time for a video-chat will prevent awkward situations, plus it will spare you the trouble of your family wanting to engage with you during working hours.

Healthy startup is a successful startup

Health bears major significance in an individuals’ life. More than two-thirds of founders (65%) recognized some health problems. All of them connect them to working conditions. For example, sitting and working in front of the computer causes their back and sight problems. It makes sense. If you make a living by sitting down and working on your laptop, without stretching or resting, health problems are to be expected. But I am talking about working hours that are longer than 8 hours per day because all of them work overtime. They say: “I work all the time.”. Some of them have to travel often. Pitching and presenting your startup has a better impact when held in person. Having to travel often, even between different time zones and then rushing to continue working can cause different effects. Some don’t sleep enough or they don’t sleep at all. That can cause the immune system to crash which would usually prevent the illnesses.

Eating healthy and regular physical activity are very important. You don’t have to hit the gym every day but choosing stairs instead of the elevator is a good way to start.

On the other hand, if you want to lose weight – avoid strict and extreme diet methods. Do not base eating habits on fast foods or protein shakes.

Because of your extreme schedule, your brain needs even more nutrients to stay focused. Only proper food can do that. Balancing is the key, as the equation is simple. If you want to lose weight, you have to spend more energy than you eat. Your body needs a balance of nutrients so skipping meals, starving or not eating a certain type of food (usually carbs) will not lead you down a healthy path.

There is a time and place for everything. That goes for the food as well. Changing your eating habits is a hard and long process. Therefore it is necessary not only to “jump in”, but also to discuss it with your doctor or nutritionist. So, listen to your body. Observe how you react to changes in your diet because it is also possible that your body processes some food better than other.

What is a startup without stress?

Whole startup environment is wrapped in stress. They have to deliver the product on time, create a business plan… and all within tight deadlines. All founders are dealing with stress and can define its cause. They have to deal with the rejections and the “no”-s which frustrates them. Handling so many concerns and emotions while running your company can be too much. It is normal and many founders are going through the exact same thing. They just don’t talk about it as much as they should.

The scope of their work is so diverse and they are responsible for all of it — even the things they don’t like. Conflicts with co-founders and employees drain their energy. When conflicts occur, talk about your values and motivations because the difference within them cause conflicts. Sometimes even the personal cultural background can be the source of different views on the matter. So, when you want to share something, focus on how you say things – not only on what you say.

Startup founders have a strong sense of responsibility towards their families, startup and employees. It’s just a matter of opportunity cost. They could have worked in a corporation and have had a steady income source, but instead, they are running their own startup and probably bootstrapping. That’s why it’s normal to feel responsible for the lives of others because they boarded the plane you are in control of. Sometimes that can be hard to handle as the reality kicks in, so the symptoms of depression tend to show up.

When participating in an accelerator or incubator program, they also get anxious. The presence of competition can be hard to handle as it puts more pressure on them. Sometimes even a large number of mentors can be a bad thing, especially when preparing for a pitch. It can cause them to feel overwhelmed and even want to quit because of too many conflicted opinions.

Focus on your breathing and how you control it. One source of negative emotions is the lack of oxygen in the brain. Also, talk to somebody whom you trust. Invest your time in describing the problem to those who don’t know much about it. That is one of the things that will help you be a step closer to figuring out the solution.

If you see a pattern, think about what you did the last time that helped you. For example, if you feel stressed out — think about what you normally do to vent or blow the steam off. Some people relax when doing yoga and some feel better when hitting the punching bag. Everybody is different, whereas you will only benefit from investing the time in finding your unique way to recharge. Because if you crash – your startup will crash as well.

It is important to do things you enjoy and that are, at the end of the day, things you are interested in. Keep asking yourself: “Is this what I want?”; “Am I happy?”; “What would make me happier?”; “What can I do about that?”. Dealing with low’s will be easier when doing things you like.

Rollercoaster ride

Being a founder is like being in a rollercoaster. And even though that phrase lost all meaning due to overuse, I like it. It describes the startup lifestyle well. Yes, lifestyle. It goes up and down, shifting quickly even when you don’t want it. But did you know that there are 34 types of rollercoasters? It’s up to you which one you will choose.

Methodology disclaimer

Data collection was conducted in two parts. The first part started in October 2017. I was in Techstars London, following the last three days of their program. The startups were getting ready for the Demo Day and I was introduced as “a curious person with free time”. That provided me with an amazing opportunity to observe them on one of their most stressful days. The second part lasted from May until August 2018. In that period of time, I interviewed 11 founders/CEOs via video-chat.

Of 11 participants, 4 of them were female and 7 were male. They are from different countries. Eight of them are from Europe, one is from Canada, one from Russia and one from Singapore. Their average age is 33, with the youngest research participant being 27 and the oldest 41.

They have different relationship status and some have children. All research participants were CEOs of different startups. The average length of working in a startup at the position of the CEO is 2,5 years (min. 5 months; max. 8 years). Majority of participants have obtained higher levels of education. Majority participated in startup accelerator or incubator program.

Do you think I can bring value to your company, organization or you?
I would be happy to talk with you!


My name is Marta. I aim to help employees, founders and CEOs by bringing their attention to the importance of well being, a good work-life balance and physical, mental health improvement.

I worked as an associate at the THINK Accelerate in Helsingborg, Sweden. My role was to support startups during the three-month program with their stress management and team management. The program ended with an #HBGTECH where I participated as an organizer.

I also held talks at Lund University, at THINK Open space and at #HBGTECH.

I volunteered at Techstars London DemoDay 2017 and 2018 where I helped with the organization of the Demo Day.

Do you think I can bring value to your company, organization or you?
I would be happy to talk with you!

Contact me!