Success means putting yourself first, but not the way you think.
What keeps founders healthy physically, mentally and emotionally is also foundational for building high performance in founders, teams and companies. Prioritising your own development works wonders.
Founder stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout account for a large proportion of startup disappointments and outright failures. Often these forces turn up in sly and subtle ways, other times they’re spectacular. So, it makes sense for founders to invest time and energy in themselves to ensure they can meet the challenges that bringing a company into the world and making it grow entails, right?
Founders who look after themselves first aren’t selfish; they’re smart.
Module 1 of the Upside Founder Program puts founders first, helping them to examine themselves more closely than they probably ever have before and providing them with tools and techniques to understand how to optimise their motivation, health, energy, and emotional intelligence in ways that will support them as they, in turn, support their team and their business.
“Building a startup is not just about growing a company,” says Thuy Thai from Harrison.ai, “it’s growing yourself as a person. And when you do that, it has a flow-on effect on the company. Module 1 of Upside has been about helping us to grow as people, not just about growing our companies.”
Tom McKay, co-founder of Livewire, says the biggest learning for him in the first module has been understanding that “if I can get my habits right (sleep, food, exercise, screen time, and how I react to things), then I’ll be in a much better place to make good decisions, and I’ll be able to carve out more time to spend with family and friends.”
So, although taking one day a month away from the office to focus on these aspects of yourself may sound selfish, it’s actually a really smart strategy.
Upside provides time and a fabulous space for building community and making connections with other founders, creating the chance to bounce ideas off each other and get feedback, encouragement, and advice from people who have been through or are going through the same processes, experiencing the same anxieties, and facing the same challenges.
Mina Radhakrishnan, co-founder of :Different, explains, “these are people who understand what you’re going through, and they understand it deeply and viscerally, which nobody else can. No matter how good your executive team is or how much you like them, you cannot have certain conversations with them; you just can’t.”
Leadership skills for startups and downs
Being a founder has always been hard, but it’s getting even harder, with valuations dropping and cap raises getting tougher. Resilience is key to survival, and a company’s resilience is only as good as its founder’s.
Over the past three months, Upside’s 2022 cohort of founders has learnt how to manage sleep and how a healthy gut microbiome can affect their cognitive and physiological abilities. They’ve been provided with the technology to monitor their activity and energy levels, and they’ve seen how to maximise emotional intelligence in order to build awareness and resilience and promote optimum performance.
Kate Pollard, co founder of Circle In (left) with Alison Hardacre, co founder of Halaxy
“We’ve really loved getting to understand our nervous systems and how to use it to be better leaders and also create high-performing teams,” says Kate Pollard, co-founder of Circle-in, “we’ve also loved the general focus on health and well-being – the overall realisation that you need to look after yourself to create a sustainable business.”
John Laird, co-founder of Solar Analytics, notes that “Upside has helped me learn that it’s important to consider the self first, and how emotions, a particular context, and environmental factors can affect the decision-making process.” He goes on to say that “it’s important to pick and choose which parts to listen to from both emotional and rational sources – to be conscious of their presence – and make sure you are in a good place before making important or difficult decisions. Then apply the same process during interactions with others to make sure the drive for improving performance, company value alignment, and overall motivation is heading in the right (or at least a better) direction.”
When is the right time to optimise yourself? All the time!
In this first module, the 2022 Upside Founder program cohort have heard from experts in emotional intelligence, psychology, health, motivation, energy and elite sport. They’ve talked, lunched, walked, shared stories, meditated, and even danced together.
It’s now the end of Day 3, and I’ve just asked the founders when they think a certain technique they’ve been discussing could be of value to them. A resounding “ALL THE TIME!” encapsulates the entire group’s enthusiasm for and understanding of the value that Upside Module 1 – Optimising the Founder – has had for them on their journey through the startup world. And so the flywheel starts turning.
We’re all a work in progress.
Upside Founder Programs help founders become the very best leaders for their businesses as they grow from Pre Series A to Series B, and beyond. The 2022 program is currently in session. Apply to be part of Upside 2023 now.
Upside Founder Programs are proudly supported by KPMG High Growth Ventures and Microsoft Australia.