Startups are Built at the Expense of Founders

- - Advice

Startups are often built at the expense of Founders long before they are built for our benefit. From the outside, people see us at the top of the corporate ladder (even if that ladder only has one rung!) and think that we’re running shit.

That’s not how this works. We don’t get the benefit of sitting on our thrones and commanding our armies until much, much later in life — and in many cases, never. What we are guaranteed along the way is a wraith-like drain on our life force in every possible facet.

What we need to understand, and accept, is that our startup’s future can very easily come at the expense of everything we hold dear. It’s very much hard-coded into how the Founder Journey works, and damn, do we pay a lot of bills along the way.

First, We Pay With Our Savings

Long before we raise money or earn some revenue, 100% of our “income” is just our personal savings. We use terms like “sweat equity” as if working for free somehow magically puts food on our table or pays our rent in the process.

We not only work for free, but we also begin a long and vicious cycle of ripping through all of our savings, and then, when that’s not enough, we go out and take on new debt in the form of credit cards, lines of credit, and even that one “interest-free financing” scheme we used to buy laptops for everyone. Yeah, that’s signed in our name, too.

Lots of people burn through their savings, but we take it up a notch. We start creating new debt we not only never would have had before, but probably have no way to pay off in the future. Put simply, we start off by bankrupting ourselves.

Then, We Pay With Our Health

But, we’re irrational morons (I am one of you), so we think that’s not enough. We also put ourselves on a path where no matter what we do, we’ll be wrong almost all of the time, because there’s no possible way to get all of this right. We’re building something that has never been built before, with a team that has never worked together, in a market we invented 9 seconds ago, so we can’t possibly know the answers!

That lack of “knowing” translates to not enough time to maintain our physical health (the “Founder 15” is real), a non-stop siege on our personal self-worth (we’re wrong all the time), and an express pass toward anxiety and depression (unless you really enjoy the word “no” all day!).

We keep incurring those expenses because in our minds we believe they are temporary, similar to how we feel about our financial costs. What we don’t realize is that even if the business side improves, the stress it takes on our health often increases as the demands on our life get amplified.

Finally, We Pay With Our Relationships

All of this stress gets mapped right to one place — our relationships. There’s no version in this process where being stressed out and financially stretched 24×7 leads to happy, healthy relationships. It doesn’t matter if it’s our spouse, our kids, our family, or even just those friends we used to hang out with. Our startup consumes us at the expense of all of them.

Unlike most employees, we can’t turn it off. Our staff can go home at the end of the day and know that they’ve got a minute until they have to turn it on again. We don’t get that luxury. That’s because our staff only needs to worry about themselves, and maybe their team. We have to worry about everyone, all the time.

That nonstop pull totally ruins our relationships because it starves the two things that relationships need — time and focus. Slowly, but surely, both are stripped from us, by our own doing, leading all of our relationships into a dark place.

So… When Does This End?

Well, maybe never. Oddly, it doesn’t end when we become more successful because the draws on our time and emotion only increase. It gets worse when things don’t go well because we’re constantly stressed over pulling it all together.

Our startup success doesn’t pay this expense — only we can pay it, by stepping back and evaluating how much we’re willing to accept, and in most cases, just refusing to pay more. If we don’t stop paying the costs of this journey, no one else will pay it for us.



Courtesy : Wil Schroter



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Nishanth Muraleedharan, also known as "Nishani," is an IT engineer who transitioned into entrepreneurship, driven by a profound passion for the textile industry. As the president of Save Handloom Foundation, ( and the Founder & CEO of DMZ International Imports & Exports Pvt Ltd., I am passionate about reviving the Indian handloom industry and empowering the weavers and artisans across the country. With 25+ years of experience in the textile industry, I have developed deep market insights and a rich network of handloom weaving societies, master weavers, and self-help groups, who exclusively make products for our trust.