Andy Dunn, co-founder of men's clothing line Bonobos, recently stepped down from his role as CEO. After selling the company to Walmart in 2017 for $310 million, he departed from Bonobos for a surprising reason: the successful acquisition had created more work for him.
"You sell your business and you don't think you'll work as hard," Dunn told Inc., "but I'm working harder--just without the stress of wondering if we will make payroll."
His words reveal a key truth that every entrepreneur needs to know: Start-ups will always require more work.
After the acquisition by Walmart, Andy Dunn had taken on an additional role as senior vice president of digital brands for the retail giant. For a year, he was doing two major high-level jobs, which is simply not sustainable.
Even if your start-up has a great exit in the form of an IPO or acquisition, you will likely still be working hard. In many cases, the success and exponential growth of a business can actually create more work and more responsibility.
There's a story that entrepreneurs like to tell themselves and their loved ones. If I can just reach this major milestone, they think, then the stress will lessen and the workload will become more manageable. As soon as the business closes this round of funding or releases that product, it will get better. When we get acquired or go public, it'll get easier.
But once a founder crests that hill, more likely than not he or she will discover another series of mountains to overcome.
More funding means more accountability from demanding investors. More employees means more management responsibilities. More sales means more customers to take care of. More products means more complex challenges around production and logistics.
At a Kauffman Foundation training a few years back, a venture capitalist told his audience of early-stage entrepreneurs, "There will be a moment in time, if the start-up takes off, that will be like drinking out of a fire hose."
And that's if things go well. Imagine how big that fire hose would seem if your company was struggling to survive.
The reality is that the start-up journey requires hard work and perseverance for years on end, regardless of success or failure. It's a heavy load for founders to carry--and it won't lessen on its own.
But it can be more manageable if you choose to make it more manageable. Here are 4 key ways to step off the start-up hamster wheel:
1. When you have space to rest and breathe, take advantage of it.
As humans, we can become so used to operating at a certain speed that it feels strange--perhaps even wrong--when things slow down. If you find yourself in a place where the needs of the business aren't as intense, don't go looking for something else to fill your time.
Instead, practice saying no. Take advantage of the slower season to get some extra rest, spend time with loved ones, even go on vacation.
2. Hire people with more experience and expertise--then use them.
Good managers empower their people. But unless you have the time to invest years in developing others into top executives, it's best to hire people who already come with stellar experience and expertise. These are the folks that will give you the peace of mind to be able to delegate major areas of responsibilities to other people.
3. Develop sustainable systems and processes.
It may not make the highlight reel of your career, but prioritizing the development of systems and processes is absolutely essential for your business to grow and be sustainable. Your entire team should know how decisions are made, how many is spent, how your product or service reaches customers.
Such systems and processes are like the tracks that will allow your start-up to keep chugging forward without your constant involvement.
4. Set a timeframe or milestone for leaving the business.
What is your ultimate goal in your start-up, and when will you know you've gotten there?Having an end in sight will give you focus in your efforts, and it will also help you operate on the assumption that a transition is in your future. It will push you to consider what the business needs if the organization outlasts your tenure at it.
There is indeed always more for entrepreneurs to do, but that doesn't mean the work has to be done right now. Keeping your workload manageable is not about doing less, but it's about enabling you to do more over the long term.