I recently stepped down as CEO of the company I spent 10 years building.
I founded my company, Alley, a decade ago. As a business scales, the needs of the company change along with it. After much growth and self-discovery, I learned the person in the CEO role needed to be heavily focused on operations. My skill sets are mainly in business development and marketing. I knew in order for the company to get to the next level I had to step down and give someone who had more operational experience the keys to the castle.
In my resignation letter, I reflected on the path that got me where I am today. We raised tens of millions of dollars, made it on the Inc. 5000 list of 'The Most Successful Companies in America,' partnered with some of the largest corporations in the world, and scaled our business from one small space in New York City to several across the country. My road to success was marked with sacrifice, but I know my company wouldn't be where it is today had I not given up so much.
These are the four major sacrifices I made to have the privilege of stepping down as CEO.
I didn't make money for years.
When I first launched Alley I put everything--literally everything--on the line. Unless you're profitable from the beginning or have raised enough seed capital to cover a salary, you will not start off making money as CEO of your own company. I had to save money any way I could: couch-surfing, ramen noodles (cliche, but true), and sacrificing my personal life.
Ask yourself if you're the kind of person who can afford to miss out on fancy meals, drinks with friends, and a proper bed while in the pursuit of success.
I gave up ownership and control.
Once I built something people wanted to use, (often called product/market fit) I knew I had to scale it quickly to make money. That required outside funding and coming to terms with the fact that whoever funded us from the beginning would be there for the life of the business.
That means the baby you nurtured to reality is now subject to the opinions and impulses of others. You have to learn how to embrace those partners while keeping it from diluting your vision.
I had no work/life balance.
There's an ongoing conversation about work-life balance. While I understand the idea, I cannot help but disagree with it. When you're building something from the ground up, the lines between work and life inevitably blur.
I suffered from horrible anxiety.
Sacrificing my personal life for the success of my company took a toll on my mental health. It triggered my general anxiety disorder and fed into my imposter syndrome. No matter how much I would accomplish, I doubted myself. This will happen to you.
To be completely honest with you, I think entrepreneurs are crazy. We sacrifice so much for so little and put everything on the line for a kernel of an idea. But without sacrifice, there are no results.
To the aspiring entrepreneurs willing to risk their time, money, and mental health on something that might not even work, ask yourself: What is your reason?
My reason is helping others build dreams that make the future brighter together. That's what gets me up every morning and made me who I am today. It's also why I knew to step down as CEO, and I regret nothing.