You've started a successful company. Everything is going great, revenues are climbing at a steady clip, you're expanding the business and hiring more people. What should you do to keep your business on track?
Leave. Not forever, just for a week or so. Getting away from day-to-day problem solving will help you think more clearly about your company. You can consider the big-picture, strategic questions that can lead to innovative products and business models, and set you up for long-term success. And having you absent for a few days will be good for your employees, too.
One great way to spend your time away is at a yoga retreat. They take place all over the world (I myself have gone to Costa Rica three times). They usually come with healthy eating and getting-up-early habits. And, because breathing and meditation are part of every yoga practice, going on yoga retreat will kill your stress, improve your health and flexibility, and help you focus on what matters most in your business and your life.
Just ask Fayez Mohamood, CEO of e-commerce marketing company Bluecore which creates trigger-based emails to capture or re-capture customers. Mohamood goes on yoga retreat every three or four months as a way to recharge after a busy quarter and come back to the new quarter feeling renewed and ready to go.
"I started doing yoga in the summer of 2009," he says. "I had lifted a weight that was bit too heavy in an effort to build some glamor muscles and injured my back."
Unable to lift weights for several months, Mohamood went looking for a low-impact alternative when a friend invited Mohamood to a yoga class. Since then, he says, a week hasn't gone by without his practicing yoga. Now he does yoga two to three times a week, regardless of his travel schedule, and keeping up that practice, along with his quarterly retreats, has taught him some lessons that have helped him become a better CEO as well. Here are a few:
1. You have to disconnect sometimes.
"It's really easy to get carried away working endless hours on a startup, especially in the early days," Mohamood says. "This can end up creating tunnel vision for you and the team, which can be really dangerous as it might prevent you from working on the right things."
Instead, you need to stop, look at the forest instead of the trees, and reassess what you're doing on a regular basis, he says. "Yoga mentally trains you to do this. You're just putting a hard stop to everything, no matter what you are doing, and getting on a mat to take on a physical and mental practice for 60 minutes while you disconnect from the daily routine."
2. It's good for your employees too.
Mohamood often goes on retreat for as long as ten days with no computer and no contact with the office whatsoever. How the heck does a founder make this work? "The reality is that when you let your team know you are going to be out, they rise to the occasion on urgent matters," he says. "There are very few issues that only the founder can solve, and usually there is more lead time than a few days. So if you set up your team with the right authority and trust them, it is possible more often than not to take ten days off with no contact."
The key element in that statement is trust. It's imperative for entrepreneurs to first hire a team they can trust with their companies, and then go ahead and trust that team. The second part of this equation is the hardest for many company founders. Going on retreat when things are going well and cutting off all non-emergency contact is a great way to start learning to let go and trust your team.
3. You need patience and focus to succeed for the long term.
"There is always something new that you learn in a yoga class even if it's the same pose you've been doing day after day for many years," Mohamood says. "The idea of the journey being the objective is implicit in yoga, so it embodies the ability to be patient and focus on the long term."
This is important to learn because there are so many (true or false) stories out there of start-ups that become phenomenal successes overnight. With all these stories floating around, he says, "there is an element of impatience that can distract teams from the long term. The reality is that most hard problems take smart teams years to crack. Even when it doesn't seem like it on the surface, chances are there was a team hard at work for many years before the start-up you see ended up on that breakneck growth curve."
4. Don't waste your time pursuing other people's approval.
"You might think that everyone is out to judge you the first few times you go to yoga class and see everyone doing advanced poses," Mohamood says. "In reality, they are all focused on themselves and the practice, and you quickly realize that it's best for you if you do the same instead of focusing on them."
Start-up founders need to do this very thing in their businesses as well, he says. "They need to avoid gazing at the competition, tracking vanity metrics, and getting caught up in the hype around large rounds-these things will not translate into long-term success. This is a vicious cycle when the desire becomes to impress others in the community rather than build a solid business."
That's counter-productive because the best start-ups are what legendary VC Brad Feld calls "silent killers." "They don't waste time hyping themselves," Mohamood observes. "They focus on the core business. They just execute."