Andrew Thomas is co-founder of SkyBell Video Doorbell, a smart home security company that is making homes and neighborhoods safer with a video doorbell that lets users answer their door from a smartphone. SkyBell has raised millions in funding to date, was named a 2014 CES Innovations Award Nominee, and works with Amazon, Best Buy, Nest, Comcast and Apple Homekit. Andrew directs SkyBells' strategy, partnerships and product marketing. Andrew speaks and writes on topics including home automation, crowdfunding, hardware, funding and startups.
There is a side to startup life that we don't like talking about. It's not as glamorous as funding announcements or product releases, yet can mean the difference between success and failure.
As a founder of SkyBell -- a home security company developing a Wi-Fi video doorbell you answer from a smartphone -- I've completed partnerships, helped raise millions in funding and shipped our product to over 50 countries. More importantly, I've experienced the mental health challenges that are so common with entrepreneurs. I'm grateful that I've found tools that have helped me thrive instead of just survive.
There's a growing movement around mental health and startups to bring this conversation into the open. To be clear, I'm not writing as someone who has it all figured out. My goal is to add to the collective energy around improving the mental health of founders by sharing the things I've done to create a stronger, healthier and more productive mental state as a founder.
Detach From "Success" and "Failure"
Have you woken up so sure of success that there was no way you could fail, only to wake up the next day thinking there's no way you'll ever succeed? I think it's safe to say that we all feel this way at some point, and it makes us anxious and unsettled. A practice of non-attachment can help.
Non-attachment is a Taoist concept that helps us detach from the meaning we apply to outcomes. Put simply, everything is an experience -- and things only become good or bad when we say they are good or bad. Living by non-attachment is separating yourself from meaning and outcomes.
When I started living more from a place of non-attachment, the ups and downs became manageable. I did not live or die by any given outcome. When I let go of this worry, I was free to focus on what I intended to create without the "need to succeed" mentality that often creates a sense of panic.
I first discovered the principles of non-attachment by reading The Tao of Pooh, an easy read that shows how Winnie the Pooh is the quintessential example of non-attachment. While the rest of the characters act smart, depressed, anxious or hyper, Pooh just "is." I try to think about this when things go sideways at work.
You Are Not Your Startup
Can you tell the difference between you as a person and your startup? Do you look to external validation of your business as validation for your self-worth? As founders, we tie our self-worth to the outcomes of our startups and lose touch with our role as creators. We shift into a victim mentality and perceive the circumstances as negative things being done to us as individuals.
This burden becomes lighter when you realize that you are not your startup. You are a creator: an instrument of creative energy that has the capacity to create whatever you want. SkyBell is an expression of my creative power, not the source. When I realized that I was not my startup, I let go of needing external validation and focused my creative energy without a fear of failure.
An effective way to build separation and realize your own power is to list all of the things you've done over the past year. Write down what you personally have done, not the milestones of your company. Read and add to this list every morning until you internalize that you've created these great things. You'll quickly see how powerful you are as a creator and no longer give your power and identity to your startup alone.
Build Up More Empathy
It's easy to feel small when you beat yourself up all the time. Luckily, you can shift out of this mindset with empathy.
You need to build up your empathy in order to express it. You can do this by removing judgment from your system, especially judgment for others. If you catch yourself judging another founder -- either for their success or failure -- stop and feel happiness or compassion for them instead. Building this level of awareness over your thoughts takes practice, but it's worth it.
The biggest benefit has been realizing that when I express more empathy for others, I express more empathy for myself. When I judge others less, I judge myself less. My brother introduced me to this idea and it's been one of the biggest ways for me to experience more happiness.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
When I'm frustrated about how my startup is going, I sometimes look around and ask myself why other people can do it but I can't. However, comparing oneself to others is toxic unless you turn it into a positive. When you compare yourself to others, you forget that you don't know how their journey has been. You don't know how long they've been working or the sacrifices they've made.
Instead of comparing yourself negatively to a successful founder, go learn from them. Discover the mindset and actions that led to their success and make those your own. If they can do it, so can you. Turn a negative into a positive and use them to set an example for your success and the life you want to create.
The key to making progress towards improving your mental health is understanding that it's a process. Replacing old beliefs and habits with new ones takes time. But it's a work in progress: Trust in the process. Small incremental changes over time will yield results. By focusing on your mental state, you'll adopt the skills you need to shift from surviving to thriving in your startup.