This guest-post was written by Noah Kagan, Chief Sumo of AppSumo.com, the daily deals site for web entrepreneurs. He was formerly an early employee at Facebook and Mint.
I woke up and rolled over to the left side of the bed as I do almost every morning and snapped up my iPhone. My heart beats a little faster as I roll back over, my girlfriends naked back is showing and I click open the iPhone mail app.
Here we go…
Scrolling down to the “Purchased” folder, I clicked and waited for the “checking for mail.”
Downloading 6 new messages. WTF!
It took 6 months to get that deal and we just emailed 70,000 AppSumo.com customers and 6 whole buys two hours after the email went out.
Okay, let me see the hate emails we got “this deal is a piece of shit and you guys are scammers” and some loyal customers emailing “really disappointed in you Noah, hope next deal is better.”
I go have breakfast, read a book and finish the rest of my emails.
Then it hits me around 2pm, I feel like shit. I can barely push myself to work, I have zero interest in doing anything AppSumo related, my teammates are chatting in our group chat and I want to be doing anything but this.
It finally dawned on me a few weeks later that my daily feelings were fluctuating with our sales numbers. Ha. What a fricking weird ass way to live a life. I used to tease my girlfriend that I liked her similar to how the stock market did that day. Now I was living a depressed and unproductive day.
This is not something you are going to tweet about, “Woot! Feeling like shit, need to grab a shirley temple and play some disc golf.”
Why was I depressed?
This depression has happened before. After we rose to the top of building Facebook games a few years ago and then subsequently declined I had a quarter-life evaluation while living in Argentina. Thinking about how we are building stupid games for stupid people made me so uninterested in doing work.
Have you ever felt that way? Unmotivated to do anything in your business.
It may be called “burn-out” but burn-out is solved with time, relaxation, hiring and pacing yourself. This was different — an immediate, uncontrollable feeling.
What surprised me was I shared this with a close friend of how occasionally I felt depressed and he was like, ME TOO. In fact the more entrepreneurs I talk to the more I’ve found that this is not just common but practically required.
Editor’s Note: It’s nice to hear Noah say all this because if you see anything about him (blog, interviews, stories) you see he exudes confidence and defiance and, if the word weren’t already bludgeoned to death by comedy critics, irreverent. In other words, the last guy you’d think would be susceptible to having his emotions dictated by external forces, particularly those of thousands of faceless newsletter subscribers.
If it happens to Noah, it happens to everyone. At this point I wonder at people who deny they’ve experienced it — either they’re some amazing form of super-human — quite possible! — or they just haven’t gotten to that comfort level with themselves that they’re able to admit weakness.
Thank god I wasn’t alone. It happens to all startups. Our emotions ride like a roller coaster — we’ve all heard that phrase but it’s different when you’re actually living it.
I’ve thought to myself recently that the real successful entrepreneurs are the ones that can deal with difficult times the best.
After some time I’ve worked out some ways that have helped me best deal with this depression:
- Step away.
A few weeks ago, I woke up to one of those shitty deal days, did a few emails and just couldn’t stare at my computer screen anymore. So I went out and played disc golf for a few hours. I came back and still couldn’t work so I played more disc golf. Kidding. No, I met up with friends for dinner and drinks. Came back on Saturday and actually looked forward to doing some work.
- Tiny bites.
When I feel overwhelmed or uninterested I’ll try to do one small thing and evaluate how I feel afterwards. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and momentum. It may not always work but give it a shot.
Have a checklist of things you want to do for the day. During the middle of the work day I’ve noticed I feel bad about what’s going on and it directly relates back to that I felt unproductive. Having my list of things I did that day and seeing them get done definitely reduces the depression that may set on from “wasting a day.”
- One task.
What I’ve realized on times that keep me from working it’s cause there is one task “cock-blocking” me from doing anything else. Instead of distracting myself with emails, I try to directly tackle that one task. 93.5% of the times it hasn’t actually been that bad. Most of the time it’s due to non-core things of the business. For example, I DID NOT want to deal with our tax situation for 2010 (it was complicated cause the company was just me and then we incorporated). Ultimately, our super advisor Andrew Chen said just pay a tax accountant. Problem solved and depression prevented.
- Get a life coach.
Mark Pincus (Zynga Founder) introduced me to someone who provided unbiased feedback around his business. She was extremely helpful in talking through my feelings, issues with the business and actions I could take to grow the business. Make it a weekly check-in.
Try to identify why/where you are feeling depressed. For me, most of the time it stems from seeing our daily sales numbers. What helps in reducing the depression is to see how we can learn what went wrong with the AppSumo.com deal and write up how we can make it better next time. Another helpful thing is looking at metrics that are more positive or at a trending level instead of just drowning your sorrows in today’s numbers.
Editor’s Note: This used to be the end of the article, but I noticed that several of Noah’s points involved input from advisors or coaches. In other interviews of Noah he’s alluded to mentors in other aspects of his business too, like getting SEO advice from the great Avanish Kaushik. So I asked Noah to explain how he was able to get advice from all these people who have made a big difference in AppSumo’s success.
Lately my support group has been key in the growth of our business but also the stability of my sanity. This is something that’s generally not talked about enough. In my previous business we had an advisor who was very well respected but I could hardly get the time of day for him to help me.
If you are looking for that support group or person here are a few things I’ve found useful:
A) Ask people you admire or respect who they turn to for help. This is how Mark from Zynga recommended that specific life-coach who helped me greatly. It can be hard to get attention from everyone but easy to get attention from people who make their living dispensing advice.
B) Make sure the person you want to help you has the time for you. (Enough said.)
C) Find people that you can benefit in return. I know it’s a bit counter intuitive but you want to make sure they can get something out of your relationship.
Editor’s Note: This might be the #1 thing I see people doing wrong when emailing me out of the blue for advice. It might make me sound like an asshole, but there needs to be something in it for me. That doesn’t mean money of course. For example, at least ask an interesting question, one that isn’t answered everyone on the Internet, one I haven’t answered in a blog post, one that would be fun to think about.
D) Test. The person may not be in your industry but find someone that understands you. Work with them once or twice and see how you feel after talking them. No need for marriage but a one time meeting to talk to them will help you see how you feel afterwards.
E) Have an objective. It’s great for the advisor to provide insights that you didn’t realize but it really helps coming with specific outcomes and issues you are trying to resolve.
Editor’s Note: This is another great one for cold emails. It’s easy for me to help someone who is able to communicate in five sentences what their conundrum is and precisely what they need help deciding, it’s often quick and easy for me to either give advice or show them where to look or even just explain what other questions they should be asking that would decide this for them.
Yesterday, while I was thinking about finishing this article I was having a tough day. It was hard for me to focus or gain composure of the things I needed to do. I left my home office, played disc golf, talked to an advisor and had dinner with my delicious girlfriend. There is no escaping how you’ll feel towards your business but you can be prepare yourself better to deal with the tough times.
What have you found helpful in getting through your tough times? Leave a comment.