I broke down.

A few weeks ago, I broke down. I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried in my life. Like, ugly cried. My chest was tightening, my heart was going crazy and anxiety was taking hold of me. I asked my girlfriend (who was thankfully with me the entire time I was bawling, God bless her) why I was doing all this when my people only cared about themselves and wouldn’t hesitate to leave once the going gets tough. There was unrest within the team, the culture was getting toxic and I was burnt out as fuck. Worst of all, we were running out of money (we’re a bootstrapped startup that gets funding through services, not investors). I didn’t know how to get enough money in time to pay my people. I was scared, lonely and about to give up.

I asked myself why I was doing all this. Imagine me, working 12-16 hours a day, doing everything in my power to scrape together funds to get my people paid, and they turn out to be ungrateful little twats. They work flexible hours and get unlimited leaves, while I stay in until way past midnight to finish projects and am always on the verge of personal bankruptcy just so they can get paid once salaries are disbursed. This is the thanks I get?

It felt horrible. I honestly felt like I did everything in my power to keep everybody afloat, despite being a solo founder. I felt so betrayed by the same people who I believed worked for the same vision I had. At one point the thought of disbanding everything and selling the company crossed my mind. But deep in my heart I didn’t want our story to end this way. I had to be strong, even though I was running out of steam.

Things did get better, eventually. I got another founder on board to help things on an organizational level. We’ve set systems and processes for the entire company, something that we did not focus on during the first years of the company (primarily due to us running lean the entire time). We’re also weeding out the bad apples from the team. We’re slowly graduating from a freewheeling startup culture to a more organized and stable corporate structure — kind of ironic, since I put up the company to get away from rigid and outdated corporate structures in the first place.

All in all, I’m happy. Probably for the first time in years, I felt comfortable with how things are turning out. A lot of pressure was taken off my shoulders, and my health has improved because of it (I used to suffer from asthma a lot, for some reason. Now the attacks have lessened drastically). And I’ve learned a lot from all the troubles we went through. Growing pains. Irreplaceable life lessons.

But still, man. You shoulda seen me when I was crying ugly.

  • I find it funny that you call your employees ungrateful, while you’re there not taking investor money so that you can keep a higher percentage of the company on the backs of your hardworking employees. You said you ran lean the entire time, while at the same time disparaging your own team – maybe you should have hired more people instead of driving them into the ground for YOUR DREAM.

    ::insert scumbag narcissist entrepreneur meme::

  • Hilarious that you blame your employees for not caring about your dream, while at the same time saying you were too lean and in a sense overworked them all because you were unwilling to take investor money and dilute yourself. Greedy and insane.

    • I live in a country where investor money is hard to come by. I’m also in a non-tech industry — all the rage is in tech. And quite honestly, I don’t really know how to raise money. But I swear I’m trying my best.

      The greedy and insane is a bit uncalled for.


      • To be honest, I really dont feel like im greedy or insane enough for the role! I think I’m too nice. Gotta toughen up if I wanna keep my job 🙂


  • Breaking down begins a long over due healing process. I broke down a few years ago. It was my first and only break down. I wish I broke down more often, though, because I felt so mentally clear afterwards, as if my angst had been washed away.

    Life can get so much worse, but it also can get so much better from there. I hope the latter for you.

    • Thank you! I appreciate the support. It felt horrible, definitely, but things got better afterwards. Hope we could sustain this.


  • “my people only cared about themselves and wouldn’t hesitate to leave once the going gets tough”

    That’s a very true statement but at the end of the day it’s your dream but yes you want people to give a shit and not just be employees but ultimately that’s what they are.

    I’ve been there, I hear you. A virtual hug won’t do much but sometime’s you just need for someone to get it, I get it 🙂

    • Thank you! Totally appreciate it. Lots of learnings during that episode in my life (which was, like, just a few weeks ago).


  • I don’t get what you expect from your people. They are your employees, not slaves, so you shouldn’t be surprised when they do crazy things like going home at the end of the day and don’t stay up until midnight helping you. I’m sorry pal, but asking that from them (even when it is only an expectation and not something you ever communicated to them) is plain stupid.

    I know how it feels to bootstrap, I’ve done it myself (although with two co-founders), and I know how frustrating it can be. Yet, I don’t think your reaction was fair. Now that you have a partner, you will also realize he will often put his own interests first, and it is normal, we all do it. So don’t get depressed.

    • Definitely. It’s been a huge learning experience for me. I guess I can’t expect everybody to love the company as much as I do. But I really hoped they did, even just a little bit.


    • Since it was a major pain point for our team, we decided to buckle down and fix everything on an organizational level. We were able to turn things around pretty quick. We’re still in the process of fixing stuff, but like I said in my post, things are a lot better now.


      • How did you get the other guy to come in? Did you give him a lot of equity? Did he know he’ll be “mr fixit”?

        • Yep, the Fix-It Felix to my Wreck-It Ralph. Terms are clear for both parties. We’ve worked closely before so we’re very comfortable working with each other. Brought a lot of stability to the team.


  • The funny thing about founders is that they expect employees to have same level of involvement and passion. Unless they have a significant amount of stake in your venture, it’s a job for employees at the end of the day. You seem to have expected validation from your employees because you’re giving them food on the table – something you shouldn’t do.

    • That’s true. Huge lesson learned for me. A painful one, but one that I appreciate nonetheless.

      The thing where I live, though, is that there is still a prevailing ’employee mindset’ within the workforce. People are simply not encouraged by equity, save for the few crazy ones. It’s a very different culture from other more developed countries. So it’s harder to operate — not a lot of founder-types to be found. (not using that as an excuse, just telling it how it is)


  • Fire fast and keep rewarding great folks. Amazing talent exist, but you will have to make space for them.

    • Agreed. In our case however, the talent was there, but the attitude sucked. It got to a point where the culture affected the output. We had to clean house to get things back on track.

    • An observation… If you feel staff are “ungrateful little tw@ts” then that will radiate from you. Instead of buying into your passion/vision/general state of mind they will probably sense you think they are…tw@ts.

      If that’s the case it begins to spiral downwards – because they start to care less and you become more wound-up. You may have created a dynamic.

      I wonder if (a) having a co-founder helps or (b) adding structure really does help? Or are these new distractions? New structure and related processes have been put in place so your staff are probably getting used new ways of working (and probably enjoying learning something new rather than being part of an on-going dynamic). Or maybe they feel renewed passion coming out of the co-founder? It’s difficult to say without being there.

      It’s probably good that you are “weeding out the bad apples” because this reduces the dynamics within the team and you are left with people (you perceive) are more committed – helping you to recreate trust.

      This is a much longer version of the “Fire fast….” response above which I agree with.

      I just worry about the use of the word “little” when you describe your staff, it could be an insight of how you see your team. Or more likely you get angry when you reflect back to that period in time.

      Good luck.

      • Forgive the negative wording, I was writing based on how I felt at the time. Truth be told, I never treated them as inferiors. In fact, I had been praising them and giving them as much as they needed. But like children, you tend to spoil them rotten, and that’s when problems arise.

        I don’t suppose people will believe me in this anonymous little forum — I’ll always come off as the evil insensitive boss — but I love my team with all my heart. I say that with all honesty. I want us to succeed. And we couldnt succeed without weeding out the bad apples. They werent team players. They were toxic to the rest of the team. My fault was that I didnt fire fast enough, primarily because they had the skills but not the attitude. And skilled people, to be honest, are hard to come by in this part of the world. We put up with them in hopes of training them right. We failed. I failed.

        So thank you for the comments, I know its hard to judge the situation without really being here, but I hope you see past the frustration and the negative wording and believe me when I say we’re trying to get better. We’re learning. Most especially me.


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