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Tell HN: I want out
238 points by canileaveplease on June 22, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments
A few months ago I quit my job to pursue the "bohemian" life style. After reading blog post after blog post of programmers leaving their day jobs and travelling, the idea slowly took over my mind until one day I just did it.

Originally I started my company with a very close friend, and it was great. We decided we can't be cold calling all day and getting contracts, so we brought a business guy.

It's been three months now, we have employees, many clients, and my phone is going off with texts every 5 seconds.

I have never felt so much anxiety in my life. This is the direct opposite of what my goal was. I don't want employees. Or a company. At all.

If I leave, everyone will hate me. I was the one that painted the vision, the direction, did most of the work. I just want to earn decent money and be able to do what I want to do whenever during the day.

I honestly thought I was super tough and I can take this on. I actually really just want to kill myself. I so

Right now I'm working 14 hour days and everyone gets mad when someone tries to leave while the others are working. There is no FREEDOM. The whole point of this venture WAS FREEDOM. Beers at 2pm? Sure! Not "um we have 8 pages left to design for tomorrow, nobody is going anywhere" says one of the developers. This attitude, day in, day out. Always something to do, always due tomorrow. I don't have the spine to delay my clients or deliver anything less than perfect and it's breaking me. My developers don't want to do anything besides work, which I mean is fucking great, but this is the flip side.

I can't ditch my clients, my business partners, my friends, my employees. I don't know how to get out. I so furiously pitched my friends to start this company, I brought them ALL into this. I hired everyone, I convinced them to jump ship from their jobs and work with me. If I bail now, every word I said, anything I did, will mean nothing.

You're probably overestimating peoples' reactions to you leaving. Business owners manage to simultaneously believe the business is beyond their control and yet hanging on their every word. They can't both be true, right? If you left tomorrow, odds are a successful business continues, and it will be one which wouldn't have existed but for you.

That said: what stops you from having an all-hands meeting and saying "Is this REALLY what we want?" If it isn't, it is your business. Change it. Client needs to be able to text you at 8 PM? Client will be assisted in finding a more appropriate service provider. Employee feels that nobody can go home at 6? Employee gets told by his boss "Go home. It will be here tomorrow. There are companies that pull all-nighters every day. This is not one of them."

Also: raise your rates.

"Raise your rates" is excellent advice and, OP, you may or may not understand that it's actually more about psychology.

Higher rates help filter out demanding clients and also make it "worth it" when you do get a demanding one. Higher rates helps focus you, with 20 cheap clients you'll feel like going bonkers. With one or two high-paying clients you'll feel focused.

With higher rates and therefore more focus you also provide better customer service during the day. That will help reduce the amount of off-hour communications (this is also a boundary thing that Patrick already mentioned, be firm). Clients that understand that they get what they pay for and are comfortable paying a higher rate usually let you do what they are paying you to do and only communicate on the set meetings over minutiae.

My rate for each of my team members is 200+ per hour depending on what package they purchase (more hours = slightly lower rate, less hours, higher rate). We target corporate clients. Just it's been going so fast and been so stressful, it's not about the money. We've gone from 2 founders to 10+ employees very quickly.

Then it could be $250 or $300/h, and you could drop a client.

And keep in mind, you'll want to be giving your employees a pay raise as well. They'll know what the clients are paying. Not a 1-to-1 increase, but maybe 30%. Make sure they realize you value their work.

Another option is to reduce the workhours from 80hr/week to 40hr/week.

$300 isn't unreasonable, there is a small dev shop in town with a proprietary CMS that charges $315 for creative/development work; and they're one of the most successful around town.

"You're probably overestimating peoples reactions to you leaving."

This! I ran my first company for 6 years. When I left, I felt guilty as hell. I didn't know if the company could survive without me. Turns out it did GREAT without me-- arguably better than when I was running it. No one tells entrepreneurs that changing paths is a LOT harder than if you have an honest job... It's not as easy as 2 weeks notice, but it's a helluva lot easier than you think it is.

Several companies later (and about a year ago), my wife and I took off and traveled for about a year. I highly recommend it.

So spot on, so concise. Put these two laws up on your wall and follow them.

1) If you have too much work, raise your rates until you don't.

2) If you don't like the environment you are working in, change it or leave.

Definitely: higher rates and better management of expectations.

Receiving a text every 5 seconds doesn't sound right.

You're probably running around putting out fires right now, but I recommend you make the time to sit down for a couple days and draft some basic guidelines for working with client and managing projects and teammates.

Without this you'll probably keep on getting down the "let's just get that one more project out the door" rabbit hole.

I've probably been through very similar things myself, feel free to drop me an email (in my profile) if you want to chat about it.

Sounds like you urgently need a "Corporate Mission Statement" or help from an experienced project manager. There are surely some very experienced people on HN. Hopefully things work out for you, keep us updated sir.

I cannot give you any first hand advice, because I've not been in any situation like that, so please take anything I write with a grain of salt. Just good intentions here, because I really feel you man.. it's very though to stand your man, when you feel or know that everything depends on you.

Instead of making you the single point of failure in the structure, the vision you have should not hinder you from ever reaching that vision. I think you need to focus on what is exactly the thing your clients really want and that requires talking with clients 1 on 1, making a few a/b test and communicating the core values to your team. Why spend 4hours on design, when your client really just wants a login-system that works (for example).

You have really great employees, but talking about an exit would subconsciously demotivate everyone, even those with the best intents. I don't know and cannot give you any first hand experience, but whatever you do, take at least 1-2days off-work to think about the goals you want to reach with your team. They should finish whatever is left and stop hand-holding each other in order to push everyone else to work as hard as they do. A successful company is not only about hard work, but good organization and execution of ideas. This could feel like either an iron-man like marathon or cool vacation, depending on how you manage and motivate people.

You've pointed it out correctly, you're at a crossing, which could result in success for the company or burning out yourself and your employees, depending on how things are managed. Your gut feeling was right and asking others for help is surely the right way.

Update: You should check one of the many good articles written by Paul Graham: http://paulgraham.com/love.html (How to do what you love)

More important than a "mission statement" is a "strategy statement". A mission statement usually says what a groups intends to or aspires to do. A strategy informs everyone what you collectively are NOT going to do, and what you will FOCUS on, and that has become crucial. What will you NOT do to have a sensible work life and company culture?

You have a happy problem, though it is hard to believe in your current state of mind. You also have created something that you didn't know you didn't want.

For the organization, the time for sprinting is over, and time setting up the organization for the routine of the marathon has arrived.

For you, take a vacation of a day today. And another day. Rest. And think about your life.

For the organization: Time to reject some clients, in order to:

1) reduce the queue of work

2) give the whole team a sensible work life

3) have a sensible company culture that allows everyone to have a life, health, relationships and leisure.

4) the leader is the example of health and culture. Lead and do, and promote better health for everyone

5) be able to properly delegate (and have people to delegate to), to your second-, third-, and fourth-in-command, who each have enough slack to take on managing the way you have been until now.

patio11 helpfully describes one classic consultant method to reduce your queue of work, while sustaining the company: raising client prices / rates. Another is to select your jobs and clients. What do you really want to do and work on? Manage your collective work life.

Raise the rates right now 50% for the next new client, and warn old clients the rates are going up in three to six months.


1) sufficient income to support what actually is required to be done to serve the clients and to serve you, the workers

2) reduced work-queue

3) better quality clients that understand the value of you and the company's work

4) enough income to fully staff and support all of the work, and to support your staff too

5) enough slack on the part of the staff to think ahead, and not work only in crisis & panic mode

6) plus work-environment improvements that include vacations and similar recognition of work-life balance that acknowledges demands of your labor on each of your lives.

"But if we're not working hard and all night, our competitors who are will end up taking our clients"

I was going to write a quasi-motivational post telling you to take some time off, raise your rates, and talk with your team. But, then I read your question over and focused on one paragraph.

I honestly thought I was super tough and I can take this on. I actually really just want to kill myself.

First, you are super tough and this 'Tell HN' is proof of that. When you hit your absolute limit, you reached out for help. That is amazing and everyone here should be proud of you.

Second, if the anxiety is so severe that you want to kill yourself, you have a choice. You can keep doing the same thing you are doing now. Or, you can make big changes. If you keep doing the same thing you are doing, unfortunately, this is only going to get worse. If you want to fix this, you need to make some big changes.

Other commenters have suggested some good changes already. I encourage you to follow their advice. However, my email address is in my profile. If you need someone to talk to, please use it. I can even send you my phone number, or my Skype ID so that if you ever need a friendly voice that likely doesn't know you and who will never judge you, you can reach out. Alternately, go check out http://www.7cupsoftea.com/.

I've felt this exact same way, where I was so anxious that my own death felt like the only way out. You're going through something horrible and posting here represents a herculean effort.

Now, this is an ugly topic to bring up and I don't expect you to answer this on a public forum, but do you have a plan for how and when you will harm yourself? If you do, this is a medical emergency. Please take steps to protect yourself. Unfortunately, in most places, if you tell a medical professional that you have a plan, you are immediately committed for observation. So, be careful, but also take extraordinary steps to care for yourself.

I'm sorry that I don't have a solution. The best I can offer is my support. Use my email address if you need it.

That 7cupsoftea site looks like an excellent service. Are you a listener on it? I would be interested to hear first hand how well it works.

No, I'm not a listener (yet), though I stared at the application form last week. I should take this as a push in the right direction and become one soon!

Tell us your experience if you did. I am considering to become a listener.

The main mistake you made was thinking that the startup life was a Bohemian life style. Doing a startup is incredibly stressful, you have to be pretty compelled to do it (really enjoy working on the problem, working with your team, etc).

First off, you CAN leave the business you started if you're getting burned out. Second off, I would try to pinpoint why you dislike working on your company. Does the problem not interest you? You keep referring to everything you are doing as 'work' and paint your coworkers / cofounders as your jailors. If you're not interested in solving that problem, you need to get out or you will bring the company down with you.

Now, you have to ask yourself if you dislike working in GENERAL. That may be a possibility and if you still want to have the dream lifestyle you've always wanted, I would look into freelancing part-time or starting a small lifestyle business that pays your bills and then some but doesn't require much effort.

If you want to fix your current situation/ burnout, try googling around for advice - http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-12/how-to-avoid... - and set expectations with your team on the hours you are available as well. If you just want out, then what's stopping you from getting out and starting over. You can't be passive aggressive about this; it's going to be awful if you stick around, don't deliver, don't show enthusiasm, and aren't willing to fix it and it's going to be awful when you have to tell everyone you're leaving. Starting a company takes more stomach than picking between these 2 decisions and you've already done that so either of these should be a cake walk in comparison!

> Not "um we have 8 pages left to design for tomorrow, nobody is going anywhere" says one of the developers.

It's your company, if you want to leave on time that is your prerogative, me I'd go pull the master breaker and shout "home time, fuck off" ;).

You sound like someone rapidly approaching burn out, you need to give yourself some time away from a screen to try and get some perspective on what you are doing.

+1 for the master breaker.

more importantly, the hours and days of the work week are probably a key thing cofounders should a) agree on and b) imemediatly role model as "the culture". c) make sure new hires understand / see / feel the culture.

..someday this is how i'll get to my 4 day work week with my mythical company ;)

We have this insane culture where no one wants to work less hard than the boss so everyone works as hard as the boss.

The boss not wanting to appear lazy therefore works harder still.

The worst kind of feedback cycle.

"The beatings will continue until morale improves"

That's the best quote. I just love it. It was a Japanese marine officer, if anyone wonders.

yes this is exactly how it starts.

ive found getting out with the team for lunches regularly ..like alomost every day helps a lot . this is where the boss can strike up conversation and set the tone.

the boss can also reward folks for having focus and disipline during the work day.

one counter argument that will occur is that people want to work/code on the weekend or late at night "because they like to". My response is: "i would love it if you had non-work hobbies on the nights and weekends - learning those skills can be fun :)"

i dunno, no doubt its hard, but its shit to be burned out.

You founded the company. So take control.

Set 6 pm as the going-home time for EVERYBODY. If something is late because of this, that means the company should not have made commitments it can't keep (and you should take a strong interest in not making the same mistake again).

As someone said, don't answer the phone past a certain time. Most phones have some kind of do-not-interrupt mode. Use that. If people have an emergency, at the very least they can call and leave voicemail.

How about bringing a refrigerator and some beers into the office? Lead by example. If you're drinking beer at 2 pm, that tells everyone else this is the kind of startup where drinking beers at 2 pm is OK. People who are too uptight to deal with that will leave: let them.

It's _your_ startup. Run it the way _you_ think is best. What's stopping you?

Excuse me while I wax melodramatically rhetorical.

Dear CanILeavePlease,

Congratulations are in order. You have crossed a threshold that you will most likely not understand the full importance of until much later in your life. That threshold is named "Your limits". Crossing this threshold is a privilege reserved for only those worthy of learning and growing.

The long and short of it is this: The world seems to love throwing more work at competent and resourceful people. The problem is that the world is full of work and so the competent and resourceful typically fill up very quickly to the point of overflow and explosion.

You write about freedom. The lesson that you will learn is that freedom starts with saying "no". Once you start saying no you will immediately start to feel the freedom enter your body. It's very surprising how great it feels.

Lets imagine that tomorrow a client calls for a status update on their project and they ask you if it will be done on time? Tell them "No. The project will not be done on time." and see what happens. I can almost guarantee you that you will feel great for the following hours. You won't feel good because someone else didn't get what they wanted. You'll feel good because you were able to tell someone else the truth. Bonus points: if the client is reasonable they will respect you more than before because they now know they can trust you. Afraid your friends and employees won't like to hear it? Bullshit. Start saying "no" and you'll become leader that your friends and employees really need and can respect.

It's true that some people expect the entire universe to never say no to them. The good news is that those people aren't worth having in your life. When one exposes themselves by trying to make you feel guilty you can be please that now you know it and can disassociate yourself. This works in reverse as well: You can choose to associate with people that have the proper respect for your boundaries.

I've been there. I quit my job and started freelancing. Not even 3 months later I'm triple booked and sleeping 3 hours a night. One morning I cracked and my wife found me in the living room beside myself rocking back and forth, visibly shaking. Later on that day I had to make some of the most difficult decisions of my life. Guess what? Once I made the tough calls the liberation began.

As you have probably figured out already, working 14 hours a day is not the answer. Making better decisions is.

Best regards, Eric

This is gold. I would add that - to lessen the shock to the other employees when excusing yourself, freel free to cite health-related, personal or simply other commitments. Clearly, a hike up a mountain or a beer in the sun for peace of mind is well overdue, and it's perfectly understandable to describe it under these banners. Just try not to stir others up more than necessary, while following a path you are content with.

It sounds like your company has bitten off more than it can chew. You didn't mention how you're doing money-wise. If you can afford it, perhaps you should stop taking new clients until you've finished your current projects, and then negotiate more reasonable deadlines in the future.

I've been in a similar situation: working 12h and weekends in a company I co-founded, hired people and got others to work even more. I've been one that my co-founders always doubted my "commitment" (using the very term in German) because I didn't sleep in the office like they did. Until I we got another kid and my wife forced me to work 6h days. I told them I needed to work less and it worked. Wasn't easy though, but it worked. During the following months, the company became a nicer place to work at. Don't be afraid.

The issue isn't leaving, but abdicating your responsibilities. This is clearly what you care about as well, when you say "I can't ditch them." While there certainly would be something to be said for the "meaning" of what you'd pitched if you leave, the key here is making sure that the actions you take do not negatively influence everyone else there and the people you brought into this venture.

I think the question to be asking is "What steps can I take to transition my responsibilities to other people without negatively affecting the company and my colleagues?" If you can find an answer to that question--hiring someone who you groom to replace you, making the business more institutionalized and self-sustaining so that you don't need 14-hour days, etc.--you'll be closer to getting there.

It's pretty incredible how many people I see who start their own companies hoping for freedom, and find the opposite. Responsibility often means less freedom, and having clients and employees beholden to you means more responsibility. In some ways, being employed can mean being more free. There was a great article on HN recently pointing out that the true level of freedom for entrepreneurs is likely to be found not at founding your own company, but specifically at founding your own moderately successful company--once great success comes, you have much more responsibility.

It sucks and it's a tough spot. I've been very close to the same situation. I'll tell how it turned out for me, that doesn't mean it would be the same for you but take it as a data point. In the fall of last year, my wife and I decided to move out family to Maine. We had been vacationing there for years and I have something of a love affair with the Ocean. It inspires me, I feel alive, free and in touch with the Earth and my place in it when I'm close to it. I really want to pass this gift of closeness to my children. At the same time as we were packing to move two of my most respected friends asked me to join their startup as a partner. I had serious reservations about moving 1000 miles away with a young family and being a partner in a startup but my drive and ambition got the best of me. They needed someone who understood mobile applications and could build both Android and iOS while shaping the data/app to really focus on a mobile platform's strong points. I was deeply honored that they asked me to be that guy. So I accepted, and worked like crazy to make a Christmas launch. It was September when I moved to Maine. I worked 45-50 hours a day at my day job and 40-50 at the startup. All of this closeness and betterment of our live that my wife and I dreamed of moving to Maine? It didn't happen for me, I had responsibilities to take care of. All the things that need to be done as part of a move, my wife handled. Spending time with my kids, I'd make time for that after the launch. I hit my date (barely and not nearly as well as I would have liked) for iOS, but I couldn't take it any more. I'm tough and I HATE to back down so I pushed on, for three more months. I pushed so hard that I passed out twice from exhaustion. Android was up next and I sat everyone involved down and said exactly that. That I cared about them and felt like I was letting them down but I have to change my live because it wasn't worth it any more. We talked and talked it around. I took my equity earned and made myself available for questions and help on the existing apps. Today I just got back from the beach and my wife, kids and I have never been happier. I'm still great friends with my ex-partners and I wish them well. I had a lot of the same fears as you but the best decision I have ever made was to talk it over with my partners and to walk away. Good luck to you, my email is in my profile if you want someone to talk to.

This sounds like you have several bugs in your processes. That's likely normal as you grow, and luckily you have a built-in alarm to beep that now it is time to fix them, it is no more premature optimization. Congratulations for hitting that point, don't kill yourself or quit yet, fix the problem.

You get a text every 5 seconds? Where is it coming from? Clients? Introduce an issue tracking system, or some kind of a queue, so that you can handle those problems asynchronously.

Are those messages immediate bug fix requests? Fixing bugs should eliminate them over time. If they are not, you are not doing it right. Introduce test driven development, rewrite code. Often, most of the bugs are contained in few modules of a program. Localize and rewrite (not fix) them. (Idea source: Code Complete)

Are your colleagues pinging you for approval all the time? Introduce decision making guidelines. Possibly with some examples how they were applied in the past.

Clients asking the same questions repeatedly? Create a FAQ or some Help. I made a policy for myself once to always just answer client requests with links to the Help. If I could find answers in the Help, I linked them, otherwise I added them to the Help first. This teaches clients to first check the Help. One client was asking the same questions all them time. I made that client a custom private help page with a link collection - it helped. Another I printed a paper he could glue over his monitor on the wall because he couldn't find anything on his computer.

For all your other issues: identify what bothers you; keep asking why it is happening and how you could fix it. Fix one problem at a time so it won't recur. You will have loads of free time really soon.

That said, you might as well consider raising your prices as others noted if your current margins can't justify the effort needed to deliver. Otherwise, you just created some new jobs that pay worse than the alternatives. In that case, everyone is loosing and closing your company would make everyone better off. But most likely you could add processes to handle things better. Or cut back on 20% of the features that require most of your time, but deliver least of the value.

Also, you should talk about the problems with your colleagues. You are better off solving them together because it starts to build a culture of solving these problems.

Good luck.

You're doing it wrong.

Go to work at 10, say a stupid but inspiring quote of the day.

Go to lunch at 12. Then hit the course at 3.

That's how you do it. In other words: Delegate.

Spot on. Someone once told me: "You go get the work. Don't let the work get you." Sounds like scope and time management, delegation, and too much "work long, not smart" peer pressure going on. Working more hours doesn't mean working better hours.

If you truly set the vision for your company, then set it. Make better use of time and better work/life balance part of your company's mission and vision if that's the kind of company you want. And you'll attract others that want that too, and repel those that don't.

My guess from here is that it's not some sort of deep crisis, just a buildup of pain points that's gotten up to your neck. If you can get a few things sorted out, the picture might turn nice and sunny, and your "but I just want to RELAX!" ennui will vaporize. But if you don't sort them out, you'll burn out, let everyone down, and be miserable. Remember: having a lot of clients is supposed to be a problem you want, but you need to make sure you're equipped to handle it.

Here's my advice from having burned out terribly and repaired it:

Take tomorrow off. Send the email out right now: "Guys, I need a personal day. I'm sure you can handle it." Sleep in. Watch some TV for like half the day. Whatever.

The problem is likely that you've been hill-climbing. What's the next problem and how do I solve it? The hill gets steeper as you go up, but you haven't had the time to find a better path up, or maybe even a different hill. What you'll need to do is take a step back and ask, what's the problem with how we're solving problems, and to do that, you need to hit the pause button on everything. That's the real reason you just took tomorrow off. So after you're done with TV...

Part of your job is to create sustainability. Working like crazy just isn't sustainable and if you burn out, you're not likely to be the only one. Fuck toughness; it's not even a thing. And fuck the superheroics, because people just don't scale. You're not trying to lift a huge mountain yourself or even with a couple of your buddies; you're trying to build an organization that will systematically take apart the mountain and ship it off in modular containers. How do you turn "I need to make 1000 decisions today!" into that?

1. Delegation. Make a list: why does your phone blow up all day? "People need me to make decisions." What kind of decisions? "Feature decisions, customer-support decisions, technical decisions..." How can you delegate each of those? "Well, I can make Jill my lead engineer and direct technical..." You get it. Actually, just read this: http://sivers.org/delegate. You probably think only you can make the decisions. You're probably wrong and people will surprise you with their ability to take this stuff on, especially with your guidance. And if they can't, fire them (seriously, this isn't optional).

2. Operationalization. With delegation comes operationalization. You always have to be careful with process, but you also need to create it. When a new problem comes up, don't just solve it. Create a process for solving it and then apply it. This doesn't have to be the all-singing, all-dancing Ultimate Process (TM); it just has to be a way to solve this particular problem for the next, say, couple of months. "How do we structure customer meetings?" "When do we give them updates?" "How do we structure projects?" What's nice about process is that it applies DRY to your thinking; the process guides your (and everyone else's) decisions so your brain doesn't have to.

3. Brutality. This is the hard one. A small company needs focus. Focus is at, like, the top of the list for attributes you're after. So you need to look carefully at the portfolio of stuff you're doing and ask, "Do we really need to be doing this? Is it essential to our existence?" You (and whoever else really has to be in this conversation) need to answer it without blinking. It's hard to turn down clients, or cool ideas, or whatever, but you have to, because there will always, always be more stuff to do than you can plausibly handle. So you have to cut out all of that stuff, and you need to do it brutally and unflinchingly. "We're not doing that." Once you kill all the extraneous projects, even the ones that are making you money or publicity or whatever, you'll feel so much better.

4. Expectation-setting. Your developers want to work really hard, but that's actually not as great as you think it is. There's a tendency for employees in a small company to match the culture around them, especially when those employees are young. (I'm pretty sure that's where my twenties went.) But it doesn't make them magical animals; they'll burn out too. It's your job to create the environment of sustainability. That starts with your client relationships and moves down into your development schedule, your individual expectations for work hours, etc. You need to make the expectations explicit. Never ever (ever!) say "whatever it takes" and don't allow your employees to say; say, "here's what we can do", where "what we can do" fits into a reasonable schedule with reasonable hours. Will you lose some deals? Of course.

5. Planning. "um we have 8 pages left to design for tomorrow, nobody is going anywhere" is the opposite of planning. How did you get here? Well, you took on work without planning for it. That's going to cause you all kinds of stress, because it's crazy and humans can't work that way. Planning would have allowed you to say, like two weeks ago, "well, we're not going to make that deadline, so let's talk to the client and push that out." But instead, it's the day before it's due and you're fucked. So the first thing you do, on Tuesday when you're back is get a nice solid list of your existing commitments and see if they fit in a schedule. They won't, so then you'll have to reorganize some stuff and have some tough conversations about what to cut or push back or outsource or whatever. But holy shit will you feel better when you have. Then create a planning process going forward.

6. Supply and demand. Do you have too many clients for you to handle? Charge more. Seriously. The work will select itself for more value for you. If people keep wanting to pay, keep raising your price until they don't. You'll have less work and at least as much money.

Whatever you do, don't say, "let's just get through this last couple of things and then we'll be in the clear". You should know by now that's wishful thinking, and wishful thinking is, frankly, what got you into this mess in the first place. You need to take responsibility now and reorganize your team and process for sustainability.

Hey buddy,

What you need is a long vacation. I would recommend you to find the right sub-ordinates/partners to take your place for the time being and plan a 2-3 week trip to a place where you can relax. :)

The whole point of building a company is that different people can do what they are best at and solve a problem. All members of an organization are a cogs in the wheel. They all need to move together to get things done smoothly. Being an entrepreneur has a lot of pressure but when you already have a company set up, with employees, with business people etc, you should focus on building strategies. Delegate more, hire the right people, apply the right management techniques which suit your work culture. It's all about having the right people under you so that you can just lead the company in the right direction.

Trust me, a vacation will have a big influence on you right now and give you a different perspective too :)

Take care and don't take any rash decisions.

- Sumeet

Have you had a discussion with your cofounders and employees about establishing goals for work/life balance in the company? If so, what did they say?

Realistically, I don't think owning a company will give you massively more freedom than being an employee of one. But it does put you in a position to enshrine freedom as a goal for everyone in the company, employees and owners alike. Economic necessity will mean absolute freedom is never possible. But in my experience, it's very possible to have good work/life balance, flexible hours, and a fun workplace so long as the leadership is on board.

You might also consider asking whether you're setting the right expectations with your clients. If you're constantly making promises that force you to work 14-hour days and always be in crisis mode, perhaps that could be adjusted.

I don't know if you have the patience or time for it, but The E-Myth Revisited, an old book with a cheesy name, was made for you and this situation.

Sounds like the machine is running mostly on it's own now, have you taken a single day or week off yet? It might give you serious relief to step back for a few days and see if it's still there when you come back.

The job at hand isn't killing you, the anxiety is (probably)

You say "clients", which makes me think you started a services firm. That is about the worst business you could possibly start if you truly wanted freedom. You are always beholden to the customer.

Sounds like you started the wrong type of business. When I started my online business, I had 1 main rule: I didn't want to deal with clients or co-workers. Now, I've got multiple projects that are bringing in six-figure incomes and I have to put in about 1-2 hours of work per week as a solo entrepreneur. I walk my dogs at least an hour every day, I work out, waste time browsing sites like HN and reddit, and am about to embark on a year-long digital nomad lifestyle with my wife. So, it can be done.

There's a Russian designer, who owns a big studio, yet is away on expeditions and travels for most of the year. In his blog, there's a series called "3 questions", where anyone can ask for advice.

I think one of his answers might help you (http://tema.livejournal.com/1401690.html, 4th question). Here's a rough translation.

"Q: Me and my husband own a chain of restaurants we have invested a lot of energy and effort into. We want to travel, and the question is, how can we leave our business unsupervised for several weeks? If we go away on vacation, we'll be worried all the time, phones in our hands. You travel a lot. How do you both develop your business, and travel?

A: I've spent a lot of time worrying about this too. But then I noticed, that if I'm away from the office for some reason, work doesn't suddenly stop. And so I started traveling. There are no more colleagues, who are unable to work without my supervision. Everyone knows, it doesn't matter where I am, because work goes on. My advice is - build your life to your comfort. Others will accept it as a fact. If not the current ones, then the new employees will. And it's important to keep working. Distance is not relevant, but presence is. Coordinating projects is presence."

I took away that employees know what to do. Being present via project coordination, and being chained to your office chair are not the same thing. Delegate more (most) tasks, and go travel.

OP, kudos for making this post. It takes courage to admit this, and self-awareness to realize you needed to do it.

There is some excellent advice in this thread. I am just chiming in to tell you to have hope.

Right now, this feels like the darkest point of your life. But there is a bright side. Because your problem boils down to this: too many people want to pay you money.

And it's really a problem. It's made your life miserable. For a couple of months I briefly had this same problem. It doesn't sound like one, but it is.

I did what this thread is telling you to do:

1. I raised rates. 2. I eliminated work and clients that weren't serving my goals 3. I delegated work I could outsource 4. I made processes so much work could be handled automatically.

Before: Lots of money, horrendous stress, no time

After: Quite a bit of money, almost no stress, complete freedom of time

(I chose to eliminate most consulting, which is why my income went down. It sounds like your income will actually go up)

I couldn't be happier with choosing to turn things around. It's totally achievable. You can have your cake and eat it too. Your business will switch from a burden to something that actually does liberate you.

There are several substantial responses. Read through them, act on them. Good luck!

(And one comment highlighted something I want to add on: if you've actually thought about killing yourself, and have made a plan – seek help. Trust me, it all gets better.)


"Right now I'm working 14 hour days and everyone gets mad when someone tries to leave while the others are working. There is no FREEDOM. The whole point of this venture WAS FREEDOM. Beers at 2pm? Sure! Not "um we have 8 pages left to design for tomorrow, nobody is going anywhere" says one of the developers."

is caused by this:

"I don't have the spine to delay my clients or deliver anything less than perfect and it's breaking me."

YOU set the tone for the company, and the pace of work, by managing the deadlines. If your style of management is just to roll over for every client, make ridiculous promises, then foist that onto your programmers, of course they will respond in the manner above. Because you have set the expectation that it is feasible to deliver, and that this is how things are done.

If you want a more relaxed environment, blow the deadlines out by double, THEN start setting expectations for work lower. Organise a company day off where you all go off go-karting or something - no exceptions. But don't do this in the face of deadlines, or you'll just look completely out of touch, and put everyone else under more stress.

This is not uncommon. Client work trades a single boss for multiple ones, even if it means you get to have pizza and beers at work.

The way out is through. A smattering of ideas:

- Take some time away, even if just a day. Yes, I know you can't afford to: do it anyway, to get some perspective and distance. If you want to hurry up, you must first slow down. [1] Don't forget to get a good night's sleep, too.

- Fire the clients that create the most stress or who are questionably profitable. Take a loss (in profit and/or reputation) if you have to. The first thing to do when you're in a hole is stop digging. (As suggested by others: drastically raising your prices is also a good way to separate wheat from chaff.)

- Don't shoulder it all yourself. Get whatever outside help you can from friends and family, and most importantly, be open with your employees about your circumstance. If you're upfront about where you're at, I think you'll be surprised at their willingness to problem-solve. If not, at least you were straight with them, and you can part ways amicably; if you put on a brave face while bullshitting them, they're much less likely to give you some slack.

Above all, don't forget that perfection is impossible, in your craft or in business, and you will never be able to please everyone, either clients or employees. You've got more spine than you think, or you wouldn't have started this enterprise. Use it, and make the hard decisions you don't want to make. You will hate doing it, but that dread in the pit of your stomach will finally go away.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festina_lente

There's some good advice in this thread, I'd definitely read it all and try implementing whatever's appropriate.

But, let's say you decide to leave anyway. So what. It sounds like you are reselling labor services? (eg. coding?) If so, that's a terrible business and I wouldn't hesitate to encourage you to move on.

Your friends will understand or they aren't really your friends. For you business partners, well that's business. You adapt and move on. A few ways of managing the exit:

Give them plenty of lead time to find someone to replace your role.

Say you want to stop fighting fires and focus on the long term strategy of the company as eg chairman. Cut back your hours, go live your bohemian lifestyle and email in your wise prognostications.

If you want a better way of selling labor services, one of the best ways I've seen is to manage your workforce like a recruiting company. Embed your coders in your customer's companies, on fixed term contracts. I've seen this model work really well. It's the easiest way of scaling a coder services based company.

You have a choice between re-organizing and leaving. If you decide to re-organize, icambron's advice on this thread is really good.

But if you are beyond that point, and it sounds like you are, just get out. Take your co-founders out for a beer and give them straight and honest talk. Some might get disappointed, but more likely they will be sympathetic. Even if they are not, it's their problem. While I understand the pressure, you mustn't sacrifice your health for other peoples opinions.

You emphasize freedom a lot. As you know, this can't be found in an agency setting, as ultimately you are at your clients' beck and call.

If freedom is your top goal, you should aim for independent, freelancing / consultancy or potentially becoming a micro ISV.

A possible solution could be to withdraw from day-to-day management, and act as a part-time, possibly remote freelancer for your own company. Doing what it is you like to do for perhaps 10-20 hrs pr. week.

Your co-founders may or may not accept that, but it's an out that could work decently for both parties.

>I can't ditch my clients, my business partners, my friends, my employees. I don't know how to get out. I so furiously pitched my friends to start this company, I brought them ALL into this. I hired everyone, I convinced them to jump ship from their jobs and work with me. If I bail now, every word I said, anything I did, will mean nothing.

I'm in a similar position myself. I don't think this should be a factor in your decision making. They're adults and they made a choice.

You may feel like you let them down, but as I said they're adults, they made a choice. It even sounds like they wont lose their jobs if you quit, and if they're no longer interested in working there without you, they should have time to find other positions. Even if that wasn't the case, it shouldn't be a factor for you.

They may hate you, but they'll get over it.

So, if you need to quit for your mental well being, do it. If you feel it's worth trying other things first, go for it, but there's nothing to be ashamed for here.

You're at your wits end, you need a break. Try not to make a serious life decision when you're overworked and stressed to the max. Clarity first - go for a long drive, swim, run or workout. Do something to clear your mind and push out some stress. Physical activity highly advised.

I've worked in a similar environment and even though there has been a lot of research of the dires and productivity loss of exceeding the 40hr work week, we still push ourselves. If you feel this way so does some members of your team probably. The team loses if you all don't take a breather or lighten your load. I don't know the best route - hiring more employees, take less customers, under promise and over deliver on timetables, charge more, etc but a conversation with you partner may help.

Google some of the research done on exceeding 40hr wrk weeks and maybe you can find some better direction.

You can get through this. Best of luck.

Well, one thing to make sure you do is delineate your work from the rest of the life. So, Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM (or whatever the hours), you're in work mode, but as soon as the clock strikes 5, you turn off everything work-related, and you should not be considered reachable, barring any emergencies.

If that doesn't work for your co-workers, you fundamentally have an unsustainable company, which is no more your fault than theirs.

When clients and your work make a claim for your personal time, you need to put a stake in the ground - directly or indirectly by not responding outside working hours.

It also sounds like you may have a problem with your planning and workflow, if you've got e-mails and texts coming your way like a hailstorm. Since you're a founder, you're fortunately in a position to dictate how communication and project management works. Because no one deserves a flurry of e-mails and texts.

you had a goal in mind, but you followed a different recipe (sales guy, employees, real clients), now you wonder why you have the shit everbody else has (too much work, short on time, not enough life).

to reach your goal (if its still your goal) you need definitely need a new recipe, probably the complete opposite.

my recommendation: (it's not much, but it's what i do)

read http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ballad_of_Halo_Jones it's a comic by allan moore about "getting out" - its a good book and a good book is never wasted

second: quit and travel alone (or if you have wive and kids, take them wih you, it's less expensive then it sounds) for a few months, without your phone. reinvent yourself when you come back. i run an agency, i do this every year (including reading the comic).

- You don't owe anything to anybody. Leave if you're not happy.

- If you're forced to be working 14 hour days, you're doing it wrong. You need to hire people. Raise money. If you're so busy that you're working 14 hour days, I'm pretty sure some investor would be willing to put some money in. Sounds promising to me.

- You may be working on the wrong stuff. The things a founder should be doing on a day-to-day basis at a 2-person company is different than the things they should be doing at a 10 person, 20 person, etc. company. Maybe you can hire someone to handle some of the things you're currently hating about your job, and you can focus more on hiring, or product design, or whatever.

Bottom line, if you're hating what you're doing, either you're doing it wrong, or you shouldn't be doing it. Trust your gut. Life is too short.

The one advantage of having employees and partners involved with this is you have the opportunity to delegate more

Please Relax.

Don't leave. Write down your problems, and logically develop solutions to work on solving each of them. It sounds like you're in charge of your company. If so, change things up so where y'all can work together to deliver a successful product without killing each-other. If there is too much work, take on less, and plan better.

If anxiety is an issue, there are many anti-anxiety drugs that you can use to help control it (see /r/nootropics and/or a psychiatrist). Anxiety issues can affect your perception in many ways, and they're often invisible, which is what makes things seem so difficult.

Also, you may need to sit down and figure out exactly what you want out of life, then align the rest of your goals and plans with that. Getting a good life balance can be tremendously helpful in these situations.

I haven't read all the comments, so I'm sorry if this has been suggested before.

1. Check out this book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004IYISQW/ref=oh_d__o00_de... In a nutshell it talks about how you should not sell custom services, but instead build and document a repeatable process that can be executed without you.

2.Be picky with your clients. It's very tempting to take on as many clients as possible. However, some clients are inherently worth more: They are easier to deal with (no support needed), they pay more, or they are repeat business. Focus on these clients and get rid of the others.

Hope that helps. Good luck.

I think there are days I've felt this and other days when I've been that asshole pushing everyone forward. My own advice is to take a breath, block out 1-2 hours everyday with some sort of fake meeting you've made up for yourself to be alone, and give yourself a day a week for a makers day free from meetings.

If you still feel like you need to leave, then do it. People can likely tell when you're not happy. If you're convincing enough to get them all onboard , your shitty attitude is also probably pretty convincing in making them jump ship. Assuming that you still want this to succeed, exit gracefully if you have to.

The simplest solution I know of is to start raising your prices. You will gradually start to get fewer new clients, and gradually start to lose a few of the old ones, but individually the remaining projects will be more profitable and enjoyable, and the work volume will become more manageable, all without having to ditch any of your clients (rather, they will be ditching you, leaving you off the hook).

A book you might find useful is 'The Business Side of Creativity': http://books.wwnorton.com/books/detail.aspx?ID=4294978649

> If I leave, everyone will hate me

...Which is worse than hating yourself?

> I just want to earn decent money and be able to do what I want to do whenever during the day

So get a horrible well-paying job at night.

> If I bail now, every word I said, anything I did, will mean nothing

Sometimes the truth is that you fucked up big time. What are you going to do, continue to live a lie because you can't handle the idea of your friends realizing you screwed up?

Have a heart to heart talk with them all and tell them how you feel. They won't be happy. But it'll be better than you just not showing up for work one day. Make a plan to get out over time so you don't screw them over further.

Hi! I feel you, bailing out at this point would not be great.

This stood out for me: "This attitude, day in, day out." from everyone on the team. This sounds great, it means that you have built a culture that sticks.

Also, it means that you can turn things around: getting people on the same page is hard; it sounds like you only need to sit down and think where you want to be, then shift gears and change the team's attitude towards the new goals. If you establish common goals, it sounds like you'll be able to create a company culture around them pretty easily.

Oh, and have fun! There is light at the end of this!

You need to leave. I had a similar predicament before, and selling out was the best thing I could have done.

Confide in your business partner, and discuss with them the most graceful way for you to exit.

You're not doing anyone a service by staying. It's bad for you, and for the business.

For your next venture, consider your goal of maximizing your free-time, and focus on endeavors that will give you that. Personally I know I'll never be a Steve Jobs, but I can have a beer at 2pm! :)

In addition to patio11's advice, I want to add: give yourself 6 weeks of vacation. Call it an unpaid sabbatical if you need to. That will adjust your attitude, especially if you return and the business is still functioning. Be very blunt and tell people that you're running on empty and when you return you intend to readjust the company's attitude or if they won't change, then your role will at least.

Sounds like you need to talk to your project managers and review how you're setting timelines with your employees and clients. If you don't have any project managers, then you and anyone else in management need to do it. If it's just you, you need to get someone help with management! You should be able to take your team to beers (maybe 4pm instead?) scheduled every couple weeks, barring a big launch.

"I just want to earn decent money and be able to do what I want to do whenever during the day."

"Beers at 2pm? Sure!"

You may want to recalibrate your expectations. I mean, this sounds a lot like you want your cake and to eat it too. What do you consider decent money? If you want to do whatever you want whenever and have beers at 2, you may have to settle for a considerably smaller income than you consider "decent".

If you do all of your work "perfectly" and can't do it any other way at any expense you may just have anxiety issues. Quitting doesn't do away with it.

This entire story says to me that you are a selfless person that wishes to be more selfish. Be selfish. It's cathartic. You don't have to go overboard, but buy yourself pizza and don't share. Go to a movie and not invite anyone. Baby steps.

Sounds like you need a culture readjustment. Who is driving the culture right now? As a cofounder surely you should at least have a say in it.

Yeah, I can really recommend reading "Delivering Happiness", it's an eye opener for company culture.

I went down the wrong path for a long time, and like the frog I did not notice I got burned.

My advice is to be honest, with your self, your co founders, employees and customers. Tell them you cannot meet the deadlines and stop working so much.

No one is angry when you move the deadline up front, only when you do not tell anyone you cannot meet it.

And remember that if they matter they wont mind and if they mind they dont matter.

A lot of the answers that people are giving have been described in one of the best books on running a service industry business. "The Pumpkin Plan". Give it a read. But be warned, there's tough decisions to be made. Dropping rotten clients, firing people who will suddenly become obsolete with the lack of work for them. You will need to be ready to make those calls.

Good luck!

Tomorrow morning or even better tonight on group call - hey, I don't want to be working 14 hours a day or receiving texts every 5 seconds. I'm going to be taking action to reduce this burden (you'll be teaching someone to do your job) over the next 3 months - I got into this for a more balanced life and this isn't feeling balanced right now.....

Well, that is actually a nice problem to have.

- Loose the clients that are problematic. Keep the good clients. Those that pay well, help you learn, and recommend you.

- Also, force people to follow a schedule. Don't allow people to work more than 40 hours a week. Your business should be sustainable. 14 hours a day is unsustainable and hurts the business. It is already burning you out.

Sometimes we think that being our own employer it's the easy way, but dealing directly with client it isn't easy too.

I think you should reunite with your partners and express your feelings. Some can afford to work +14h a day while others can't, and they need to understand.

Again, driving a company may can't be easy but it can't be a torture too.

Good luck!

This is exactly why I quit freelance design as well. It's a never-ending cycle of you having to pour all your heart and soul into making your clients richer. And what do you get? Just a lousy paycheck.

There are way cool business models out there requiring far less work with far higher pay.

You will be surprised how no one will care when you quit. Not that they don't care about you, but in a week it will be like you were never there.

Just imagine someone else in the team leaving and see what are the steps you will take to replace them. It will be easy to move on

Sounds like you are doing well! Perhaps look for some grey in between the 2 extremes.

Ditching everything vs Burning out - classic balancing act of a startup innit

Running full pelt at a marathon only to hit 2 miles exhausted - time for tortoise to take over - he actually makes it!

He's fairly clearly not doing well. His business is doing well.

It's your dream to be free than be. Hire new replacement for yourself. Create whatever position (CEO, Country manager etc) is needed.

Earn with no-calls enjoy your freedom. You deserve it man, it's your right and your universe.

I'd say this is quite the relevant blog post for your situation: http://blog.samaltman.com/founder-depression

The answer to this I would think would be to get to a point where growth is icing on the cake, and then streamline your current business to the point you only have to be involved for major things.

If you wish, I can help. I am changing my work of line to get more into web development/ data analytics. I am a good manager and a fast developing developer. :)

My email address is in my profile.

The company you started with the friend was part of the bohemian lifestyle? Or you want to quit the company you started to pursue a bohemian life style?

What about tell your friends/coworkers about your feelings? Maybe, together, you can make changes on your current work-style to make you happy.

To the OP, You need to check out this http://www.workthesystem.com/

You should probably see a psychiatrist and/or psychologist instead of asking hackernews how to solve this problem.



I'm in an exit at the moment (key subcontractor). It's going smoother than I anticipated so far.

I'd love to hear a bit more about that experience.

well I had some study leave organised for months, the project was going well, and during the study leave a job came up. Now I wasn't looking, but something came up that was local (I live in the technology boondocks) which looked interesting. So I was already doing supervision and critical bugfixes only, although the team was growing, partly to temporarily replace me and partly because the project is successful. So I was on around 20 hours the first month of study leave, two on the second month, and I think in month three I will quietly fade away, just making sure that the main new guy understands the reasons for some of my more superficially insane design decisions.

Then don't leave. If something is broken, fix it. Don't throw it away.

Don't take another piece of work that can't be delivered lazily.

Based on your comments your pulling in close to 4-7 Million a year in revenue. There's no reason your not pulling in 500k to 1 million a year personally. In 5 years your done. Not sure how long you stuck out your job but 5 years goes pretty fast at that pass.

Read the Bible and E-Myth Revisited

So just what was your goal? You don't really seem to have thought this through.

This is a case of "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it." You started a company, convinced your friends to join you, and Lo! Your company has been successful. Now you have to run the thing, and you're discovering you don't like it.

What did you expect?

If your company hadn't succeeded, it would be dead and gone,and all the folks you convinced to work with you would have suffered. In fact, it hasn't failed, and those who threw in with you haven't suffered.

This is presumably what you wanted when you started your firm in the first place.

Agreed, you can't just bail and abandon everybody and everything. You took on a responsibility, and it's on you to discharge it. Never mind what everyone else might think. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see. If you cut and run, you won't.

I'd do two things. First, I'd think about what was bothering me, and I'd make a list of what I didn't like about what I was doing, and what I'd most like to be rid of.

Then I'd have a heart to heart talk with my coworkers. I'd tell them I was unhappy, and what I was unhappy about, and I'd ask for help. I'd tell them I wanted time and space. That I wanted a few hours in the day when I wasn't buried under the affairs of the firm. That I needed people to step up and take on some of my responsibilities.

I'm willing to bet you have people working with you that can take some of the load off your shoulders. I am willing to bet there are parts of your job you could carve out and hand to someone else. I am willing to bet that there are people working with you who would like to grow and take a bigger role in your enterprise.

You are trying to do too much, and burning out in the process. Delegate. Think through just what your role currently is, and what you would like it to be. Think about what parts of what you do could be done by others, and who in your company could do them instead of you. Then sit down with your people and work out a plan to make that happen.

It won't be easy. It's hard to give up control like that. It's hard to deal with the fact that someone else might not do what you did they way you did it. But what's important is that it gets done, and the way they do it may be better than the way you did it. You have to be able to give your people space to do things in their own way, and your only real concern is whether they do it effectively.

As companies grow and add people, roles change. What people do and how they do it changes. As the founder of a startup, your early days are very hands on, and you probably do some of just about everything that needs to be done on a day to day basis. As the company grows, you can't do that. There aren't enough hours in a day. Other people must take on some of what you do, and you must step back and let them do it.

Your challenge now is making that happen. ______ Dennis

Getting out is as extreme as qutting your job. You can cut back gradually, or better yet, get things running better..

I know how exactly you felt and felt the same way for several years, working 7 days a week, 12-14 hour days between getting/running/doing the work of the business.

The only thing that changed is how I got better at managing work, and then having the work managed.

All I can say is in my case, I did not realize I had a lot of learning to do, and that's where a lot of time goes. I started when I was 18, now I'm in my early 30's. There is a way out. Seek advice from others who have done and come through what you're doing. If you take half baked advice from half experienced outcomes, you will definitely be risking more not just with everything in front of you but your confidence in the future. If you feel overwhelmed, it's probably because you have sufficient growth opportunities around you and a feeling of paralysis of doing any of them justice. You'll have to pick.

My experience was to focus on learning how to make money and build long term client relationships that would allow me to grow. I now consult startups, projects and high growth group.

Freedom is something you build. Freedom always has a cost. There is always a price to be paid for getting it. You don't own a business until it runs without you. Until then, you own a job that is hard to quit because you are increasingly invested in it in every way.

Freedom for me, is also time, and a capacity to create and pursue interests as much as the work I do. In your 20's, something happens called becoming well rounded. learning to keep your increasingly efficiently ability to create into your 30's while making sure you aren't being left behind is a delicate balance, but it can be done. To me, wealth is time and capacity to create as I would like.

I'm now consulting part time, and making as much, or likely more than I've ever made. The lame adage working smarter vs working harder is not completely true, its all about knowing strategically where to double down your efforts, and learning the difference between a good dollar earned and a bad dollar earned.

All isn't as bad or as good as it seems. The best advice I received from a mentor was to never get too high or too low, savour each lesson and accomplishment, shut up, and move on, because the great times don't last, just like the horrible ones as long as I keep moving.

If you'd like to talk more, I'm happy to share my story of having run a similar course to you for almost 10 years and maybe you can find something there. Email is in my profile.

My story and experience is rather extreme and it can feel horrible to not have a soul to talk to, or to understand you.. when being understood can feel like a luxury. I can't say I know everything you're going through, but there is always a way to help use tech, systems and processes to make a business work for you, especially if you have cash flow.

Everything will be ok, you can do it, you will get better, things get better. Things don't get better, we just get better at handling them -- it's the best growth imaginable. You can get things running without you and remain a value contributor.

I was in the same situation, but for about five years. I founded an agency with a friend in pursuit of greater creative freedom, but as it happens ten bosses (ie. clients) are somewhat more stressful than just the one. During those five years I barely saw my kids, worked most weekends and didn't take holidays for the last three years at all.

We were mostly working with SME's and trying to grow the company to a point where could score some bigger clients, on several occasions we very nearly did. We got behind in our taxes when some large projects got cancelled and ended up taking out a bank loan secured against ourselves personally. The quality of our work deteriorated as we took on anything and everything to make ends meet, to pay our expanding team, hoping our big break was just around the corner.

When I finally called it quits we were about £60k in debt, shared between three partners. Telling our employees we had to let them go was hard, but I was surprised at how well most of them took it (they actually felt bad for me), to my relief all of them found employment again within a few weeks. I kept on working with my clients myself by working in evenings and weekends finishing everything off, it took about a year to shut down entirely, but every month it got a little easier. Our clients expressed some annoyance but they were mostly understanding. A couple even said that they didn't know where they could find another agency as good to work with as us, which was heartening.

The successful agencies I have witnessed experiencing fast growth never had any small/medium clients; their founders worked for a larger company and took some big clients with them, or they worked client side and their previous employer became their first big client. Either way their initial clients were huge and there was very little of the painful bootstrapping I experienced, so if you don't have big clients now expect a tough slog (or a lucky break of course, but counting on that pretty much gambling with your own time)

The whole experience cost me about £20k in debt and maybe £200k in lost earnings over what I would have been making had I been freelancing instead. It's been a year and a half and I've managed to pay back my debts and finally get a mortgage on a house, that, had I not started a company I could very nearly have bought outright by now. The time I should have spent with my kids is lost (I fooled myself that I was doing it for them, but in retrospect really it was more of a 'we've come this far...' mentality) but I'm trying to make it up to them now as best I can.

My advice to you would be to freelance, as a programmer you can work all around the world, remotely if you please and get paid decent money (We all know guys who only work part the year, and spend the rest travelling, others who work remotely from Bali or something). I'm freelancing now and I feel more free than I ever did running a company.

Couldn't help but be reminded of Sonata Arctica's song I Want Out.

You unplugged from the Matrix. But the reality is the matrix isn't that bad. Good luck.

If you want freedom, learn how to algorithmically trade Forex.

Edit: Downvote? I'm serious about this. Trading is the only activity I know that gives you

1) income

2) no boss to report to

3) no employees to take care of

4) location freedom (e.g. can be done from anywhere)

5) relatively low starting costs

6) low starting risk (you don't need to work 2+ years to figure out if your company will actually make money)

7) a market you know will always be there

8) an ability to be totally hands off with algorithmic trading

Most people think this is a pipe dream — perhaps that explains the downvotes. It's not. I live off semi-algorithmic Forex trading and know many others who do too.

How does one go about learning this? Also what's your exposure to risk?

I've been learning a fair amount of modeling and statistics lately and algorithmic trading has started to look a bit more viable as a side project.

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