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Tell HN: Entrepreneurs, make sure you are getting guaranteed wins in life
266 points by hoodoof on June 26, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments
Being an entrepreneur is one of the toughest of challenges.

One of the main reasons it is hard is because whether or not you succeed is not directly related to the amount of work you put in. You can work every available minute and still not succeed.

So for your mental health, to be able to do it in the long term, you need some definite wins happening in your life. Without any definite wins, if your business is not succeeding then you risk surveying your life and seeing nothing but failure. That's bad.

Fortunately there are things you can do in life where there is a direct relationship between effort and win. This means that if you put time in then you get a guaranteed win.

Take some time to do these things so that you definitely have a life that is at least partially winning. Make sure you are getting in some of those guaranteed wins. The price will be that you need to take time away from the business in order to get guaranteed wins. See this not as time away from your business but simply part of the time you are putting into your business. Your business success requires investment of your time not only directly, but indirectly by investing in yourself - this is essential.

The easiest guaranteed win I can think of (and Jeff Atwood pointed this out to me in a post sometime) is to become fit. If you put time in one hour a day, five days a week, you are guaranteed to win. Fitness has a direct relationship between time and effort and result. Unlike your business, if you put in time and effort then you are guaranteed the outcome.

When business is hard, when things are dark, when there are huge problems, you will be propped up strongly by the win you have put in the bag by committing time to your guaranteed wins.

One final thing - take the daily decision making process out of the equation - just stop that daily question "Do I want to commit today's hour to my guaranteed win? The business is so busy, it needs me." Make an up front decision that daily wins get priority over the business time and never again ask yourself "Should I do this today or not?" The question will come up every single day. The answer is "I already decided what the answer is.".

What other guaranteed wins are there in life where time committed = success? Keep an eye out for them.


A life partner, one not afraid to get their hands dirty doing what needs to be done for a vision outside the mainstream paths, grow with them through the fails and the folly, and experience two lives in one lifetime. Find someone to remind us of why to be humble through the successes that can blind one to appreciation and the efforts of others. Someone who does not see us for success gotten, but for the inevitable happiness and richer gain from a partnership with an equal of good character.

Children, to see the world through innocent and new eyes. To see value in things we take for granted, and to give us a reason to think of the future as a prospect even though much of our prospecting years may now be behind us.

It has never been a better time to be poor. What we risk with all the other wins beside family is a life without riches. With others we can know ourselves better, be more whole, understand what makes us human and what drives us to betterment of ourselves and humanity.

The ups and downs of life is the most enriching experience, to know genuine empathy and share sincere hopefulness. One can find such experience in family.

That was my first thought, too. I've gone through some pretty shitty times as an entrepreneur, but my wife is always there to pick me up, dust me off, and offer her unconditional support. I lived in a car for three months in Silicon Valley without her, and she put up with it like a champ, supporting me in every imaginable way.

Man, she's awesome.

Then you'd better make sure you're listening closely to what she wants in life and move mountains to make sure she gets it.


That's amazing, but almost unfathomable to me. Maybe My childhood was absent of female affection, but wow if I could meet someone like that... then again I would probably push her away because I wouldn't feel like I deserved it.

Yes, I believe there's nothing on God's good planet that can compare to the love a man receives from a caring woman. Nothing. (And I don't even believe in God.)


give it a rest


I had a rough day today. I got home, and the dog was as excited to see me on a bad day as he is on my best day. We went for our walk--sun, grass, the park--and it dulled the bite of the day a bit. My wife got home, and she was as wonderful on a bad day as she is on my best day. We went to dinner, and by the time we got home, the day hardly seemed like much.

I know it's a privilege, but (my) family doesn't measure me by anything more than how much care I put into it, and I get back far more than I put in. It really is (to me) the most important thing to have.

I really, really do not recommend doing a family with kids and a startup at the same time. That is hardcore mode.

Family is hugely important but try to avoid both startup mode and family mode at the same time.

Jeff Atwood Coding Horror?

This is a deeply personal decision but I regret leaving it too long to have kids. There's no right time to have kids - if you wait for the right time you risk missing out.

If I found myself in a decision point between startup and kids then, knowing then what I know now, I would and should have chosen kids over startup. Startups come and go, the chance to have kids does not come back once gone.

You have just made my day, and possibly gave me the motivation I thought I had lost. My partner and I are expecting (no planned). And I had wondered how on earth I would cope continuing with my start-up and raising a child. but seeing that not only are other people doing it, but they outlook is positive. man. I feel like I have been saved.

Totally agree. Having kids is a window in life that is much Shorter than the window for doing a startup. I was a bit crazy and had two little ones when I started and a third not too long ago. I know many others who have done both as well.

Best thing I've ever done (and still doing) is raising my son. For me this tops any entrepreneurial/career success I've had so far.

It's doable (I have a 2.5 year old and a 2 month old). But it's really all about your partner. If they're in it like you are, you can make do.

Couldn't imagine doing this with an unsupportive partner.

Exactly this. This holds true of any activity, but especially those which take more time from family. It takes two to make the family unit work. But be prepared at some point to pay it back in some way shape or form.

> That is hardcore mode.

I agree that it's hard (I have three) but it's like anything else, if that is what makes you fail, you probably wouldn't have succeeded anyway.

I have 4 kids. Agree 100%, it seems to me that the kids take time from work, but also bring incentive to work harder, for more extrinsic reasons like providing for them. In the end, I think I am better not worse for it.

I agree with reservations. Many people have relationships that are unfit for the long haul. Other people can't really live with other people.

Having a supportive family is absolutely wonderful, but you can still win at life without a family; don't let anyone convince you of the opposite.

Would recommend going through a divorce while building a startup for the ultimate entrepreneurial "nightmare mode". Great for building a tough skin after it's all over. Some founders come back home to an unconditionally supportive partner, others come back to a bunch of legal paperwork.

I actually did just that.

Nowadays I prefer to rent a single room in a shared house. Thats really all the space I require to be happy. my futon, my desk, my electric piano, a workbench, a couple bookshelves and my cat.

How is day to day happiness? I'm only 29 and I want to live like that forever but I can't imagine it's conducive to an active sex life. (Again, I'm young, hopefully testosterone tapers off substantially as the years go on.)

100+ to this.

As a sort of dark opposite to this, it's possible to have virtually zero significant life wins across the board, and yet draw strength from that fact.

While your life might totally suck beyond what you could ever have ever imagined, after a point there is a sort of humor to be found in the absurdity of it all.

Failure becomes an afterthought, because it simply means ending up right where you currently are - the bottom. This is the classic "nothing to lose" dynamic working in your favor.

Counter-intuitively, the opportunity costs involved seem to matter less and less the more your career and family prospects dwindle. In a weird way, that can be liberating.

However, such thinking can be extremely destructive. It's essentially tantamount to starving yourself as a means of motivation, while at the same time applying a Martingale betting system[1] to life planning. Certainly not for everyone, and seeking out such a state is ill advised. I view it more as a way to cope with a situation one finds themself already in the midst of.

Despite this, a person still needs to have hopes and desires, just like everyone else - even if such things are in direct conflict with any hardcore apathy they may harbor.

Truly believing in what you're trying to achieve, as well as the world of possibilities that it will open to you, is essential - even if it does represent a sort of cognitive dissonance. At the same time, you have to not care about the outcome. The ability to have simultaneous belief in conflicting points of view is an incredible tool to have.

To quote an old trading maxim: "You can't win if you have to."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martingale_%28betting_system%2...

Totally different approach but I really loved your post and would simply like to add: learn a musical instrument.

It is something that you can noodle around on (like a guitar, or an electric bass, or even on a midi keyboard software) .. go to a pawn shop and grab an old instrument (put on new strings if necessary) and just play a little every day.

Music helps relieve stress, lets your mind relax, brings you to a creative space, and in a few months of noodling every day or every other day you'll find that your experience of music will have changed and that you'll be making beautiful sounds. Very gratifying, very healthy, and very easy. The juggler must learn to use both hands, the artist both eyes, and the entrepreneur both brains.

This is so absolutely true. After a long day of using my left brain the only thing I feel like doing is playing some guitar. I've only learned a few chords and bought a cheap one off Amazon, but it is simply wonderful.

I would add to your metaphors and say, it feels like walking downhill after a long day of walking up hill - totally different muscles - all in my brain.

Thank you for writing this - this lesson can be life saving. I learned this lesson the hard way, recently losing a friend and mentor to suicide. He was a brilliant entrepreneur but hit a road block post-series A where he couldn't raise follow on funding and the press started turning against him. The business was his life, and he wasn't able to separate himself from the business nor did he have a life outside work with the kind of wins which can sustain through these challenges.

Exercise helps, but I'd reinforce the need for a balanced supportive social network outside that. Choose sports with other participants (eg racquet sports, or join a team). Not only will the discipline of not letting others down keep you motiviated to keep going, but you'll get friends who don't give a damn about your business (in a good way - no need to pretend to be killing it all the time!) and can keep you grounded in normal reality.

The deterministic-coupling-between-exercise-and-fitness thing is a good idea, but I'm worried that the OP has ignored the vital, crucial importance of doing something wise with your daily hour of fitness. If you're a fitness n00b and spend an hour a day doing steady-state cardio on the treadmill, your results will be hilariously worse than if you implement a formal fitness plan that has worked for lots of other people such as [0-1] or similar. All "exercise" activities are not created equal.

[0] Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength [1] Lynn MacDonald's Body Recomposition

Just in case this matters in the future: Lyle McDonald

Too late to edit now, but autocorrect strikes again! Good catch, thanks :)

I am growing increasingly concerned that one of my ex girlfriends has committed suicide.

She lives far away but we always kept in touch.

Her website has not been updated for quite a long time.

Last we spoke she had to sell her hoyse because she lost her job. Then the animal control killed her beloved dog because it bit another dog.

Someone like herbwould have some online presence all the time but other than her unmaintained website I find nary a trace.

I met her in a psyciatric hospital.

Another exgirlfriend called me, in tears, then asked "How can he say he loves me when all he ever does is hurt me?". In her case I fear she has been murdered.

Wat? Please go find out. No startup is worth the life of another person (divorced or not). Go find her man. Get her taken care of.

The problem I have right now is that I have no money.

I can use the internet and telephone but they are of limited usefulness.

The one with the dead website lived a thousand miles away. I would walk there if I could but I dont think I can.

The other is closer but I cant get there on the bus. If I could buy a bicycle I could visit her parents and one of her friends.

I apply for jobs every day largely because I hope to use the money to find them.

I dont drive becausebI have seizures. I suddenly find myself in a strange place then later discover a month has passed.

Despite that seizures do not run inmour family a clise relative has had them about the same amount of time as I. I dont really know butbspeculate they are the result of modern software interfaces.

You might be a little confused :(. If I were confused I would get some counsel to figure out what's going on. I think the most reasonable way to see if your girlfriend has died is to check her local obituaries. It would not be wise to work very hard to travel so far just to figure out she's totally okay and is involved in a new job. Again I would seek counsel with a person you trust or a therapist, you might just be dealing with some anxiety and confusion.

The only site that shows up in google is her unmaintained page.

Perhaps she is in a psych hospital, or homeless.

Shes close to her grandmother, at least she was. Maybe shes with a relative.

She has never been aware that she hallucinates.

This is good advice. I'd add:

If you find success early, whether you believe it or not, put some money away (if you can). And if you find yourself in your middling years and great success eludes you despite your prior success, at least think seriously about moving the needle from the risk side to the responsibility side.

Source: I didn't heed this advice.

Here is some practical advice on the "how" of putting money away for the future: http://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Bogleheads%C2%AE_investing_st...

If only I could give multiple upvotes.

I understand why you'd address this to entrepeneurs given the audience around here, but really, is there anyone to whom this advice _doesn't_ apply? Sure, if you're a textbook entrepeneur you're working hard and might overlook other things. Same if you're working three jobs to make ends meet, or if you're studying all hours, or looking after your family. The advice has common validity.

Your strategy won't work for everyone, or even most people, because "just do it", whilst very compelling short term, tends to lose effectiveness over time. Instead seek out something that you really enjoy, that coincidentally provides great exercise, removing any problem about motivation and long term commitment. If hanging at the gymn really is your thing that's great, but if not, don't beat yourself up, get into something else instead, cycling, karate, trapeze, dance, roller-derby, yoga, there are lots of alternatives, main thing is to make it fun then you won't need the "I must do this" self-discipline every day, you'll go out of your way to do it.

And as others say, explore creative and cultural activities too. Your mind does not thrive on pure coding and hustling alone, it needs its own free-form exercise too.

One diet trick I learned, sort of related to fitness, is to cut out almost all carbs. In crunch mode I don't really have time to work out and tend to snack 24/7. Carbs pack on the pounds. Now I just eat nuts (almonds), bacon, cheese, hot dogs (no bun), whatever, and it hardly makes a difference.

I don't think you understand the unit of measure called a "calorie" if you believe this.

In general people consume more calories when they predominantly take their calories in from carb sources, through stupid sources like liquid (soda) or sweets. It really has very little to do with carbs alone, unless you consume high-GI carb sources in isolation (which causes a high insulin response). But most people mix carbs, fat and protein, and there are enough studies to show that you can pretty much ignore the high-GI/low-GI paranoia when you do this.

But at the end of the day, unless you have some medical condition, carbs are fine. Just watch your calories.

Well, sure, there is that. But there's another effect going on here. If I eat a fistful of cashews I'm going to feel full for a good long while, and if I eat the equivalent calories in bread I'm going to still feel like eating more.

One weird trick?

This is a great and such a underrated topic. Thanks for bringing out.

There are 3 things that I practice and I feel has guaranteed wins.

1. Fitness- Damn Right. Several people have given the reason. and its as simple as putting half and hour, 5 days a week in moving your body. Keeps you physically fit and mentally robust. At times I have realized that my mental activeness is directly proportion to the exercise and my fitness level.

2. Family and Friends- Yes, they are the support mechanism. Talking to them and taking some time out to talk to one of your closest friends(friend/mom/wife) will help you shift your focus from your business into people that matter to you. Believe it or not at some point you will realize that relationships and people matter the most and investing in them is a worthwhile guaranteed win.

3. Fun- The part would be just having fun, doing something that you love. The best part is you can easily fit it into your daily schedules. Just after your office hours, give 30 minutes unwinding yourself by doing a hobby that you love (e.g. reading a book, writing the journal, playing that guitar, singing songs, playing basketball). Life is short and ultimately everyone makes money so that they could have fun or do what they love, why not do it everyday. It helps you completely detach yourself from your day at office. Fun everyday, keeps stress away.

I'm 100% for doing some sports, and sticking with it while doing a startup.

I'm 100% AGAINST doing it for a "guaranteed win" :-)

First of all, there may be a direct relationship between effort and win when you're an unfit twenty-something, but if you get an injury - or just if your body gets older - you may be struggling to get back to the level you've been at before.

But, even more importantly, if you do sports with a "I have to win"-attitude, you'll start comparing yourself to others, and you'll always find someone who is better than you. Just don't start to be competitive. You're doing the sports for fun. Learn to enjoy sports for it's own sake, and you may be able to take that attitude towards other things in life.

(I've got a failed startup behind me, and one of the things that kept me sane was regularly going bouldering. Pro-Tip: Get a yearly membership as a birthday or xmas present from your parents or so. Even if you're in serious financial troubles, your membership will be paid for. Huge relief!)

Hmm, I didn't take the op to mean a competitive win. It's a win for you.

Everytime you exercise you feel great, you're happy you took the time to get sweaty, you look better each day than the day before. And everyday, as you think back to when you could only do X amount of Y (5 minutes of running, 10 pushups), and now you can do Z of Y, you can feel good about that and feel success.

It could be breakdancing holds for all anyone cares, or jumprope, but it feels good, and if you move safely and comfortably and repeat in an intelligent manner (practice intelligently to maximize gains, or at least ensure them) you're pretty close to guaranteed gains over time. And those feel great!

> you look better each day than the day before

Again, this is only true if you are unfit. I have been doing sports regularly for the last decade and my body is in good shape. My doc says I'm healthy. Loosing more weight would make me underweight...

Yes, I could become more fit, but training for endurance won't change my body visibly.

> And everyday, as you think back to when you could only do X amount of Y

I have come back super-fit from two-week vacations were I spend nearly everyday mountainbiking or hiking. Back in the city, I can't spend 10-12 hours outdoors everyday. At the very best, I'm maintaining that fitness level, but most likely it is getting worse.

When I was younger, I had the attitude you're prescribing: My fitness became worse, and it was emotionally affecting me because I was searching for a feeling of success. Now I'm aware that my fitness level changes seasonally, reaching bottom at the end of the winter and peaking in the summer. I'm fine with it and I enjoy doing sports just for the sake of it.

I think this is a severely underrated area of entrepreneurship and would love it if some people share their stories about things like this.

I stand 100% behind this. Including the "getting fit" part. it is incredibly important and will build your mental resilience.

This is the magic pill we've all been looking for, and it's been in front of our eyes this whole time. Exercise and a good diet were the answer all along.

Totally agree 100%. Also, have a creative hobby (if you're in any way so inclined). Learn to play a musical instrument, or paint, write, or what-have-you. Whether you create new things or learn to preform existing works you will have something to show for your efforts.

There was an entrepreneur of some Web 1.0 company - I think it may've been Excite or Paypal - who said that it was very important that you "celebrate your victories" as you found a startup. That's really important. Launching a product is a victory. So is fixing that really tough bug. So is implementing a feature, no matter how small. So is hiring a key engineer or closing a round of funding. So is coming up with an idea or hypothesis that seems plausible. So is getting a user and keeping him engaged and happy.

You need a lot of these little victories to have a successful business. But that doesn't stop them from being victories. And when you set your scale small enough, some of them are basically guaranteed.

This is such sage advice and almost never mentioned. As an entreprenuer who's obviously over optimistic about the startups probability for success and the speed that it occurs you usually skip and sacrifice a lot in life.

One thing I learnt the hard way is that the best way to ensure personal success is to plan your life's goals as if you have a 9-5 job with secure income. Major investments (housing, loans etc) and relationships should not be on hold till the next company milestone. Having a spouse kind of forces this upon you, but getting a supportive parent/mentor to help you plan your life apart from your startup will really help.

This is smart.

A friend once told me that a guaranteed win for them was cleaning their apartment.

For me, exercise is a good one. Also reading. Reading great books on a regular basis is a life goal for me, and if I just put in the time on that one I make progress.

It might also be good to volunteer for a cause that you find meaningful.

I served on the Suicide Prevention Service of Santa Cruz County.

Having someone ring me up from a payphone in the middle of the night with a loaded pistol in their hand really gave me a better perspective on what really matters in life.

I can't express how good a 1.5h 4days/week gym workout routine has been for me. I don't know if this makes thing easier because it counts as a "win", or helps because there's something deeper happening at molecular level.

Sport releases a lot of endorphins that simulate the state of happiness and reduce stress. This is a proven scientific fact. So there's something magic for your self-steem and positivity in it. Everybody starting-up should keep an exercise routine, and startup accelerators should include it in their activities...

It really helps, if you don't have kids like me, I think it's one of the best decisions you can make for keeping your sanity during difficult times. ZEN Meditation and Yoga (mixes both meditation and sport) are other great ways to keep stress at bay.

Brush & floss your teeth daily. Good for your overall health, will save you money and suffering.


Just like exercise, the positive effects of meditation compound by putting in the time!

I like this a lot. I think though the word fitness has so many connotations, and many of them negative, that some people might be put off by the idea of it.

So as an alternative, I'd suggest: Move every day. This can be:

- putting up a basketball hoop and throwing a few hoops

- walking for 45-60min.

- go climb with your significant other

- play with your children (no consoles, actual physical moving)

- do a yoga class

All of these things might not sound like fitness but give you a great balance, when done every day.

According to Buddhist views, your wins do not matter; what matters is whether you are enjoying the journey.

Follow up for this question, give advice about fitness for beginners


Wow, thanks. This is probably the best advice a first-time founder going through a pretty rough patch like me can get. Puts things in perspective.

but surely one of the important choices is what kind of business to start. a VC funded, all or nothing shot has even less chance of being a guaranteed win than a bootstrapped, early profit business. (I am thinking of the ability for the company to survive hiccups that if they occur just before series A dooms you, but if you are profitable and growing is just a hiccup.)

I think learning would be one guaranteed win. If you put the time to learn X, sooner or later your going to learn X.

DFectuoso [dead]:

>Sleep well, eat well and get fit. 100% guaranteed wins.

>Also, stop smoking/drinking. Hard battles, guaranteed wins.


Is there a source for this?

Just enable "show dead". You will be surprised how many good comments are shadow banned.

Aaand it's back from the dead.

You are trying to fit a deterministic philosophy into our probabilistic world. If you exercise, any number of outcomes may transpire, including heart attack. Minimum risk with maximum reward may be a more realistic approach.

When I resigned in protest from amcc i wrote "When i lay on my deathbed looking back on a lufe well-lived, I am not going to wish I had shipped more product."

While not dead certain I may have just found a woman who wanted to marry me in 1985, but her grandmother did not approve of me.

I miss her so. Im going to write her soon, if its her I will go visit but now she is far too old to bear my child.

Several times I have been kissed by beautiful women who made it plain they were mine for the asking but each time I pursued the impossible dream.

My ex did not want to have children. I know why but cannot tell you. Deciding to be with her was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Now i feel I chose wrong.

Hey Anne whatever happened to Cheryl, she was one of our vendors back in the day.

She died of some very rare cancer. I am completely convinced thats because I did not kiss her back. Not that I was not interested but that i was painfully shy then.

He who hesitates does not get To swim in the gene pool.

Ive written lots of code ive made lots of money. nsome of my products were huge hits.

Consider homer's illiad and odyssey. what code that any of us write will last that long.

It is a rare person who learns from the mistakes of others. I think your words will resonate quite well with those who have lived and loved and lost. They may fall on the deaf ears of the young.

The choices you made were the ones that were right for you when you made them. When you are young and the future seems full of promise, you simply take each experience as one in a sequence leading you to the success you imagine is waiting for you at the end of the road. Whether it is success in love or business. That's the beauty of youth: optimism, uncorrected by reality.

I look at my daughters' faces every day as I carry them around. I see their optimism for what life will bring. There is something special in that look. When do we lose that?

Lastly, I did not want children in my life until, suddenly, I did. Had I continued to wait, I might have missed my opportunity without even knowing it. But then, it would have been the right decision for me at that time.

I suppose you already know this but poetry is not to be taken too seriously. They are far removed (three times) from the truth. This is what Socrates says about them [1]

"I do not mind telling you in confidence that all poetry is an outrage on the understanding, unless the hearers have that balm of knowledge which heals error."

"All poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them"

"Imitation, then, is devoid of knowledge, being only a kind of play or sport, and the tragic and epic poets are imitators in the highest degree."

I'm not saying one shouldn’t enjoy poetry. But like most other literature, in general, they should only offer a perspective. A different point of view. Nothing more. A true poem, as Socrates says, is a lyric of the soul. Something that lifts the fallen spirit and gives hope in defeat.

Romanticism is certainly tender and is good for softening a coarse exterior. But in the end it is just entertainment.


This is a great reminder that there are things we need to let go of and not let them bother us for the rest of our lives. Whatever decisions we regret, we should remember that they seemed like good ideas at the time. Hindsight isn't always 20/20; sometimes it is really, really distorted.

>Consider homer's illiad and odyssey. what code that any of us write will last that long.

Not to be pedantic but that's really a non-sequitur. You can't compare literature/story telling to technology on the same impact metrics.

If only i could give a zillion upvotes!

Sleep well, eat well and get fit. 100% guaranteed wins.

Also, stop smoking/drinking. Hard battles, guaranteed wins.

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