Have you ever felt a plaguing sense of “founder guilt?”
This happens to so many founders, often because you feel like there are so many things that you should be doing, but there’s just no way you can do them all.
If you’re an early startup or still a business of one or two, then you will have some major limitations as to what can be done in a day for your business. It’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed when you hear advice on all the things you should be doing, but just don’t have time for.
Kevin McGrath, the co-founder of Beacon, had a conversation with us in a recent podcast, where he talked about managing your limitations as a founder, or finding ways around them. He founded Beacon, a lead magnet software, alongside his brother, Eoin, and for the most part, they have remained a team of two.
Here’s what we found out:
Working as a partnership
Kevin and his brother Eoin still largely work as a team of two, which is how it has been from the inception of Beacon. They’re busy – a major milestone of late is that their software has generated 10,000 leads for their customers.
They enjoy working together as a small team. The two brothers know each other well and have the ability to work quickly through things together, despite that familial relationship!
How have Kevin and Eoin worked so harmoniously over the long-term?
“For us, it’s helpful that there’s a clear division of labor,” Kevin says. “Eoin handles all the development and I handle all the design and marketing.”
“Sharing projects and knowing where your responsibilities end is definitely helpful. There is, of course, lots of overlap between our roles in every project so documenting everything as part of the handover process helps to keep things clear.”
Founders shouldn’t do it all…
Kevin and Eoin have worked together for years, and while they’ve developed a great rhythm as a team, they’ve found that they are not able to do everything themselves.
“If I’m doing fifty different things, I can’t give 100% focus to things like content, and those other tasks we “should” be doing,” says Kevin. “As a founder, you can’t do it all, so you end up feeling guilty about it.”
Many founders do try to do it all and risk burnout or diminished results where they don’t have the time to devote enough focus. This is a good reason why founders shouldn’t try to do it all. In our society, which often seems to put those who martyr themselves to work on a pedestal, it’s easy to feel the pressure to always be doing more. Busy, busy, busy has become a way of life. It totally suits some people, but for others, it is a recipe for poor health and poor performance.
Managing “founder guilt”
We asked Kevin about how he dealt with founder guilt and what he might say to other founders:
“I think the first thing you need to do is recognize that all founders feel that guilt, so you’re not the only one,” Kevin says. “I’ve spoken to founders who have millions in funding, a big team and they feel constant pressure to do more as well.”
“In some ways that pressure can be good – it keeps you motivated and moving toward your goal. The problem comes when the pressure becomes too much and you become frantic, which definitely isn’t helpful for anyone,” says Kevin.
“This has definitely happened to me in the past and the only remedy I found is to take some time away from work. That might be taking a day off, going for a nice lunch or just reading a book during the daytime. It’s surprising how even a little distance can bring new perspective and enthusiasm.”
Kevin and Eoin also manage by finding other ways to get essential tasks done. They’ve remained a two-person team; however, they have taken advantage of outsourcing for several different tasks, even some which they specialize in themselves.
Bringing in outside help
One of the things Kevin revealed that surprised us was that he sometimes outsources design work. As he is a designer by profession, we wondered about his decision to do this and how he gets comfortable with letting go of something that he is so proficient at himself.
“Initially it was born out of necessity,” Kevin says. “There just weren’t enough hours in the day to finish what needed to be done. So it was a choice between the quality of the work suffering or just letting someone else do it.”
“Also, the busier I got with non-design projects the harder it was to switch back into a design mindset,” he says. “This meant that getting started on a new design project took me longer than it would have previously, which was quite frustrating. This ultimately took some of the enjoyment out of the design process, and it’s much easier to outsource something that you’re not really enjoying anymore.”
Besides helping to alleviate the context switch between tasks, outsourcing has helped Kevin with gaining a fresh perspective at times when he felt it was needed:
“I have my design style fairly well-established,” he says. A third-party from time-to-time can bring some fresh air to things.”
This is such a great point. Founders often feel that they have to hang onto as much as possible, especially the things that are their particular specialty. It’s a very healthy perspective to acknowledge that sometimes, bringing someone else in can give you a much-needed refresh.
Partnerships: Another way to share the workload
An area that Kevin and Eoin have worked on is growing outside partnerships with other businesses. This is a great way to share resources, but also to spread some of the workload you may otherwise have.
“Our partnerships are all on the marketing side of the business and our strategy is to find products that complement ours,” Kevin says. “So if you put Beacon together with another piece of software and it allows both sets of users to achieve something great then it’s an easy sell.”
How does this work for them as an asset for managing their work? “In terms of spreading the workload, the biggest benefit is in amplifying our reach,” says Kevin. “For example, if we do a shared webinar with a partner then we could get our product in front of thousands of new people. To reach those people organically would take much longer and probably require some sort of ad spend.”
Strategic partnerships still involve work from both parties, but that work can bring better results than doing everything on your own. It’s another way founders can say, “Hey, I can’t do it all myself, but when we work together, it can benefit us both.”
While there is often a lot of pressure on founders to do more and more, it’s a simple fact that no one can do it all (and do it well), at least over the long term.
It’s good to push yourself, set goals and accomplish new challenges, but it’s also important to acknowledge that you do have limitations. Every founder does, and they all often feel guilt over it.
In taking a beat to assess and acknowledge your limitations, it is the first step to finding solutions to manage them.