On this episode of the podcast I interview Gv Freeman about the importance of self-care for founders. Gv is a tech startup coach, fractional CMO, founder, internationally recognized speaker and author. He frequently consults with software and professional service companies to better align their marketing, sales, and product development processes.
How Gv started working with SaaS founders
He started out as a DJ for almost 15 years and this gave him a lot of experience of being in front of people and learning how to read a room and figure out if your music or message was resonating.
In 2003 he started a digital agency in the Central Nebraska before digital agencies became really popular. He was building web-based database driven applications in 2006-2007 before SaaS was a thing.
He has spent the last 10 years consulting and helping founders and companies launch their startups as well packaging them for go to market.
How his journey into self-care started
He bought a Groupon for a yoga class in 2012 while preparing for a marathon he wanted to participate in. He bought 15 yoga classes for about $30 and he finished his yoga teacher training within a year in 2013.
He teaches yoga on the side and does a lot of mindfulness work. He also follows a shamanic path and did sacred medicine work in Peru. He is interested in anything that helps people find their true passion, their true Dharma in life and figure out how that makes true happiness.
How SaaS founders should start addressing the issue of self-care
We need to start with 10 to 15 years of baggage from people who have been telling founders to work 18 hours days non-stop, to have a side hustle for their side hustle. His hashtag is stop crushing it, while it is important for founders to work hard, they don’t need to do it at the detriment of their emotional health.
This is gradually changing as there are VC firms that are devoting a portion of their investment dollars to self-care and therapy for their founders and founding team.
In this industry people often believe self-care isn’t important especially in the beginning, but it gradually sneaks up on you if you ignore it. You won’t know what is happening until you can’t get out of bed or you are always blowing up at your founders, co-founders or your team or until your marriage falls apart.
The stage founders often consult about self care
He typically works with two types of founders. They are either starting at zero or they are broken.
Most times the broken ones are making between $2million to $5million but there are things that are broken about the company or the culture or about their life. They worked really hard to build this amazing thing and once they have built it, they look back at the last one to ten years of their life and find out that they are still not happy.
The people that are just starting out, usually have an idea but they don’t have a product in the market, they are just trying to build their first thing and it is confusing because there is no roadmap or what they used in the past was not good.
The biggest problem Gv uncovers with broken SaaS founders
From a selfcare perspective most of the founders he works with have not been taught how to separate their feeling from their actions. A quick example is anger. While anger is a perfectly healthy emotion to have, acting out on that anger is often times unhealthy.
He shares an experience he had with a founder who called him because his company was not growing, while sitting in the room with the founder, he made a comment and the founder got so angry that he yelled at him and slammed his fist on the table.
A lot of people erroneously think that it is right to express their anger is via physical ways.
A common founder selfcare problem from the business perspective
He specifically deals with misalignment, the misalignment also affects the selfcare as well. A major problem he has observed for new SaaS founders is a misalignment between product, marketing and sales, the product does one thing, marketing sells it in a different way and sales sell it in a different way.
By the time the product gets to the customer, the customer doesn’t get what they thought they were going to get.
If you have three separate departments and three different people running those three departments, there is a high chance that there is a lot of misalignment between the three of them.
How founders can address the misalignment issue
According to Buddhism or Hinduism the cause of suffering is ignorance. While it is fundamentally as simple as that, it is complicated.
What makes us happy in our teens and 20s doesn’t necessarily make us happy in our 30s and 40s. As we grow older, the things that make us happy change.
Mindfulness is very important and it is non-judgmental awareness. Whether you are a brand new founder or you have been doing it for 10 or 20 years, you need to slow down and realize how you feel about your day to day work, this is the first step to finding some peace and happiness.
Strategies to help founders focus on self-care
The common Western tradition is to work for 50 weeks and then go on a big vacation to destress. During the vacation you end up jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving and drinking a lot of alcohol which ends up putting more stress and harm on the body.
He uses the 80/20 rule when working with founders. You spend 80% of the time working on your business and 20% of the time working on your self-care.
That would mean allocating some time in an eight hours workday to focus on self-care.
He categorizes thing into four bodies. The physical body entails activities like going to the gym and eating healthy.
You might listen to a Brene Brown podcast or read a book on how to be happy which he calls your mental body.
As you are reading the Brene Brown book she talks about feelings, vulnerability and other things you have not addressed before and as you begin to work on them you move into the emotional body.
The emotional body usually requires the help of a therapist, mentor or coach in the beginning.
The spiritual body entails finding your purpose in life and it deals with God or a power greater than ourselves. It is about what makes us happy, content and who we are as human beings. Doing that inner study is what he refers to as the spiritual path.
You can go to the gym for an hour, eat an healthy meal for 30 minutes and meditate for 30 minutes, you can do that in an eight hour workday.
How to identify problems in our selfcare
We are not trained to associate with happy nearly as much as unhappy or sad. When we are about three years old, our parents start to say No to us about 80% of the time, stop touching that, don’t do that again.
By the time we reach adulthood, 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of those thoughts are repetitive.
There is a study that shows that founders are two times more likely to have a mental health condition, two times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from ADHD, three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse, ten times more likely to develop bipolar conditions, double the amount of psychiatric hospitalization and double the amount of suicidal thoughts. This shows that founders have not been taking care of themselves very well.
If 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of them are repetitive, we need to start untangling these thoughts.
How to think of something positive
Selfcare strategists need to become not only preventionists but interventionalists because if the negative thoughts are already there then there is need for intervention.
We only assign negative and positive, our thoughts by themselves are not negative and positive. They are just thoughts, we get to choose whether we want to make them negative or positive.
The way out for a founder who works 15 hours a day, has a family and is stressed out
If you are working 15 to 20 hours a day on a regular basis, there is no healthy sustainable path to self-care that can be provided.
When you have a thought or a challenging situation, in the middle of the day, make use of the acronym stop.
S stands for stop what you are doing, pause, just take a moment
T stands for take a few deep breaths
O stands for observe your body and smile, the smile part is very important, if you can smile in a challenging situation, your entire mood, your body will change, it is the reason they tell telemarketers to smile on the phone.
P stands for proceed with kindness and compassion to others as best as you can.
If you have the chance you should also incorporate the 5S into your daily practice.
The first one is Sooth, it could be meditation, yoga or quiet time reading a book.
The next one is Sun, try and get some vitamin D, get outside
Then try and break a Sweat, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol leave our body through sweat
Get good Sleep
Finally find a way to Serve, be a volunteer
On a strategic level, focus on your sleep, reduce your stress, get sugar out of your body and develop a routine that is a strategic practice that you can adopt for your life.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
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