Toxic snake

We had a new mastermind member. Everyone was supposed to present their business, with MRRs. Suddenly I felt very inadequate and heard myself saying: “It’s not much, but what’s left after the costs is way more than an average Scandinavian earns.”

I started a poisonous cycle of comparisons.

One of my friends has a beautiful one-man business that he runs with just a handful of hours. It’s one of my favourite businesses. Yet, yesterday I found him comparing his business to ConvertKit’s recent growth and feeling small.

I haven’t talked with Nathan about this, but I’d bet he does the same thing too. I wonder who he compares himself to? Maybe to Adii, who exited with his pockets full of green and now runs Receiptful.

And Adii? He has often written about how he feels a pressure to go on, wanting to prove himself that he’s not a one-hit wonder.

It’s a never-ending cycle.

The atmosphere of comparison and judgement

You know people do this in business and startup world. Everyone compares to others, measuring success by revenue. You know you will get compared to. You know you’ll be judged. In the worst case you fail and everyone else seems to know better what you should have done.

Sometimes if can be inspirational - you’ll get that “I could do that too!”-feeling. But most of the time it’s just toxic. Why?

Because as Jason Cohen wrote, our identity gets mingled up with our work. It’s not a comparison of two businesses, it’s a comparison of us.

I’m not really judging you when I compare myself to you - I’m judging myself, feeling “I’m not enough”. It is the mindset of scarcity running through me, and it has nothing to do with money. No amount of money will cure it, because it wasn’t caused by the lack of money. The only way to feel that you’re enough is to accept where you are and who you are right now. You are enough.

There’s also another reason - the comparison made with revenue is not a fair comparison at all:

"The price of anything is the amount of life you pay for it."

– Thoreau

It’s not just the money you make - it’s the money you make and the price you pay for making that money. The life you lost.

How to measure “life lost”?

Trying to measure lost opportunities is just too vague. As a recovering workaholic I suggest we start by trying to measure the time lost. How many hours do you spend on working in your business?

I currently work 2-3h per day, 5 days per week. I struggle working this little even though it’s a conscious decision, so I’d say I ruin maybe 4h per week to worrying. It doesn’t matter that I enjoy working - the time was invested, the opportunities to use it on something else were lost.

Investing is better than actively working in the business. Managing employees is better than trying to do everything yourself. Automating everything is better than managing employees.

Are the other ways to measure life lost? Life gets lost in suffering.

There are plenty of things in a business that can cause day-to-day worries:

  • Customers
  • Bad cost structure
  • Employees
  • Business lifetime

Customers

When you don’t have them, you worry. When you have them, you worry about losing them and taking care of them.

Marketing can be a struggle, especially its cost and scaleability. You can be in pain because you already had something that worked, but were trying too many things at the same time and don’t now know what worked and what didn’t.

Support is something I struggle with. I enjoy doing the support, but I’d sure love a good 2-3 week vacation. I’ve automated a ton of things and get very little support requests - too few to hire anyone. I also feel that I can’t just outsource the support as it’s about financial data. So I don’t have enough work for a full time person, yet I can’t hire a part-time fellow. Should the business start growing heavily now… I’d be in trouble until I had the support person at place.

Bad cost structure

There are two types of costs - fixed and variable. The fixed costs, like salaries, don’t scale down automatically if your top line revenue goes down. The variable costs grow in proportion to the top line. Stripe fees are a good example of that.

If you have a lot of fixed costs, your business is fragile to fluctuations. Nathan’s business was very fragile for a good while and he took a huge risk with it. I can’t imagine the pressures coming from that kind of a situation. I like to keep a minimum runway of 6-9 months in my business, but that’s not really a reality for a bigger business.

Employees

Jason Cohen told [in an interview] how he kept having sleepless nights, because he was mentally running over and over a scenario where customers would leave and he wasn’t able to pay to the employees. It’s much easier to scale down a service than fire people.

People = overhead = worry.

In the old days we used to multiply the salary by 2 to calculate the true cost of an employee. Now when people are working remote, lots of that cost has gone away. But still, more employees, more the company has to earn. More pressure. Plus the drama.

BuiltWith is a nice example of a business that has skipped most of that and still grown big.

Business lifetime

No matter how brilliant, the business isn’t going to be alive forever. You might be dependent on marketplace, API or technology that’s going away some day. People might change how they work and your app might become obsolete.

Almost everyone I know worries about this, so one could say that we are all in the same line. Yet, for some businesses the probability of living tens of years is much higher than for others.

Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides

Comparing your business to someone else’s is as fruitless as comparing yourself to the Joneses. As long as you don’t see the insides of other people’s business, you’ll be comparing your insides to other people’s outsides. Each business is happy and unhappy in their own special way. Be proud that you’re out there, you’re in the game.

That’s what matters at the end of the day. No matter what thrills you get from the business, you’re so much more than your business. You’re enough.

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