Dear Brit: 'I'm Freaked Out by Failure!'
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Brit Morin was 25 when she left Google to start Brit + Co, a lifestyle and education company aimed at helping women cultivate creative confidence. Now — 10 years, $50 million in funding and 1.2 billion pageviews later — Brit’s passion is empowering more women to take the entrepreneurial leap. She’s a managing partner at VC fund Offline Ventures, host of iHeartRadio podcast Teach Me Something New, creator of a 10-week start your own business course for women founders called “Selfmade,” and, most recently — Entrepreneur advice columnist. Find her here twice a month on Thursdays, answering the most personal and pressing questions of women entrepreneurs. Have a question for Brit? Email it to Dearbrit@brit.co and she could answer it in an upcoming column!
Feeling freaked out by failure
Dear Brit: What tips do you have for handling failure?
Let me start by letting you know that I am a Type A, Enneagram 3, certified “Achiever.” My only goal in life is to succeed and ensure that people recognize my achievements. I’ve gone through a lot of therapy to understand this about myself. (TL;DR: it all started when I was a little kid and got rewarded for good grades from my mom who suffered from terrible depression and otherwise didn’t often praise me.) So trust me when I say, I have had a hard time handling failure in my life.
What I’ve learned from all of this therapy and self-awareness is that failure is inevitable if you are trying to accomplish hard things. Failure is inevitable if you are trying something new. And most importantly, failure is inevitable if you don’t embrace it along the way.
I often joke with new entrepreneurs that the biggest difference between working for someone else and running a company is that when you’re working for someone else, you don’t have 20 mood swings all in the same day. As an entrepreneur, I spend every day (still, even after 10 years) elated, optimistic, angry and sad… all within the same work day. One moment you feel on top of the world; the next moment, a massive deal from a partner that you thought was a “slam dunk” pulls out.
When I was first starting, this constant failure wrecked my world and made me want to quit. But I forced myself to keep going and to focus on the little moments of hope and positivity while trying to learn from what wasn’t working. Little by little, the company kept growing, and to be honest, I frankly got apathetic to the failure — so long as I could learn from it.
The hardest failures are when an entrepreneur is actually forced to shut things down. We’ve come close to that point throughout the past 10 years and it’s indeed a dark place to be. I’ve watched many others go through it as well. And while the grieving period is real, the best part is coming out of it and being ready for a second shot at. As the great Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So why not take another?
Today, as a venture capitalist, I am specifically on the hunt for 2nd time founders. Whether their first company succeeded or failed, they learned lessons that will help them accelerate their new startups much more quickly than first time entrepreneurs. Paul, the CEO of Clubhouse (one of my Offline Ventures investments) is a great example of this. Clubhouse is his *third* startup and it just reached a $1B valuation without even being a year old. Do you think he’s okay with his prior failures at this point? The data suggests so.
Not cute: Too many cooks in the co-founder kitchen
Dear Brit: What if your co-founder is very demanding and you have very different working styles?
Ahhh, co-founders. It’s a hearty topic in the world of startups and there are pros and cons to having one. The pro is obviously that you have double the brain and energy capacity to operate at the highest level, so dividing and conquering is much easier. The con is that it functions like a marriage: If you don’t communicate and vibe well, things could end in a messy divorce which is obviously brutal for the children (aka your employees and users).
I’ve watched as many founders have learned to figure this out together. Some take clear ownership paths. For instance, my friends Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp (co-founders of Birchbox) chose to be “internal” (employees, culture, etc) and “external” (users, investors, partners). Because of this, they were hardly ever working on the same thing and therefore had the autonomy to lead in ways best suited to them. My other friends Julia and Kevin Hartz are another example. They’re co-founders of Eventbrite and an *actual* married couple. Double the co-founder fun!? I’ll never forget the wise words they told me once when explaining how they make it work: “Never edit the same spreadsheet.” This is slang for what I advised above: Operate in different lanes as much as you can!
My last tip for happy co-founder relationships is one that I would also give to a married couple: Seek out therapy before you need it. I’m a big believer in executive coaches (or what I call “work therapists”). Sometimes you are moving so fast while building your startup that you don’t pause to reflect on how you can show up as a better human and leader. A coach can sit down with you and your co-founder on a consistent basis to ensure that you are both communicating clearly — with each other and your team. It’s a gift that will pay for itself (hopefully in revenue) for years to come.
Girlfriend, give yourself the Lebron James treatment
Dear Brit: How do you prioritize self-care and mental health as an entrepreneur?
I find it fascinating that most of the culture around being an entrepreneur suggests that you must work all hours of the day, eat crappy food (or not eat at all), and do whatever possible — including skipping plans with friends and family — to make your company succeed. As a venture capitalist at Offline Ventures, we specifically put wellness clauses in our founders contracts to ensure they will NOT do these things.
If you were Lebron James and I just invested $10M into you as my star athlete, do you think I would ask you to do these things? The answer is obviously no, and it’s because you would probably play a terrible game. Just because startup founders are mental athletes does not mean they do not need to take care of themselves the same way a physical athlete might.
As an entrepreneur myself, especially one living in a Zoom world, I’ve put the following wellness guardrails in place for myself:
Three hours per day of “Deep Work” blocks: No meetings allowed during this time. It ensures that I have capacity to either catch up on email and other work, or more ideally, push away the nitty gritty logistical work to do some bigger thinking.
Fridays end at 1pm. This is a new (and challenging) one for me as of January, but given that I wear multiple hats (Brit + Co, Selfmade and Offline Ventures) and that I am a mom of two young kids, I hardly have any time for myself and my own personal development. So Friday afternoons have become my creative block. I force myself off the computer and into a creative project like baking, painting or photography. Creativity is my meditation and I’m so happy to have it back in my life.
Exercise at least four times a week.
Intermittent fasting. I stop eating around 7pm and don’t eat again until 9am.
Sleeping at least 8-9 hours per night at least 5 times a week (I have to be a realist — there are a couple days per week where it’s 6-7 hours).
Weekends are largely offline. I take long trail runs, do yoga, and hang with my husband and kids as much as possible. A hot bath is usually enjoyed as well, if I can squeeze it in.
Therapy every other week at minimum. I do all kinds of therapy: self therapy, couples therapy and family therapy. It’s been an amazing way to create much deeper connections with those I love most while also learning how to fully show up as myself in any relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, I got it wrong for many years as a new entrepreneur. But after doing this for a decade, I’ve learned to optimize myself first and then I can optimize my business.