Managing your psychology as a founder

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from building and launching Astropad is this: managing your own psychology is not only the most difficult but also the most critical task as a founder.

When you’re working for someone else, it’s easy to blame your negativity and lack of productivity on problems around you. You might have found yourself thinking, “I’d get more done if I had an actual office that was quiet.” Or, “These product decisions are terrible, I’m so not motivated to work on this.”

When you’re on your own, a harsh reality sinks in: You are working in a quiet office of your choosing, and you are calling the shots on your own product. Yet you often find yourself unable to be productive, and you begin to wonder, “Was the problem just me all along?” Meanwhile, time is slipping away, support emails are stockpiling, there’s a list full of bugs to fix, we have endless features to add… a million things to do. Yet you are just stuck. You need to be making forward progress, but you’re not.

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It’s in moments like this where it is most important to regain control and manage your own psychology. We are all human, and moments like these are bound to happen. Maybe you’re in the trough of sorrow, and the number of users is falling precipitously after your launch. Or, maybe a competitor you didn’t know about just shipped, and you’re still months away from shipping. The important thing is that you pull yourself out of the downward spiral of negativity and get back on track.

Taking Action

In all these situations, you feel helpless and frustrated, but you need to stop being reactive and take control. Like everyone else, I struggle with this and don’t claim to have a silver bullet. However, I can share what has helped while building Astropad — which has always been to take action and do something. It doesn’t have to be huge and drastic; just do something so you don’t feel helpless.

For us, this happened when a related app launched with the same marketing message we were planning. The app even supported USB, which we had abandoned months before when Apple rejected our use of it (which is its own story). We were afraid that their launch had stolen our chance to shine and the novelty of what we were doing by using similar messaging.

After a day of feeling sorry for ourselves, we decided to make the best of it. We unveiled Astropad, which we had been developing for almost a year in secret. We publicly shared our frustrations with Apple and told our story. Our post got picked up and read by 20,000 people. From this, we got hundreds of sign ups for our launch list, and a fantastic pool of really excited beta testers. It seems so obvious in retrospect, but this reinvigorated us, and we continued to use that energy to release v1 a few months later.

Providing a sneak peak of Astropad and getting that initial list of interested users was one of the best things we ever did. We were able to confirm there was a real need for our product, and those sign-ups provided a boost when we needed it most. All of that happened only when we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and took action. So, next time you’re stuck feeling helpless, try taking action, and maybe you’ll turn lemons into lemonade. 

If you enjoyed this, follow Matt on Twitter at @mronge for future updates.