Jupiter’s Robbie Salter On The Emotional Roller Coaster Of Entrepreneurship

Starting a company is incredibly difficult. Physically and fiscally, sure, but emotionally, look out. And there’s no way around it. It just is. While it’s easy to look at the big OG direct-to-consumer beauty brands (e.g., Harry’s, Glossier, Billie) and think that success happens overnight, anyone on the inside would agree that growing a business is a mental fucking roller coaster that goes on and on.

How do I know? Because I launched one myself. My two partners and I established Jupiter with a simple proposition: Deliver gorgeous hair by focusing on the scalp. Whether you have flakes, itch or simply want a magnificent mane, we’re the brand for you. Our mission is personal. We dealt with scalp discomfort and were unsatisfied with the available options. Bad hair days impacted our confidence, and we wanted good hair days to make us feel good—and wanted them for others, too.

We introduced Jupiter in May 2020, arguably the worst moment in the past 100 years to launch a business. COVID was getting serious, and Black Lives Matter protests were at their peak. On top of that, my wife was seven months into a rough pregnancy. We had recently become puppy parents and first-time homeowners, and I had quit a well-paying job to concentrate on Jupiter. I was…uniquely sensitive.

But, in fact, I wasn’t unique. The reality of entrepreneurship is that it’s a bumpy road no matter what’s going on in your life, one that makes us constantly reflect on and challenge our own capabilities, commitment and relationships. Social media, which most of us rely on to reach our audiences, doesn’t make it any easier.

What can we do to counter the emotional drains of being a founder? Read on for information and inspiration.

Dismantling mental health stigmas

Despite all the mental health apps and therapists trying to break stigmas around mental heathy, they still exist. In 2019, an American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll found that about half of employees were hesitant to discuss mental health issues at work. Over a third thought they might be fired or punished for seeking mental health care. The stigma may even be worse in entrepreneurial circles where toughness and “a thick skin” are expectations.

Research shows time and time again that, when we openly talk about a stigmatized subject, the stigma fades. It follows that the more we actually own up to our struggles, and the more we talk about those struggles, the more the overall temperature of our feelings can diminish.

Alleyoop CEO and founder Leila Kashani Manshoory

Gaining perspective when you’re blindsided

Just after Leila Kashani Manshoory launched the beauty essentials specialist Alleyoop in 2019, the pandemic hit. As the company’s founder, she felt responsible for her team’s emotional state and took on the role of therapist. Meanwhile, she was in the early stages of a pregnancy while caring for her 3-year-old at home. Amid high stress levels, she miscarried.

At that moment, Kashani Manshoory realized she needed to prioritize herself. “Before this situation, I assumed there were zero boundaries when being a founder,” she says. “This is something a lot of entrepreneurs know they need to do, but sometimes it takes hitting a certain point to really take action. Kashani Manshoory has learned to keep a beneficial emotional distance from work in order to roll with the punches. “This has made an incredible change in my mental and physical health.”

Lulu Ge also founded her company, Elix, a platform providing access to personalized herbals for menstrual and hormonal health, a week before the pandemic disrupted life in the United States. Immediately, the company was forced to cancel 12 weeks of in-person events it had spent months planning. Worse, it had been anticipating fundraising in the spring, but many investors paused new investments. Without access to fresh capital, Elix had to pivot into firefighting mode to determine the next phase of the business.

Ge tapped her network of mentors and other founders for advice, and they helped her strategize on how to cut costs and build a virtual event offering. With all these efforts, Elix grew 1,200% in their first year, she says. “My biggest lesson: never be too prideful to ask for help, especially during times of unprecedented crisis,” emphasizes Ge. “Being honest and open about our challenges helped us find creative ways forward.”

Ge adds, “I love that there are more and more startups with a triple bottom-line vision: aiming to do good for humanity while earning a positive financial return. There is space for us to reimagine how business is done, which, to me, extends beyond natural resources and financial capital, but also to our human capital.”

Climbing out of comparisons

For the first six months or so after Jupiter’s launch, I was obsessed with my competition. I was constantly thinking, “A competitor has 3X our funding? They’ve crossed a revenue threshold? A celebrity is using their products? Are we as good as I think we are? Are they stronger than I thought?”

It turns out, when you get out of your head, the questions begin to quiet. If you really attempted to inquire further, you might find that reality doesn’t meet the feed.

Let’s return to Alleyoop. Kashani Manshoory told me a story about a female founder she followed on Instagram proclaiming how easy it was for her to convince venture capitalists to invest in her pre-product and pre-revenue startup. She says, “I remember thinking, ‘Where is she finding these investors? And how is she able to do this?’ Everyone we spoke to wanted to see real customer traction before investing.”

Months later, Kashani Manshoory met the founder, who confessed that she had invested too much into building a product that no one was buying, and her investors were pressuring her to make decisions she didn’t agree with in order to keep the business afloat. She eventually wound down the business.

As founders, we are all on our own respective journeys building toward our unique vision. We have to remember that, regardless of how easy it looks for someone on Instagram or in the press, you don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. And if the deluge of social media becomes too much, log off. It’s OK.

Coping with founder stress and anxiety

We all need time away from the grind to keep ourselves grounded—and how we choose to spend that time can be incredibly impactful. Kashani Manshoory practices Vedic meditation. Any form of meditation can reduce stress and even clinically lower anxiety.

But she doesn’t only head inward. Kashani Manshoory is a big believer in the importance of mentorship. “It can be a lonely road. Even if you’re doing it with someone else, we all handle emotions and stress differently,” she says. Kashani Manshoory has a life coach and multiple investors serving as business coaches.

Ge stops screen time, including television and social media, one to two hours before bed. She ends her busy days with meditation or education, and sticks to material that suits her mind space. When she uses social media, she tries “to follow feel-good content and unfollow anything that makes me feel not so good inside.”

Elix founder Lulu Ge

Ending with hope

It’s helpful to remind ourselves why we started a company in the first place. Then, remember it’s not a winner-take-all race. If we can agree to those two principles, we can perhaps shift our mindset to focusing on our own paths.

If that doesn’t do the trick, talk to someone. Share your feelings with those you can trust like your therapist or life partner. Join Slack or other affinity groups to ping questions and experiences off of other members. Even if you’re on different trajectories or confronting different challenges, people generally want to help, they want to relate, and they want to feel supported like you do. It’s amazing where being vulnerable can lead.

That brings me to the next point: awareness. Be aware of your insecurities and endeavor to figure out whether or not they deserve attention. Think about the source of your insecurities and whether or not exploring them further with a professional might be worth your time and money. The 45 minutes I spend each week with my therapist is precious time I have to reflect and push myself on the “why” of what and how I’m feeling.

As a parting note, it strikes me as more than a coincidence that the word “practice” is central to both therapy and meditation. Ultimately, what we’re all doing is practicing on a daily basis, trying our best to reach the impossible state of perfection while accepting that we’re just human.

So, if you’re struggling with the emotional roller coaster ride of launching your business, remember other founders like Kashani Manshoory at Alleyoop, Ge at Elix or me at Jupiter. My hope is that we might offer examples for people to normalize and address that it can get bumpy, but there are various escape hatches that can lessen the turbulence and shut out unconstructive noise. Those are steps to building a better world, no matter what else we’re building.