Getting through the Ramen Phase of Your Early Stage Startup

1.) Think of a great idea. 2) Organize a team around said idea. 3) Launch product. 4) Become a billionaire.

If you take media’s word for it, you would think that this is the trajectory of the average startup. What this overlooks is the arduous times between step one and step four. I like to call this the Ramen Phase. It’s when you’re working 80 hour weeks and bootstrapping to make ends meet. You have little money and life balance, but you have an abundance of drive and passion.


It’s this phase that separates the faux entrepreneurs from the real ones. The hard truth is that 25% of startups fail in the first year. I think that’s because the Ramen Phase becomes overwhelming and a lot of people can’t handle it. But it can be done. And if you do the following tips, the Ramen Phase will be more bearable.

Prevent Burn Out by Staying Focused

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

Running a startup will consume your life. The volatile emotional high and lows alone are enough to wear out even the most stable people. To prevent burn out, it is important that you stay motivated. Zig Ziglar’s sage advice is a reminder that even motivation needs to be replenished. You can’t run on empty for long.

Stay focused by celebrating the small wins. You may not be the next Facebook yet, but chances are that within a few months of the startup life, you’re already doing things you thought were impossible just a year ago.

Surround yourself with inspiration. It could be as small as the napkin you first sketched out your idea on. It just needs to remind why you’re putting yourself through this. If you’re not a fan of physical trinkets, make an inspirational Pinterest board filled with quotes and images that motivate you.

Take Advantage of the Side Gig

Sometimes yoga or meditation is not enough to keep stress at bay. You just need to tackle the stress at its source. And if you’re running a startup (and even if you aren’t), chances are that (the lack of) money is your number one source of stress.

But as a founder, you can’t just get a regular 9-5. You need a source of income that fits your schedule. Thankfully, there are side gigs you can do to help you stay afloat while promoting your startup.

Teach a Skillshare class – Use your class to establish yourself as a thought leader while earning some extra cash. This is also a great way to hone your public speaking.

Start freelancing for Taskrabbit – With Taskrabbit, the list of things you can do to earn extra money is endless. Whether you’re cleaning, being a personal assistant, or helping someone move, use every personal interaction as a networking opportunity. You’ll be evangelizing and getting paid at the same time.

Become an Uber driver – Leave flyers and business cards around the car and network with your clients. It’s a great way to spread word of mouth.

Drive or ride for WunWun or Postmate – Both of these apps help people get delivery from their favorite places. There are no set hours. You just have to download the apps and then tell them when you are available to make deliveries using your car or bike. If you do the latter, you’ll be earning cash while exercising (a.k.a. free stress relief). And you can turn your bike into the ultimate advertising machine. Plaster it with decals about your startup. You never know who’ll see it.

Rent out your apartment on Airbnb – This is actually a great way to network. Take note of special events and conferences happening in your town, and make sure your apartment is available to be rented at those times. The great thing about Airbnb is that you can meet some truly amazing people, including VCs that are in town for the night.

Find Your Stress Release

There’s a popular story about a psychologist explaining stress management to a group of people. She compares stress to a glass of water. On its own a glass of water doesn’t weigh much. But the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes. The lesson is that little stresses that aren’t dealt with eventually evolve into big stresses that weigh us down.

There are few things more stressful that being in charge of an early stage startup. It’s just what comes with job. But your body is not meant to carry around stress all day everyday. Eventually it will wear you down and turn into chronic stress. And that can have some dire physical effects on your body, wallet, and life. It’s not talked about openly, but depression is a real side-effect of being a co-founder. And stress and depression go hand in hand.

You don’t want your emotional and mental wellness to get out of control, so make sure you have an outlet. Play ping pong, sweat it out at the gym, go for a run or play video games. Do whatever you need to do to release stress. And the lower your stress, the better you’ll be at handling the many challenges that will come your way.

Go Back to School

As soon as you decide to get your idea off the ground, enroll in two types of classes: mediation and public speaking.

Since many people begin their startup journey with their closest friends, few people expect  to have major conflicts with their co-founders. But it happens, a lot. A whopping 62% of startups fail because of a founding team conflict. However, just because you disagree from time to time that doesn’t mean you need to go your separate ways or lose a friend. Learning how to resolve conflict is an integral skill that will make sure your startup isn’t stalled because of incessant bickering. Mediation classes give you the tools and vocabulary to resolve conflicts swiftly and efficiently.

As a startup founder you’re constantly pitching to whoever will lend an ear–the maintenance guy, your friends and family, investors, etc. You could have the greatest idea in the world, but if you don’t know how to articulate it well, no one will believe in your product or service. And they will not give you their money. Public speaking classes will help you get comfortable addressing a room of people. Your confidence will increase and pitch day will go much smoother.

Ready to start your project?

Learn how ThinkApps can get your product launched faster, better, and with more value than you knew was possible.

@ThinkApps on Twitter