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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

Pause

This is really hard saying this out loud, but I had decided to press pause on my new startup.

I've been fretting about whether to share this publicly for the biggest part of the last two weeks, which has mostly just resulted in procrastination. But when I started working on PublicBeta, I committed to an "always in public, always in beta" mantra and it's with that spirit that I would like to share my decision and the reasons for that decision.

(At a later stage, I'm keen to explore and share my learnings from this experience, but for now - the reasons below will prove context - everything is too raw and noisy for me to coherently share the learnings.)


Why?

I guess the first outside assumption would probably be that I had simply failed. That wasn't the case though. In fact, I sometimes wish that PublicBeta was just a dud, which would've made this decision so much easier.

The truth is that I had made loads of (new) mistakes in the last couple of months, which was actually one of the things I set out to do with my new startup. Traction was okay-ish (all things considering) and we were going to reach break even by the end of the month. Nothing spectacular, but all of the evidence was there that we were working on something that could turn into a nice business (I don't know whether that means $10k / $100k / $1m a month).

The real reason for pressing pause is that I sucked.

When I made the decision to press pause two weeks ago, we were working on our third iteration (not a full-blown pivot, but another re-prioritization of our roadmap and USP). The realization that we had iterated 3 times in as many months was indicative of where head was (or effectively, wasn't): I was flip-flopping and if I continued down that path, I would eventually kill PublicBeta.

Every time I sat down to find the signals amongst all of the noise, I came to one very concise conclusion: I need to lead. The ultimate responsibility (for the success of PublicBeta) is my own.

And every time that I wrote those words down in my notebook, I felt a death-like tiredness. Not inspiration, not passion and not drive; just fatigue.

It's been a tough year.

I've had a really challenging year, but outside of my marriage and a few trusted friends, I've not been able to share that. I've not been able to write about it (which is a massive coping mechanism for me), because it a) would've probably done more harm than good; and b) probably be very undiplomatic.

So instead of just revealing the skeletons in my closet, I hid behind hypothetical words. I'd tell you that the second time is harder, even though these unrevealed skeletons made a big contribution to making it harder. Or I'd say that I was merely faking the dream, which was actually my way of crying out for help.

As much as I wanted to ask for help, it felt like I was bound and gagged by rules to which I never consented.

My year started towards the end of January this year, when I started working on two plans:

  1. I started preparing things to enable me to exit from WooThemes; and
  2. I wanted to have a soft-landing, which meant immediately starting work on my new startup.

Everything that happened since is a blur if I'm honest. Having spent so much time trying to stay ahead of the curve (to create the outcome I so desired), I found myself in situations, interactions and decisions where I was merely lost. There was no map or a pre-written script; only the very rawness of all my emotions within those moments.

And for the biggest part of this journey I was a shitty person to be around; I was being toxic to the relationships fo those closest to me and I was ultimately being toxic to my new startup.

All of this came to a conclusion early in November: I had exited the company I had previously founded and except for history and sentiment, I had no more ties to that company.

The conclusion wasn't the difficult part. The process of getting there was however excruciating, because it felt like divorce. The shittiest kind.

Floodgates

The conclusion brought relief, but it also brought the realization of that death-like tiredness. Initially I attempted to battle it with the same gung-ho, JFDI-mindset that I tackle most things, but this only lasted in a very short burst of adrenaline.

It wasn't until I read this post by Marc Barros that I realized I might have a problem. And that opened the floodgates in my head and heart: for the first time in a very long time I felt like I was able to admit that I was unwell below the surface.

I subsequently cold e-mailed Marc and what he shared with me really resonated with me. So I started sharing my thoughts and emotions with more people and I was surprised to hear so many stories of similar struggles (one example is the first 10 minutes of this interview with Derek Sivers).

The irony in so much of this is that some PublicBeta members (customers) shared some really intimate stories with me after I told them of the decision. So the very people I was trying to help cope with the mental and emotional challenges of entrepreneurship ended up helping me figure things out.

This is what I figured out:

  • I was tired; not physically as much as mentally and emotionally. It was like I had drained my emotional bank account, but had bills to pay that were years in arrears.
  • I was suffering from leadership and decision fatigue, which meant that I was subconsciously avoiding both (the three iterations was a non-commitment to either of the preceding iterations). Every decision and every opportunity to lead instead felt like this.
  • In the last 6 years I had accumulated baggage in the form of regret, resentment and undistilled mistakes which needed to become lessons learnt. This is very personal stuff that had become a stumbling block to clarity in a new journey.
  • I only know one version of myself: Adii, the entrepreneur. That self-identity was my comfort zone, which meant that so many aspects of who I might actually be has been left untouched in favour of fueling the entrepreneur within me.

At this point I knew that it wasn't going to be possible for me to attend to these things whilst I had the overhead of a challenging new startup that is fighting for survival.

I needed to detox and recover from my addiction.

I also knew that if I imposed a goal or timeline to this recovery that I would just do what I always did: work harder and skim over the details. That mindset - however successful - only seems to plaster over the cracks though. And I want to fix those cracks.

Detox

I made the decision to press pause on PublicBeta two weeks ago.

What does that mean? It means that nothing is happening in or around PublicBeta at the moment. It also means that I may or may not come back to the previous vision some time in the future (whether that is next month, in a year or never).

It also means that I'm actively avoiding doing any real work at this stage. For the last two weeks, I've spent a lot of time offline and just lazing around, which has been a novel, first experience for me. I never did this in the last 6 years, because I was always chasing this ambition and feeding the beast.

In the New Year, I plan to spend time learning and doing things that are completely unrelated to startups, business or money. That might be finally learning to play a musical instrument or learning a new language. I might even decide that I just want to "become" a wine connoisseur, which mostly means drinking tasting loads of wine.

And I'll keep writing, because I love it and it is my therapy.

Eventually I know that I will start feeling better. I'll feel like I can conquer the world again by creating something of value; something that will help others.

I already have new ideas and new passion (some of which may see me returning to PublicBeta some time), and I know that somewhere in the next couple of months I'll again have the appetite and drive to execute on those. I know I love leading, I love making decisions and taking responsibility, so I know I'll eventually have that burning desire that'll have to quenched.

Since two weeks ago, all of this has however just been paused.

For now - and especially after I've finally been able to share this openly - it feels like I've had massive weight lifted from my shoulders.

And in this moment, I'm breathing that little bit easier.

Pause.


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