This FounderTalk guest post was written by Scott Lewallen. He co-founded Grindr in 2009 and is currently founder and CEO of Mezic Media. You can also find him advising entrepreneurs on the FD:Advisor network.
Five years ago, I launched Grindr, and found myself thrust into the spotlight as a leader and co-founder of a disruptive technology and social phenomenon. As I sailed into the wild frontier of mobile apps and location-based dating, I asked myself daily – Will I be successful?
The short answer is – YES!
If you put in the hours and passion to pursue what you want to accomplish, something will happen. Working hard pays off. Sometimes, you hit obstacles and they suck. But those obstacles are powerful moments of reflection that can change you, your company, and your life.
I want to share these so-called obstacles, and how the questions they presented to me helped me grow both as a leader, and as a person.
Am I Enough?
Grindr was the first mainstream gay geo-social app to launch in the iTunes App Store. We, the founding team who built a product in a garage, gained press coverage overnight. They called us “The Hot New Gay App.” Everyone wanted to join the party. The world wanted to get on Grindr.
So here I was, at a hot new company, with my hard work paying off, and a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and I still felt inadequate at times. I questioned myself. Do I know what I’m doing? I doubted everything. Was this color scheme okay? Does the user interface have enough personality? Can the average gay guy figure this out? Self doubt haunted me. We had reached a certain app ‘celebrity’ status and I continued to wonder if I was good enough to be here.
An actor friend of mine, Robert Mercado, offered some valuable insight:
“We’re all flawed. We’re human. We make mistakes. If you didn’t screw up you’d be boring. You would lose your creativity. I try to make it a habit and make at least ten mistakes a day. Mistakes are a gift from the universe.”
It made sense to me; realizing and accepting the fact that I was human, that I was flawed, and that I would make mistakes made me feel empowered, but free. It was like inhaling a breath of fresh air at the top of a mountain. It was not only okay to feel this way, it was a part of creative growth. If I was going to lead and succeed, I had to accept that I was a human being.
Can I Please Do Everything?
I’ve always been a stubborn perfectionist – the kind of person who insists that the accent towels in the bathroom are for aesthetic purposes only and should not be used as a hand towel. Period. I do things the right way, or ‘My Way,’ mostly because I want to do everything, every last detail of every project. Every pixel, every word, and every edit.
During my journey co-founding Grindr, I learned to gradually let go of this minutiae or absolutely nothing was ever going to get done. I refocused my passion for hands-on creativity into building and trusting my team, and through that produced the success that lingers today at Grindr.
When a startup transcends from bar-napkin sketches to a fast growing company, it’s impossible to do everything yourself. I had to embrace the fact that I was just one person, and it was challenging to let go. I was so used to doing everything. The idea of delegation haunted me.
Sometimes I would be offsite for day-long meetings, or out of town at a conference; yet, the deadlines loomed. And I learned, through trial and error, by assembling a talented and trustworthy team, discussing timelines and goals as a group, and allowing my team to thrive and trust intuition, the results were vastly superior than if I had micromanaged every step of the way.
I set up daily standing meetings, favoring Agile/Scrum methodology over waterfall, where we’d collaboratively share each morning what we’d accomplished, what we were working on, challenges, successes, and anything else anecdotal or interesting.
I found myself empathizing with my employees, “If I was in his position, how would I want to be talked to? How would I want to handle this design project? How could I improve this product?”
And that’s how I talked to my team, to them, not at them, or down to them, but laterally with respect, as colleagues and equals.
Trusting my team opened up an arena of new ideas that I would have never thought of on my own. I know now that I don’t have to do everything myself, and honestly it’s quite a relief. It has given me the opportunity to focus on the bigger picture and enjoy what I do more than ever.
Am I Insane?
In the early days of a startup, there are moments of pressure and chaos that make you question your sanity. Especially in the early days, when it’s just you or a handful of people doing the heavy lifting, you will find yourself on the verge of breaking down. I have many times.
Guess what? One day you just get tired of it. You give in. One day you let go. You stop fighting against the stream of sanity. I realized that daily tugs of war were not only inevitable, they were vital to the success of business and personal fulfillment. Moments of chaos became moments of clarity.
Don’t be afraid to escape the office for a while and take a breather. Go grab some Starbucks, take out a sketchpad and doodle for an hour, treat your team to a movie, or do something you find relaxing. Don’t fight the insanity, or your humanity. Recognize that it is all part of the process.
Am I Happy?
Sometimes in the routine of managing a company, it becomes easy to create a robotic template of your life. Wake up. Clock In. Coffee. Meeting. Work. Eat. Meeting. Sleep. Repeat.
I settled into this pattern, guilty of complacency. It was so easy to forget any world outside of what I was doing. I would forget to stop and ask myself if I was happy. I didn’t want to become a work zombie, so I decided I had to change my lifestyle in order to achieve an optimal quality of life, a quality of life that, for me, included more smiling and laughing.
Happiness cannot be bought or manufactured. Happiness is a state of mind above everything else, and a happy approach to businessstarts with you. It’s infectious, inspiring, and will challenge you to approach everyday with a spark. Creating happiness for yourself will spread to the people around you. It’s tangible, it’s breathable, it’s obvious, and as a founder and creator it is vital to YOUR success.I learned not to take myself so seriously, and appreciate the process and the journey. I began charting my moods, and checking in with myself daily to ask myself if I was happy. I made a promise to that if the answer was No, I would find ways of adjusting my approach to my work, my peers, and my personal life to change that answer to a defiant and beaming “Yes, I am happy!”
One year ago, I left Grindr with an award-winning legacy of design, experience, recognition, and the world’s largest gay mobile app community. I resurrected my consultancy, Mezic Media, to create brands, apps, and products that people love. I created happiness for myself, and hopefully for the people I touched along the way. It made me feel wonderful.
I make mistakes daily – often by chance, and frequently on purpose. I push myself beyond my comfort zone. I take risks, and get lost, simply to challenge myself to find a way home.
So go ahead and have your doubts, worries, and mental breakdowns. Madness is what makes you a beautiful, passionate, and flawed human being.
When you find that moment of clarity in the chaos of starting your own company, you will be happy.
Get more of Scott’s wisdom (along with other advisors) on the network here. Have an honest founder story to tell? Get in touch!