How to build a company without losing yourself

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After 6 years of entrepreneurship, I ended up feeling stressed, overwhelmed and with a bunch of questions like ‘What am I doing here?’, ‘Where is the joy of new beginnings?’, ‘How can I play more?’.

When you want to create something and put it out there into the world, you make a promise to yourself: to be (and to stay as long as you can) fresh, strong, joyful, and inspired. And you make a sometimes involuntary choice: to be vulnerable, to be open to changes, critics, judgments and, of course, accolades.

The act of creativity includes everything that someone takes from the world, filters through themselves, and lets it out transformed and new. Creators are businessmen, coaches, healers, dancers, singers and actors, freelancers, writers, researchers, and everything between.

Creation is messy. It’s bold. It reclaims all your attention, passion, and life. It's bloody and sweaty. It's consuming. It's powerful and it's a journey into the unknown. To be vulnerable, you have to take a naked trip into town. And if you have an online business, even better - it’s a naked worldwide journey.

It's never been easy. Don't let others fool you. It's not an all-day picnic, nor an early retirement on the beach.

Because vulnerability creates addiction. Why? In the moment you left all your masks on the table and go out as you truly are, you find a different kind of view. Of course, there will always be the critics, the naysayers, the newly "best" friends. But in the light of the day, the single person that matters and stands still is you.

Yes, powerful, invincible, amazing you!

I was never afraid to fail because my strongest value in life is courage. But this courage is an ongoing work - the longest hours, the secret anxieties, and the ugliest moments when I said "NO" to the things I really loved. I never thought I would lose something because I'm working for my dreams, but in the long run, I gave up to... pure, childish joy.

And this joy comes from the simple things: giving your partner a proper kiss in the morning, watching a movie or two, making angels in the snow, dancing like nobody's watching, taking a long, blissful lunch in the park, cooking a nice 3-course meal for your loved ones, playing with your kids and really listening to them, having a long afternoon coffee with an old friend and hugging him with a full heart, shopping on a Tuesday morning, taking a day off in the middle of the week to stay in bed with a book and a glass of wine.

In the society we are all living, these simple things are viewed just like... words, self-help bullshit, or something that you ‘will do later’. Next year. When you'll have the time, the money, the success, the breakthrough.

But you will never have that time.

This is the blunt truth. When you get all the money, success, awards - something else will come up. Even bigger responsibilities, and of course, bigger dreams. You will never have the time to slow down and enjoy life.

When I realized these things, I took a two-month break. Just for me, for my feelings, for my books, and my love. It was fabulous. And boring. I was frustrated, and felt useless. I was missing my work, but I felt it was really hard to start strong again and to move mountains.

And I paused for one question: how can we embrace the balance between work and personal life?

The answer came to me in a heartbeat: there is a special glue that keeps things in a perfect balance. And this glue is love.

If you turn on the love like a bright light over things, you will see the magic. Turn on the appreciation for the time you have, turn on the gratitude for your work and family, say yes to the things you love more. This is it and it works for me.

But my business is not very big, not very consuming. I have one responsibility - my happiness. If I were to have a huge impact, an unexpected growth, a team, and children, and I were to be very young and enthusiastic, maybe I would be overwhelmed.

So I went to someone else for advice.

Jonas Gyalokay is co-founder and CEO of Denmark-based Airtame, which at the time, was the highest-funded European Indiegogo campaign ever. (Airtame is a high-performance wireless HDMI dongle for businesses and schools). Jonas is 26 years old, has a beautiful wife and 2 children and a company which he grows year after year with passion and joy.

Let's ask him how he does all this.

Dear Jonas, first, nice to meet you! Second, I want to find out all your secrets.

1. How do you find a balance between life and work? Working in a constantly expanding and innovative company, do you have time for other dreams, for romantic dinners with your wife, for playing in the park with the kids? And if you do (I have a feeling that you do), tell us the secret, please!

Jonas Gyalokay: How do you find the balance between life and work? I don’t think there is just one secret, first of all. I've been thinking about it a lot and in some ways, I picture myself as a tightrope walker. You need to keep your balance all the way to the other side. And to keep your balance, you sometimes need to adjust your arms, your body, or sometimes your legs, so you don’t tilt over to either side and fall down. It’s the same thing when you try to balance all the important things, like family, work, your health.

With respect to dreaming, yes, you should always keep on dreaming. But dreaming shouldn’t be a passive thing. It should be about setting a vision for every important aspect of your life. An inspiring and clear vision is the best fuel to keep you going and stay focused on what matters.

Romantic dinners with my wife? Yes, but mostly at home right now, since we have a 4 year old and a seven month old. You have to get creative. Sometimes we tuck the kids in early on a Friday, then cook a nice meal together just the two of us.

Playing in the park with the kids? Not as often during winter in Copenhagen (it’s freezing!), but yes, spending time with my kids is probably my highest priority, along with investing in my relationship with my wife. I set time aside to be there with them in the present moment, without multitasking on my phone or thinking about work. It’s important not only for them, but for me, because it’s probably the best meditation exercise ever: playing with a giraffe and smiling with the people you love most in the world.

2. I've read all your articles about the Indiegogo campaign. Can you tell me more, please, about the first moment when you felt that something really huge is going on? I think we all have this kind of gut feeling, even if we don't recognize it, and it takes our breath away. And we never talk about it, because people will think we are crazy, or arrogant, or something.

J G: When Attila showed me his software prototype four years ago, he was able to share one computer screen to another computer screen without any cables. He typed some lines in the terminal and bam, there it was. Right away I just knew this was something amazing and I knew I wanted to help put it out into the world. I was like, “Man, that’s crazy! What if we can do that but to a big display, what if we could do that to projector screens?”

I think I’m pretty good at visualizing something, especially after I’ve seen something like his prototype. And once I’ve visualized it, I’m hooked. I get really pumped. The positive response we got from the Indiegogo campaign just validated that feeling even more, but I knew, even before the campaign, that Airtame was something I would do anything to try and make it real.

3. Let's play a game. Please choose the most appropriate variant for you:

* Tomorrow Airtame is done. You have to close the doors, go home and create something new. Even better. And you put your whole heart into it. Would you use the power (and the money) of the people again?

J G: By power of the people, you mean crowdfunding, right? I think it depends because crowdfunding is not for everything. Crowdfunding works really well for hardware, for gaming, for books, or a painting - tangible things. It doesn’t really work well if you want to start a service business or something like that. But what I love about crowdfunding is that at its core it’s about mass validation at an early stage. You can get feedback from people extremely early in the process and either have your idea validated or invalidated before you actually build your project. The alternative is building your product, being on time and on budget, and then realizing you built something people don’t actually like. So yeah, crowdfunding is great, as long as you take in the feedback and adjust along the way.

* Tomorrow, you receive a huge offer for Airtame and you decide to sell and to move on a beautiful island with your family. What would you love to create on this island with just what you have near you?

J G: First of all, I expect the offer to be so huge that I own the island. Next, I think it's a state of mind I would try to create. So if I’m on an island with my loved ones, I would make sure I create a state of mind where I’m 100% appreciative of them, of the moment, and of the journey we’ve been on together. But I wouldn’t be living on the island forever. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. I really believe you need to keep growing, so I would definitely be hungry for another journey after a while.

4. And a very personal question: what does money mean to you? If money were gone for good, what other currency would you propose to a Trump leadership?

J G: Money for me pretty much only means financial freedom. When you have a wife and two kids, money is something you think about because you want to give them a good life and you want to have enough living space so you don't step on the little one every time you need to brush your teeth. But in the end, it’s not about the money, but about the experiences you get. After all, the best things in life are free: time with your family, time with your co-workers, humor and enjoying the outdoors. The second best things in the world are extremely expensive, but I can’t say I wouldn’t enjoy owning an NBA basketball team in the future. ;-)

I’m a big believer in a global basic income becoming a reality in the future. AI and technology is progressively automating a lot of jobs and a global basic income would be a very good solution to avoid a huge economic and social crash, since many people would be without a job in the future. If money doesn’t exist, then the income would be accommodation, food, experiences or things like that. Another type of currency could be deep empathy for other people. I think the Trump leadership, or any government for that matter, needs that.

5. Do you have a daily or weekly routine that helps you improve your productivity?

J G: Yeah, I'm a big believer in habits. Every day, I make sure to meditate at least 15 minutes. I use Headspace for that. I make sure to read a real book instead of articles for at least 30 minutes. This way you dig deep in a subject, instead of the quick articles where you feel dopamine kicking in but the content doesn't really stick much. Then, at the end of the day, I keep a 5 minute-journal, which is about wins, learnings, and appreciations during the day. And the interesting thing I find is that it is the big wins at work that goes in my journal, but the simple things at home that goes in there. So signing up a big customer would go in there. And playing with Legos with my oldest son goes in there as well.

I also keep track of how often I do these things by writing a daily list. How long did I meditate for that day, if I read, wrote, exercised, whether I said enough nice things to my wife and kids, if I let myself have some downtime to watch a basketball game or comedy.

The last things is my to-do list which I prioritize using 3 animal emojis: a frog, a deer, and a mouse. The frog represents all the big tasks I need to jump on first, even if I dread them. These are things that can’t be put off and I have to just, as I say, swallow the frog. In this analogy, I’m the lion and a lion can’t live off of hunting field mice in the long run. It needs to hunt deer (ideally antelope, but that emoji doesn’t exist yet ;-)) because the energy gained from completing the task needs to surpass the energy spent. Therefore, I go after the deer, and not field mice, to use my time in the best way possible.

6. What’s your best advice to someone who wants to start a business without damaging the relationship to your loved ones?

J G: First of all, just get started. Always keep your priorities straight. Make sure your family supports you and understands your dream. To succeed, you need to learn how to be a good tightrope walker. I’ve learned that you have 5 main things you can focus on in life and that’s sleep, work, family, health, and friends. If you want to be great at something and avoid burnout, pick 3 of these things to work on. My main three are sleep, family and work. I can’t work out like I used to, so now I do maybe a 15-20 minute workout a day. And friends understand if I can only hang out with them once a month to catch up. If you don’t have a family, then maybe you will choose to focus on your health or your social life, whatever’s important to you. But it’s a good idea to pick 3 out of 5. You can master 3, instead of just doing ok with all 5.

7. What has been the secret sauce to your success with Airtame?

J G: The people. All the people that are working at Airtame or that have been working here at some point. But also people that have helped the business one way or another, like everyone pre-ordering on Indiegogo, people that invested, people that advised me and my co-founders. The other thing is just persistence. After the crowdfunding, it wasn’t all wins and popping champagne. We hit a lot of walls, but we’ve stuck to it.

Thank you, Jonas. It was a pleasure. And we have here some important lessons to learn.

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