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The Founder OS

Rahul Gonsalves
2 min read

Working at a startup is super stressful. Running a startup is 10x more stressful. How do I know? I run one. Some habits and practices have helped me deal with the stress and stay as sane as possible. I call it “The Founder OS” and it has four or five key “apps”:

  1. Exercise: Coaching for your body
  2. Business Coaching/Mentorship: Coaching for your conscious mind
  3. Therapy: Coaching for your unconscious mind
  4. Friends and family

Anyone can be a founder (and in Bangalore, just about every third person is), but being a good one takes more than just using your intellect. You have to keep your body, your subconscious and your mind all in harmony. The founder OS helps me do just that.

Physical health

I started exercising again and I am sad to say that all the advise about exercise being good for you is…correct. I actually have more energy, not less, on the days I exercise. I hate it, but those smug exercise evangelists might be on to something. I now spend three mornings every week with Anuj who runs Troop, and those are rapidly becoming the best days of my week. Exercise, and strength training in particular, make focus a habit, a way of being. Think of it this way: when you’re doing a deadlift, you are focusing on your form so you don’t injure yourself. Getting distracted just isn't an option.

Mental health

Till a few years back, I struggled with being more direct with my team and giving them honest feedback. As it turns out, this came from wanting to make other people feel good. If it hadn’t been for therapy, I never would have realised this. This is just one (small) example of the interplay between the unconscious mind and it's overlap at work.

Therapy helps you become more self-aware and that’s good for everyone, but more so for founders. It gives you a space to understand and therefore resolve your fears and insecurities. Treat therapy as a gym for your mind, not an ambulance. It’s a mental workout to be done every week; not surgery for when something goes wrong.

Business coaching

Founders love figuring things out by themselves. That’s kind of the job description. While this is a great quality, it doesn’t work all the time. It’s perfectly fine to ask for guidance and get a different perspective. Long story short: Get a coach.

I have now spent a couple of years working off and on with Gaston Schmitz from the Asian Leadership Institute. Having a neutral yet invested third-party who can see your blind spots, gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) nudge you to work on them is like having a cheat code for moving forward.

Friends, family and an outside life

Founders are surrounded by people who are incentivized to agree with them. Or people who will benefit from their success. Friends and family from an outside life become the neutralizing influence–they can show you a mirror. More importantly: they are invested in you being happy, not just successful.

Looking at the graphs below also helped me: given that the majority of your time with family is "over" by the time you're in your late 30s, it's important for me to spend all those moments intentionally.


Time is a zero-sum game

Creating time for exercising or spending time with friends means time away from work. But I’ve always been more interested in working smart, not working long hours.

The Founder OS helps me get more out of life, and get better work done. That's what I'm optimising for.


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