Episode 14: A Serial Entrepreneur On Recovering From Burnout & Living A Life Aligned With Your Values with Melani Gordon

May 9, 2023 | podcast | 0 comments

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You can find the full transcript for this episode at the bottom of this page

In this week’s interview I’m introducing you to Melani Gordon, a founder who realized at the height of her company’s success that she was experiencing burnout.

Melani is a highly respected serial entrepreneur and business coach, with a decade-long track record of mentoring and coaching over 200 startup founders via Techstars and Founders First Capital. Melani offers a range of services to ambitious founders, leaders and their teams, including CEO coaching, co-founder alignment, team off-sites, peer groups, and sales training programs. She is well known for her SaaS Sales Academy.

Melani has a wealth of experience in the tech industry. She was the CEO of TapHunter, where she grew the company into a leading player in management and marketing software for bars, restaurants, and other local businesses. TapHunter was acquired in late 2022.

Aside from her business accomplishments, Melani is a limited partner at Interlock Capital, a founding member of San Diego Startup Week, and a board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She is also a volunteer adaptive snowboard instructor at Achieve Tahoe. In her free time, Melani enjoys being in the backcountry mountain biking and snowboarding in the Sierra Nevadas.

About five years in, I started to crack a bit. Living in downtown San Diego, in the concrete jungle, walking to and from the office every day, I thought self care meant training for half marathons. Oh, well, if I’m doing my 13 miles in the morning at 4:30 and I’m to the office by 7am so that I can run the sales meeting, I’m slaying the day.

In this interview we discuss Melani’s journey through burnout and road towards recovery, and the lessons she learned along the way about the importance of mental health. She also shares some of her words of wisdom for founders who want to avoid burnout themselves and why she thinks all founders should budget for a therapist, business coach, and peer support group.

TW: I do want to let you know that there is a mention of death by suicide in this episode.

What You’ll Learn in this Episode:

  • Melani’s journey into entrepreneurship and what helped her keep going even though she was told her company would never make it
  • How not taking time off led her to burnout not only herself, but also her team
  • The extra pressure she placed on herself as a female founder of a venture backed company
  • The personal tragedy that served as a wakeup call and prompted her to reorg her company and delegate even more so she could focus on her own mental health and live a life more aligned with her values
  • The types of support that Melani leaned on during her path away from hustle culture, and towards healing
  • How coaching founders helped Melani feel alive again, and the advice that she has for founders who want to avoid burnout themselves
  • The tool she recommends all founders implement to help transform company culture and increase the level of trust amongst employees
  • Why she believes hiring a therapist and coach should be as non-negotiable for founders as hiring an attorney, CPA, or bookkeeper

Find Melani Online:

  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melanigordon/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/melgordon
  • Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melanigordon/
  • Schedule a call with Melani if you’re interested in her next batch of peer groups for CEO’s and founders

Resources & Inspiration from the Show

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About Founders’ Fears & Failures and your host, Dr. Melissa Parks

Melissa is an entrepreneur, former therapist (PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology), and an executive coach for entrepreneurs with a special focus on startup founders. Her passion for supporting startup founders in particular began after witnessing firsthand the emotional rollercoaster her husband experienced as a startup co-founder.

She started the Founders’ Fears & Failures podcast with the mission of shining a light on the mental and emotional challenges that come with life as a startup founder. Having lived abroad for 10 years herself she realizes how much we can learn from hearing stories from around the globe which is why the show doesn’t focus on a country-specific startup ecosystem.

Melissa is also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapist Community, and a mom to a toddler who keeps her on her toes, and fuels her passion for helping to make the world a better place.

If you are interested in coming on the show, please get in touch. We would love to hear your story.

Want to connect further? Get in touch with Melissa on social media:

Want to work with Melissa?

Melissa is a former therapist who provides mindset coaching for ambitious professionals around the globe. Schedule your free discovery call HERE.

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Did you enjoy listening to this episode? Leave your review on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

Disclaimer: The Founders’ Fears & Failures is for educational, informational, and entertainment purposes only. It is not meant to be used for personal health advice and should not be construed to constitute personal or professional consultation or guidance, or to replace medical or mental health treatment. The opinions expressed by this podcast, including the podcast guests, are not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of a medical or mental health provider regarding any questions or concerns you have about your medical and/or mental health needs. If you are in crisis, please visit this website to find a list of suicide hotlines around the globe. 

Episode Transcript

Melissa 

Alright. Hi, Melani, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Good morning. Yeah. So let’s start off. Why don’t you tell me? Where are you? I’m in Seattle myself. I think we might be close.

Melani 

So I am in Reno, Nevada, and my hometown. I grew up near Tahoe, where all this snow is.

Melissa 

Yes. Yeah. I saw the photo you posted on LinkedIn the other day of a day off on the mountains.

Melani 

Yes, it was epic. That was a alpine meadows, which is an awesome mountain in the Olympic Valley area. So yeah, it’s one of my favorites.

Melissa 

Oh, very cool. Very cool. Thank you for being on here today. I know we’re gonna get a bit vulnerable. But before we do that, I always like to kind of like, warm us up a bit, you know, like, we can like an exercise, right? Get ourselves warmed up. And why don’t we start by you just telling us a bit more about what, how did you first get into the world of entrepreneurship?

Melani 

Yeah, absolutely. I, as I’m listening to myself talk, my voice does not normally sound like this. All of my friends are loving it. I went to, I moved to San Diego, I left Reno and moved to San Diego in ’99, which I’m really dating myself now, but whatever. And I finished school at San Diego State University and the Aztecs just went to the final of March Madness. So I have been like screaming at my TV for the last few days for my alma mater, I’m a huge sports fan. And I got into the world of entrepreneurship at San Diego State before internet marketing and those types of courses were really being formalized. I tried to drop out of college two to three times a hated it wasn’t built for me, okay, I could not figure out why I was sitting in, you know, the accounting class that I was in, I just didn’t understand how it was going to apply to my real life. And I had a very important professor in my life, who was teaching MBA grad students internet marketing consulting, as, as the businesses in San Diego were starting to hire students from the university. And he went to the dean and got special permission for me to work with his MBA students, and drop my marketing, stats classes. And that’s where I, I really caught the bug. And I was hired out of college, by a startup to build their internet marketing strategy.

Melissa 

Wow.

Melani 

So you know, I’m forever grateful to that professor. I got to meet him many, many years later, and told him the story and made them cry. And yeah, so very lucky that that I had some of those early experiences. And then I was sitting in accounting class one day bored, and saw a writing on the chalkboard that a company was hiring. And I thought it was a radio station. But it turned out to be one of San Diego’s fastest growing software companies at the time, I went in for an interview, got the job and worked there for many moons. That’s where I met my husband, and saw the power of the subscription based or recurring based revenue model early in the days before they called it software as a service. And I’ve been in the industry ever since. So a couple decades now.

Melissa 

You know, I love you know, it sounds like it is a combination there of, you know, your own interest, and maybe some personality traits and everything there. But, but also some luck, right? And those great that great mentorship experience, I think it’s so common those when those things kind of collide and create the perfect storm in the best way possible. Yes.

Melani 

And the person or persons who gave me that chance that I needed. Yeah. So Professor Sheelane Polya. He’s now retired from San Diego State. And then the person who hired me at my first tech startup job, Steve Weber. Those that I mean, those are the people you know, I’ve handfuls of them that no, I didn’t have experience I didn’t fit but for whatever reason, they saw something in me and believed in me and gave me the chance that I needed to get to the next step.

Melissa 

Yeah, that’s so great. I’m so curious to know so I mean, we are talking about yet like you’re saying a point really early in this industry, and I’m curious, as a female, did you encounter any challenges difficulty stereotype kind of things at that point, or, or did you feel like things went pretty smoothly there?

Melani 

You know, looking back, I just laugh because I wasn’t aware of it. I was born into an action adventure family. And my mom and dad allowed me to race motorcycles when I was seven years old. So I was given the gift of my socio economic and gender didn’t matter. And from a very early age, and I could hang with the boys. And if the boys gave me a rough time, I gave him a rough time back. Right. Now, later on, I started to see where that was happening. So I was the marketing director at that startup and was definitely being treated very differently than the men on my team. And that’s ultimately what led me to start my first company when I was 28 years old, because I, you know, it wasn’t something that was talked about back then. But I could see that I wasn’t being advocated for or my voice wasn’t being heard. And so I kind of just adopted this attitude of well, like, I could do this just as good as though.

Melissa 

I love that.

Melani 

Yeah, that was right around when I was 28. And I started my first company when I was 28 years old.

They didn’t

Melissa 

It’s like, you know, it’s like, this system isn’t working for me. So I’m going to show you.

Melani 

Yeah, I’ll just go. I’ll just go create my own system.

Melissa 

Yeah. So let’s, let’s talk about that. Was being a founder, you’d already worked in a startup? What was it like then transitioning to founding a startup?

Melissa 

You know, I feel very lucky because I developed some very good business relationships that were mostly with men. It was in the real estate industry was that was the software industry I was in. And I had some some really great contracts that I signed. So I started a marketing agency. And so when I left that company, I had already had had some contracts on the side, I kind of gave myself a soft landing, and had a great reputation. And I networked myself, within the real estate industry, and real estate tech, because that was the very, very early days when you would try to sell a software or website marketing package to a real estate brokerage, like REMAX and they would still laugh and say the internet isn’t a thing. So I was very early on, I knew that I had a special ability to build great business relationships. And that that that would get me places and so I focused on that piece of it.

Melissa 

Okay, yeah. You kind of knew what one of your superpowers was.

Melani 

Yeah, it took me a while to figure it out. Because it took us six years to finish college, I was an older college student, I didn’t have a normal college experience I transferred in from community college in Reno, Nevada. You know, ultimately, I left Reno because I had thought I was gonna get paid to snowboard for the rest of my life. And I thought that sports was going to be my platform. And when that didn’t happen, I was very lost. I didn’t I didn’t know where I fit in, in the world. If sports wasn’t going to be the thing for me.

Melissa 

I feel like that’s a common story in though like amongst founders, right? Kind of just feeling a little bit out of place, and maybe like you You haven’t fit in and finding your place in the world of startups.

Melani 

Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa 

Well, I know that. So we’re talking a lot about the successes and positive things. And those are great. And we’re going to bring it back in the end to also some positive spin on things. But I know you also have a story to share about when things didn’t go that well, with your startup. Can you can you bring us through that story?

Melani 

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, you know, I, I ran my marketing agency successfully for numerous years had a distributed team before that was a thing and worked remote. And the the idea was for my husband to come along. He ultimately was a director of technology and CTO and so we loved working together, which is could be a whole other podcast, okay. People are just like, but you’re crazy you saw each other every day, morning, noon and night for 10 years. I’m like, Yeah, I kind of hate being in my home office and not in a, you know, co working space next to him. So very blessed in that way. So he came along and out of that agency, we came up with, you know, five or six different ideas that we would build because we knew that we wanted to not just run a consultancy, which is fine, because I’m doing that again. We wanted to build a software company with a subscription based model, right? So ultimately, that’s what we did. And in 2012, we got into one of San Diego’s first tech accelerators at the time. We we’d beat out 500 to 1000 applicants. And there were nine companies and two females in the entire accelerator. And I’m talking like most teams had two or three or four or five founders. But we were the only two women in the building. Wow. Besides one program director, yeah. So it was amazing. And we were in there for eight months. I was walking around downtown selling software, from a PowerPoint that didn’t exist yet. And collecting credit card checks and cash from bars and restaurants and sold our first 100 customers. I love sales.

Melani 

And

Melissa 

Another superpower I will say,

Melani 

At the end of the program, our program director told us that our company sucked and that we didn’t have anything.

Melissa 

Oh, wow.

Melani 

Yeah. And that we should recycle ourselves and join one of the other teams that like it was just, this is a really cute business you have. So I called my mom, who is always been my business coach. I’ve had business coaches, but she’s, you know, she’s been in banking most of her life. She’s retired now. But you know, I was upset and crying and I dusted myself off and kept going. And that was a major, just something lit up inside of me. We kept going, we raised a couple million dollars, got the big office 20,000 square foot Google office space overlooking the Coronado Bay Bridge on the 20th floor of one of the most beautiful buildings in San Diego, built up to 50 full time employees, was working probably 80 hours a week for several years in a row with no breaks, missing the family birthdays and that sort of stuff, weddings, but was having the time of my life was very happy. And our company was growing quickly. But the key thing that was missing and our core values and everything that we were building was a core value of mine and my husband’s around adventure, right? So we had our core values on the wall. But that it was like fun. And that was fine, like fun was one of our core values. But it was like an in the office fun after work. But we didn’t include that. It got lost. And so about five years in, I started to crack a bit living in downtown San Diego, in the concrete jungle walking to and from the office every day. I thought self care meant training for half marathons. Oh, well, if I’m doing my 13 miles in the morning at 430. And I’m to the office by 7am. So that I can run the sales meeting like I’m just, you know, I’m slaying the day.

Melissa 

You’re checking all the boxes, right?

Melani 

Yep. And that started to create some cracks. I was drinking more on the weekends. You know, wasn’t hitting my personal bests in my in my half marathons. It was like what is happening? And so I had just, I had had enough. And I approached my husband in 2016, and said, What are we doing? And so you and I will have been married 17 years in May, we’ve been together for 23 years. And what’s really important about this story is that we’re child free by choice. And so a big part of our family planning for us, we have a dog, so our small little family was to adventure and get in an RV and explore the national parks like well, so I have to wait till I’m 55 or 65. To do this, like that isn’t going to work for me, thatfundamentally does not work for me. Yeah. So we started putting that plan in place, right? Like what what does this look like we’re going to be away from the office longer. And I got an executive coach during that time that really started shedding light on all my blind spots and the things that I wasn’t I wasn’t paying attention to.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. I was gonna ask some of these cracks that started happening. Were you noticing them? Or was it kind of like, like in hindsight, looking back?

Melani  

I could feel it and unfortunately it would come out in we should find a different CEO to run this company. I’m done. So I would be very, very I would just create more thrash between me my CTO and CFO than needed to be created because I wasn’t able to process, but I knew something was wrong. So I just immediately was like, well, the solution must be, let’s bring another CEO in, and they’re like, You can’t do that. You’ve built the culture around like you and your husband. And you know, like, it’s not just that easy. Good morning, everyone. Here’s your new CEO.

Melissa 

Yeah, but it sounds like there was that temptation like you, you really the part of you saying I really need to step away.

Melani 

Yeah. But what started happening is longer weekends camping. My leaders telling me like, I will never forget, we were sitting at our weekly product leadership, you know, meeting with the with our director. And I was like, Okay, so we’re going camping this weekend. And we’re leaving on a Thursday, baba, baba blah. And my director, technology goes in front of the whole table. Do you think we think you’re just like writing it in and you’re not working? And I and I looked at him. And I was like, what? And he’s like, you’re allowed to go camping.

Melissa 

Yeah.

Melani 

And I remember the first time that I actually heard someone say, like, I’m giving you permission, and I don’t think you’re calling it in because you’re already working 80 hours a week. Well, the unfortunate part about that of my working style and not being able to let go and leave the office and let others lead is that I burned out my team. I wasn’t leading by example. They didn’t think that they could ask for time off. Right? And so it, it grew and snowballed into a very challenging time in the company. Thankfully, we were able to correct it and it took a little bit and sometimes people didn’t believe us but it started from the top and I had to lead by example, which meant I didn’t need to be in the office every morning at 7am. Yeah, I needed to give my my VP of Sales the opportunity to shine, you know, and I was just constantly worried and anxious about not hitting numbers because of the money that we had raised from 27 investors who expect a return on their investment in seven to eight years with growth at all cost and I’m a female

Melissa 

Yeah, so did you feel like the investors like were sending you signals that they as a female they doubted you?

Melani 

Yes. So we got very lucky um like our one institutional investors like you’re very lucky. We had two garbage human investors I’ve been very public about this, a very misogynistic didn’t like the deal terms they got,  didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t having kids, wanted to know when I was having kids, and how that would impact our company.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, these stories are incredible like they just dig into your personal life and and try to tell you like it’s like I’m like gaslighting you Right? Like you know, you know your reality you’re telling me is not true. Wow Melani.

Melani 

So that made me stronger, it things got really bad. And I did verify those with my attorney who used to be a partner at Cooley that it is in fact harder to unwind and divide divorce an investor than it is to get an actual divorce from your partner.

Melissa 

Wow, I didn’t know that.

Melani 

Yeah, which is adds to the complexities as a founder right of you. It’s like if something’s not working and you want to go go your separate ways you might not be able to Yeah, so I built up these layers and layers of protection. And this is how I have to show up and this is how I have to fight right because I’m a female and people are second guessing blah blah blah… so yeah, that was hard. Um, and then we let’s see here. Okay, so we bought our dream RV or truck camper started being along weekenders did some summer stuff started getting away from the office. remote work was starting to kind of catch on more, this is before for day work weeks, and COVID and all that. So in February of 2019, unfortunately, I got a call from my mom at the office in front of my entire team that my brother had died by suicide. He was my younger brother, he was 39 at the time, so I was 41, we were very close. And he left behind his little girl, and he was divorced. And so that was the that was more than like, let’s just open up the crack that was already there. So it was really, really rough.

Melani 

About three months later, I had told my CTO and my VP of sales, that I’m serious. And I’m not running this company. And so we put a plan in place, to reorg the company and get profitable and kind of maneuver through that and give me some space and time. And that summer, we moved to Tahoe. We left San Diego, we sold everything. We rented our condo in San Diego, and our entire team went remote. very successfully. Our director of ops who had been with us since the beginning, moved to Thailand and helped run the company from Thailand. So it was very rewarding. Yeah. But what I knew it, I didn’t know this, what my husband knew was that I needed to get out of the city. And back to the mountains and the outdoors and adventuring and that sort of thing. Yeah, yeah. And then that winter, we wanted to live in Mammoth, but it’s very expensive. And so we ended up doing a ski lease in Bend, Oregon. Okay, where we also have great community does just kind of reset and like figure out what was next for me. But I had my two executives, and our team running the company. And so yeah, so 2019 was…I don’t remember a lot of 2019. And then we all know what happens in 2020.

Melissa 

That’s, I’m imagining, as you’re saying this, I’m like, okay, yeah, and, you know, there’s there was no way to predict but you’re just yeah, you walked into the pandemic depleted, it sounds like right, you were not not at your best self.

Melani 

No, nowhere near. So head started, I was a mentor for and still am for Tech Stars for many years, was doing coaching on the side living in Bend, Oregon had the support I needed. You know, I had a therapist, I had my CEO peer group that I was still in, I had a business coach who was also trained up in psychodynamic dynamics in NLP and grief and ACT therapy, because he was so dynamic. And I was spending as much time as I could in the outdoors. And it was like, I’m, I’m gonna heal, I’m gonna make it through this. And so 2020 COVID hit. And we had to jump back into the business and navigate our team through what nobody knew would happen. And luckily, we were able to do that successfully so that we had a business to ultimately sell in 2022. So it was okay, we gotta we got to get back in the trenches with our team and try to stabilize everything. So so that we have something. So we were able to do that. And then in the summer of ’21, I was approached by Tech Stars and offered a position that I originally said no to, but my husband and I talked it through and this is a great opportunity for you on a venture capital and investment side and you love coaching founders. And so I stepped into that role for a little over a year and resigned as CEO for my company. So my husband could step in as a very reluctant CEO. Okay, well, I could explore this, this new opportunity and I just started to feel alive again. I was jumping out of bed again, taking calls from founders at 630 in the morning because I wanted to, and my spark for business started to come back. And so, Tech Stars and the timing It was exactly what I needed to help dust myself off. Right. So, yeah, so that was, that was a really, really neat experience. And the quality of people that work there are amazing some who have become my best friends today. So yeah, it was. It was good timing.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it sounds like it. Like it was just, you know, we can’t like engineer these things always. Right. But like, it’s kind of like the stars aligned. You got the opportunity.

Melani 

I wasn’t looking. Yeah, I told I told them I was like, I’m not looking at here’s all the reasons why. And I told them no, 10 times. Yeah.

Melissa 

Yeah. Well, because I, I think it’s so hard to step away from a company, right. I know, you know, you’re talking about being child free by choice. But a lot of people talk about their startups as being like their baby, right.

Melani 

It was my identity. I wasn’t able to start detaching from it and around 2019. So I had some time to kind of detach from it. But yeah, that was my identity.

Melissa 

 Yeah, yeah. So it sounds like this opportunity. TechStars helped you to kind of start creating a new identity.

Melani 

Yes. Yeah. Very, very fortunate for the timing of that.

Melissa 

Wow. And tell us more than what are you doing today?

Melani 

Yeah. So as I was starting TechStars, I got knocked down again, I was on a mountain bike retreat in Montana women’s mountain bike retreat in Montana. And I got a call from my community here in Reno that my best friend had died. And so the punches kept rolling. And I had more tools, and was equipped with a better understanding of, you know, of how this goes, and how to keep going. You know, it was right when I was starting TechStars. And I was fortunate enough to be on a team where I could be transparent about this sort of thing, because that doesn’t exist everywhere. But still kept going was remote. Thank goodness, right not being in an office every day. I was on the TechStars anywhere team. So we were an all remote accelerator. But as COVID happened, most of them went remote. Yeah. And so I kept going, and I leaned into mountain biking, and snowboarding. And while still, you know, getting the support and therapy I needed, but continued to move my body in the outdoors and, you know, work out my shit on the mountain, good or bad. And so, was at TechStars for a little over a year. And ultimately, through that same process, we started selling our software company. So we were getting that ready to go to market, which my my husband, CTO and co founder and best friend, kind of led that charge because I was just all in on on the TechStars experience. And through last summer was just doing some soul searching and was like, I don’t know that I want to be on the inside of venture capital. And I started coaching in 2020. And that’s the piece I love the most. So really just started exploring, you know what that would look like and talking to several firms, it was very lucky to get involved with a firm called evolution, which is very well known in Silicon Valley. And so I’m an executive coach of evolution and I’m also on partner trot with with that company. And I think what’s most important about that is I have this vision of being able to create programming that includes the outdoors and in the coaching and the partners there are very supportive of that and some of them are already have already done work like that and are looking forward to doing it again now that COVID is kind of calmed down and then my vicinity to the Sierras to you know, Sierra Nevadas to the Bay Area where I can I can put that type of programming together so I have a handful of CEO co CEOs I’m coaching a VP of sales at a much larger series D company and I just love it

Melissa 

You can see it on your face right now, you’re lighting up.

Melani 

Thank you people say I know you always know where where I am by via my face. I’m very expressive. I show my emotions. So in October of 2022 We sold our software company. We I resigned from TechStars and went all in with evolution but we took a three month break. And we we were in Utah with our RV and went through all the national parks and kept checking off some, some of those. So, you know, our ultimate goal was van life for three years, but we got pushed off the road through COVID. So we’re like, Okay, let’s start. Start bringing some of this back. Yeah. So that’s where that kind of brings us to modern, I guess.

Melissa 

Yeah. Oh, no, it’s such a great story. We could spend like, three more hours probably diving into it. Like I have so many questions that I could ask. I don’t think anybody will probably listen to even no matter how good the story is, they probably won’t listen to a three hour podcast. So what I do want to know is, what about with it with the founders you’re working with now? Right? Because what I’m what I’m hearing is for you, the answer was stepping away, it was eventually selling the company, it was finding, you know, a role that worked better for you. That’s not the answer for everyone. Right? So what is something that what are some, I don’t know, tips or, or ideas that you give to the people you coach to help them to avoid going through that burnout that you experienced?

Melani 

Yeah. So I’m very open about ensuring when it’s available, financially, that a founder have a therapist, and a business coach, as soon as it’s humanly possible. Now, 10 years ago, things like BetterHelp, with online therapy did not exist. And still today, without insurance therapy can be 200 to $300 an hour, which, when you’re a founder, isn’t going to work. So you know, being able to take advantage of of therapy, a business coach, which there’s lots of options from, you know, business coaching that myself and our firm does, there’s other companies that, you know, based on budget based on on what’s needed, and then a peer group. So at any given time, over my eight years as really an 80 hour a week CEO, I had a therapist, a business coach and a peer group, sometimes all three at the same time. But it wasn’t until I was able to get my first kind of executive business coach that used a framework that wasn’t consultative tactical Business School, McKinsey Consulting, it was you need to work on yourself here. And here’s some blind spots I’m seeing. Right. And so it was a lot of introspective self care, emotional intelligence that 10 years ago, was very hard for most people to talk about, especially men, but it’s change. COVID has helped that which is, you know, awful, but it did. And there’s so many resources out there. Now, there’s so many communities, there’s so many peer groups, there’s, is it where it needs to be now. No, but it’s a lot more approachable, and, you know, like, within arm’s reach for founders.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah, I think we’re headed in the right direction. Maybe a little faster would be would be good. But it’s true. Like my husband said something to me the other day, he said, Why did you start this podcast a couple of years ago? I don’t think we were ready for it. I do think the pandemic really just changed our global conversation even about mental health.

Melani 

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a big piece, peer groups, whether there’s a professional facilitator and there or not, there are certain ways to set that up peer group should not just be to talk about how to improve your open rates. Right. Like, we as leaders have to do the self care and work first if you’re going to be a great leader. Yeah. That’s in it’s the hard work and people go you know, founders going, Oh, my God, this is already hard enough downstairs to work on myself. Um, so that’s number one.

Melissa 

Yeah, that really? Yeah. Really important.

Melani 

And biggest, biggest tip? Yeah. And there’s lots of resources out there for stuff like that. What was your other question?

Melissa 

Oh, just when people it’s to help help founders avoid burnout. So it sounds like you’re getting kind of this team, this team of support, right, the therapist, coach, and then the peer support too. Anything else that you suggest to people to help them like if they if they say, I want to stay in the game. I want to keep moving forward with my startup, and I can’t keep doing it in this way.

Melani 

Everyone’s watching. Right, you’re the CEO. You’re the leader. In a remote world, it’s still different, but they’re watching maybe even harder for proof points, right of like what you’re doing. I was in an office every day. Yeah. And lots of people are wanting to kind of get back to hybrid. And so you have a magnifying glass on you, whether you like it or not. And you have a really big megaphone, whether you like it or not. And I think it’s important to build in early on in your culture that may be once a month or once a quarter. And I would say no less than once a quarter, and I don’t care what stage you’re at. But the company and the team can physically see that you stepped out for a long weekend, a mountain bike retreat a baseball tournament with your family, like whatever it is.

Melissa 

Yeah, not just for that, like, you know, avoiding burnout, but also like modeling for your team. Right? Like you said, you you ended up burning out your team by not modeling.

Melani 

Yeah, is awful. I’m like, looking back, you know, it’s just like, oh, my gosh, yeah, like I, I get a second chance, right, I’m building my third company right now. And I feel very grateful that that I get that I get that chance, right to to, to model and create that. And so I think that’s the other important piece like everyone’s human, we’re all little cracked and broken and live, you know, living a little bit more authentically about how hard it is to lead and, and guide a company as a CEO or a new founder. There were a couple of times at TechStars towards the end, where they’re racing to get ready for a demo day and investor pitches. I’ll never forget, I was getting ready for a coaching call with one of my founders. And we kind of had our preset agenda. And we got on and she’s very upset. There’s something that happened five minutes before the call when she had already sent me like an agenda an hour before. And so we just sat there and gave her a lot of space. And I just said what what would it feel like right now? If I just stayed on the line with you and you went for a walk? And she exhaled? And she’s like, really? Like, yeah, I’ll go with you. Okay, um, well, let me put my shoes on. Great. I mean, you just, I just had to give her permission. Like, yeah. Right, you got to be the CEO of your own life and take back control. And I would say for coaches and mentors and advisors and investors out there. It’s also our civic duty and responsibility, especially those that have experience to tune in. I mean, I know I’m a coach, and I’m very tuned in but like slowing the conversation down and tuning into someone that giving them permission to take a walk in what’s supposed to be a 30 minute coaching session of how to raise money can be a lot more important for them and their health and where they’re at on their journey and take, you know, taking that 30 minute walk then feeling like they need to be on another zoom to talk about how to improve their pitch deck.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. And I hear what you’re saying that like, yeah, this comes naturally for you now. Right? But that not everybody listening, this is going to be a natural thing. But that even if it doesn’t come naturally, like this is this is what the founders need that you’re working with.

Melani 

Yeah. stopping and pausing. And leaving space. Yeah. And on Zoom. That means a couple of things. This right now. Awkward silence. Right. So I just got off a sales coaching call with the CEO. When I was just like this little phone, on the Zoom. Right, how are they breathing? What are they doing? And then the question I really like to ask and this is how this happened with this, this one TechStars founder and I said how are you really doing? Yeah, this is happened in the first 30 seconds of the call, okay, here’s the agenda right now. I’m ready to go blah, blah, blah. And I went, okay. She kind of She kind of just went like this and she’s at you know, at her desk and I just went How are you really doing today? Yeah, like within 30 seconds slow down little space. Founders can ask this to each other, you could ask this to your co founder, you can ask this to your partner. Like, we’re all just moving so fast. We’re on eating all day, Everyone’s tired. We have, you know, now we’re working from home. And so you’re supposed to be like, child care and laundry. And it’s just it’s like so much, right? When I would say to this is actually something that in a meditation course I did, we were taught to do to ourselves, even like, close your eyes, check in how am I doing? And then asked that question, How am I really doing? We don’t ask ourselves that enough, either. So the biggest tool that I like to share is called red, yellow, green. Okay. And when we implemented this simple tool into our company is crazy and as woo-ey as it is, it was so transformative. Yeah, tell us give. So at the beginning of a one to one, at the beginning of our manager, meeting, whatever it was in person, or remote, right, we would check in red, yellow green. Now, as a leader and a CEO, there is something called appropriate transparency that you have to learn which I learned the hard way. But you still have to model showing up, right? So here’s what this would look like. So the leader of the CEO never wants you don’t go first. First of all, right, you’re like, Okay, wants to kick us off today? You know, then you pass the baton. And so it’s Hey, Tori, would you like to start? Oh, yes. I’m checking in. Green, Yellow, had a great weekend, but had a rough morning, my dog threw up, blah, blah, blah, right. And it’s how you’re checking in in this moment for this meeting, that’s about ready to happen. Right? Like, next person goes, I’m a red, things are really bad. Polo needs to go to the vet immediately after this call. He’s really sick. I’m a red. That’s where I’m checking it. Right. Now, I can say both those things as a CEO or leader, but let’s just say I have like, a lot of other stuff going on in life. I don’t need you at all. Yes, but I need you to share enough to show that I’m human. Because I’m coaching another CEO on this, or red, yellow greens are not going well. Where they’re not going well. They’re doing it on Slack. I love doing it on Slack. You can set it up as an Autobot. Every day red, yellow, green, how’s the team doing? Yeah, well, it’s gonna get boring and monotonous if you don’t model right. And so today, my check in let’s say to my, my Tech Stars team would be I’m lime green, woke up at six did my first coaching call at 630, a little tired, having some coffee right now recording a podcast, blah, blah, blah, right? Like, that’s the stuff I would put in there. And in not just all business, not just all because sometimes engineers and introverts and things. And it can take a bit to get into a flow for others on the team to feel seen and heard that there’s trust on the team that you can share a little bit of yourself. And so if you Google red, yellow, green, I have links on on my website too Melanie Gordon, to that, beyond a business coach and peer groups, red, yellow, green check in is one of the simplest tools, if done well and consistently and modeled well, can transform your culture and create a level of trust in this remote working world that so many employees are missing. They want to feel connected to a group of people.

Melissa 

Yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that. Yeah. So like I said, we’ll link to that in the show notes so that people can can easily access it. These are great tips. We’re getting close to running out of time though, unfortunately. Let’s see Is there anything else you would say like is anything else that you want founders, investors, anybody listening to hear? In terms of things to implement that are relatively easy

Melani 

Check on your peers today. Text one founder if you’re an investor advisor, whatever, it doesn’t have to be I want you to check in on me it can be or you want you to answer it can be thinking of you today you got this right. Check in on a fellow peer or founder that you know who’s starting a business you. Right, just that text like thinking of you today, hope you have a great day. Yeah. And then the other one is when you’re really dropping into conversation with one. It’s easy to say how’s it going? But the follow up question is, how are you really doing? And you don’t need a psychiatrist, masters to do that. No, yeah, we can all do that we can we can do that with each other. We can do that with our friends and family members, too. And yeah, yeah.

Melissa 

Well, Melani, I would love to know if you could go back in time. And to the beginning of this journey of yours, what advice would you give to yourself?

Melani 

I would have not stopped snowboarding. I would have figured out a way to get to Mammoth or big bear more, even though I didn’t have a lot of money and was living on ramen. And not lose my sense of adventure or additional hobbies that I had. Yeah, yeah. Hobbies, not racing in races to get personal bests. Yeah. Just to go snowboarding. I don’t measure my speed. I don’t measure my verb. Like I write just to go. Yeah.

Melissa 

Yeah, when you’re limited on time and resources, right, it is easy to get into that like, Okay, I need to like, yeah, leverage every single extra minute I have the day. But oh, yeah, I’ve learned that the hard way too, that just some unstructured time with hobbies is really so good for your mental health.

Melani 

 And building into your budget for professional development, therapy or a coach as soon as it’s humanly possible. Yeah, just like he would an attorney, a CPA, a bookkeeper. All the other things that absolutely non negotiable has to be in your budget.

Melissa 

I love that. Well, now, you mentioned that you’re putting together another group soon. Right? For Can you tell us more about that?

Melani 

Yeah. So I, I’m launching peer groups. Again, I love facilitating them. And then I can teach others inside the group how to run it, a lot of times groups will get going and they feel good. Or they’ll keep me inside to kind of facilitate it. So I love doing early stage founder and CEO, peer groups, a lot of times it’s more affordable than, you know, a monthly one to one business coach. So it still makes it obtain, you know, obtainable for people as well.

Melissa 

Yeah. And what’s the best way for people to find out more about that?

Melani 

Yes, you can, if you follow me on LinkedIn, or Twitter, and then also Melanie gordon.com. So that’s where all my information is. But yeah, I’ll be posting that page and sign up up soon. I love to each peer group is based on size and stage of company. So you’re in similar stages. Diversity is very important. You know what money raised, so you kind of have some commonality. And then group sizes, typically six to seven people, where you meet every other week for an hour and a half and kind of a structured format around inquiry, journaling, the, you know, those sorts of exercises, not just jumping straight to how do I rank higher on Google?

Melissa 

Yeah, right. Because like you said, Yeah, we need to focus more on Well, I hate the word soft skills. Right. But that’s a lot of it. It is this the getting into our human side of things, right. Not just the business owner, but the human side as well. Yeah.

Melani 

Yep. Absolutely.

Melissa 

Awesome, Melanie. Well, this has been a great conversation. The time has flown by so I’m really looking forward to sharing it. It’s been wonderful. Thank you for coming on.

Melani 

Have a great day. Bye.

Melissa 

Thank You

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HI I’M MELISSA

I'm a therapist-turned-coach who loves working with clients around the world! I work with the globally mobile community to support them through transitions as well as entrepreneurs who need support navigating the rollercoaster of entrepreneur life.

I'm also the co-founder of the Location Independent Therapists (LIT) Community, a mom, a self-compassion advocate, and an aspiring author.

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