tl;dr: Here’s what one founder discovered when she blocked herself from social media.
I built my early career off my ability to master social media, public relations, and the Internet. Then, I built my company with the help of Twitter relationships, the Instagram community, and Facebook connections.
These tools were a secret weapon that helped my seed stage SaaS startup be visible, hire amazing talent, and get sales leads. However, after a tumultuous spring, a product pivot, and operational transitions, I needed to grow out of being an accessible early-stage founder to an extremely focused CEO. This would require my time management to become measured in minutes, not hours or days.
I decided to go dark from the Internet and cut off social media. I’ve calculated that it ate up four hours a day between mobile, desktop and thoughts about what I was feeling as a result of my social media interactions.
So for three months from the end of June till the end of September, I blocked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from my personal access—including most news sites I monitored. I chose not to give up Snapchat because it felt like the most authentic way to have a window into my friends and colleagues lives, and it was only on mobile. By cutting out the other mediums, I, in effect, cut off my access to most content like news, memes, and the tech world bubble.
I learned a lot this summer about myself and my company. It was a social experiment that changed my life in an age where the Internet had thus far shaped it. Here are some of the ways my “founder struggle” was impacted by three months without social networking, the Internet, or having an online presence.
Over the summer, I recognized it was time to direct all of Glassbreakers’ energy to our suite of enterprise software solutions. As a founder with a non-technical background, this meant I had to teach myself in real time how to be a product manager. This, coupled with my responsibilities as CEO, meant I had to be incredibly diligent with my knowledge intake and nimble.
Product managers encounter uncertainty every day. It’s critical to quickly understand the difference between an urgent client need versus an unnecessary request in order to keep the team on task. Different daily challenges may include dealing with client-specific product changes, fixing bugs, or managing internal cross-team expectations. All I could think about was how we could deliver a product vision that aligned with business goals to create a beautiful experience for our customers and their employees. It’s imperative to stick to a daily routine, schedule to support engineering, and know when to redirect focus.
Without the distraction of social media, I was able to hone in on my new role quickly while supporting my incredible team in a new way.
By removing the time spent on superficial online relationships, I gave myself the opportunity to invest in the relationships right in front of me. I didn’t know what was happening in my friends lives unless I called them or texted them, which I did (because I do care). It’s easy to let your personal relationships fall to the side when you’re starting a company because you can “like” their engagement announcement. Without being on Facebook, I got phone calls about real life news, I flew to celebrate big moments, I became closer to the people I wanted closest to me. After two years of total madness and isolation starting the business, I finally didn’t feel like I was so alone.
I did have to reset expectations with the investors, journalists, product leaders, and founders in the tech community that I adore and normally engage with via social media. I ended my investor reports with a note reminding everyone that I was still off the internet; I didn’t want to appear rude for not being digitally present. I didn’t have time this summer for any minute to be spent that wasn’t mission critical to the company, my health, or my happiness.
When the world is shouting through your phone, your desktop, and your Apple Watch, there isn’t a lot of time to get insular to carve out the depths of your vision. My vision for the company needed to change as the platform we were now deploying with massive organizations was bigger in impact and value than we had expected.
What did our roadmap look like in five years? Where were we going? Re-aligning the company vision deserved ample time spent with every early employee as well. Aside from the path I had carved for myself, I also needed to fundamentally understand how I would support the career goals of my team, who were instrumental in getting the company to where it is today.
Things had changed from year one to year two. Our values needed to reflect those transitions in order to anchor ourselves for the future ahead. Aside from not only communicating our new values, I had to lead us to practice them daily. Taking time away from the Internet allowed me to focus and experience my team’s commitment to our growth fully.
I couldn’t be more honored to work for a team that has made living our company culture such a high priority.
The benefits of being off social this summer inspired me to follow through with a long-term lifestyle change. With the exception of Snapchat, I am continuing my social media diet. I’ve left Facebook, and I will be going dark on other social media platforms. I want to focus on face-to-face interactions, not being drowned in an echo chamber. Shouting into the void does nothing to support and grow a company. Leading with empathy, constantly thinking about your product, and focusing on your team does.
The most productive self-hack I have ever done was so simple and freeing. I highly encourage all founders to get off social media for at least three months. Your time is your most valuable commodity. You won’t believe how much time you’ll get back in a day without the distractions of your social networks.
Eileen Carey is the CEO of Glassbreakers, a software company building inclusive talent development technology. You can read her other writing for Mattermark here.