Burnout is the exception, not the rule with Ambient co-founder Taylor McLoughlin

During a recent episode of NY Seed Round, we spoke with Ambient co-founder Taylor McLoughlin about tackling burnout as a founder.
Author
Luis Gonzalez
Senior Manager, Content Marketing
Published
June 20, 2024
read time
1 minute
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Updated
July 2, 2024

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“Because I felt it.” 

That was Ambient co-founder Taylor McLoughlin’s response to being asked why he takes the topic of burnout so seriously. 

For many founders across the startup ecosystem, the word burnout is one best shied away from—acknowledged but not really discussed. Everyone knows it’s a thing, but no one wants to openly admit it. But for Taylor, the best path towards managing burnout is to confront it directly, not run from it. 

And in a recent episode of NY Seed Round, Senior Director of Marketing at Rho, Justin Wolz, spoke with Taylor on how to do exactly that. In this blog, we share some of the tactics Taylor uses to both prevent and manage burnout. But be sure to check out the full episode to hear more about his journey building Ambient and how he’s managing his stress along the way. 

“I think there's more work to be done and there's been some demonstrable improvement. There's more people paying attention to this, too, which is exciting.”

What exactly is burnout? 

For Taylor, burnout doesn’t have a clear cut definition or a single, root cause.

“Burnout is not a moment or a specific point in time. It's a spectrum of experiences from exhaustion all the way to outright collapse. I don’t think you wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, I’m burned out.’”

Like Taylor alluded to, burnout is a combination of factors and warning signs that culminate in a host of negative outcomes, some of which can be particularly insidious. For Taylor, that looked like poor sleep quality and a lower heart rate variability or HRV—which is a measure of the time between heart beats and can highlight underlying health issues.

“If there's one biometric to pay attention to that's accessible to have, it's HRV,” said Taylor. 

Another warning sign he noticed was deteriorating interpersonal relationships due to the fact that he was becoming avoidant and focusing solely on his business.  

The reality of being burnt out can often leave founders at a crossroads: do they trudge forward and continue building the company of their dreams, or go back to something a bit safer, ending their aspirations in the process? 

“The question that I faced when I was going through my own period of difficulty last summer was, I either stop doing what I'm doing as a career to give myself more capacity for other aspects of life, like building relationships. Or I keep working on finding a way to make it kind of fit together and more cohesive,” said Taylor.

“I chose the latter obviously, because this is something that I feel the most alive doing.”

Progress is important, but check on yourself 

When asked about the topic of burnout, Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, had a simple recommendation. 

“You just gotta work through it.” 

For Taylor, this is good advice but just a starting point to a bigger conversation. For him, it’s not enough to push people to trudge through—you have to give folks the tools to help them navigate these tough times, too. 

“I would add, ‘Just keep going…And here's how.’ Because it really matters how you go forward. Not the fact that you go forward,” said Taylor. 

Here, the details make all the difference but making time for them is just as important, too.

“You have to take those pit stops, get an oil change, clean up the inside, wash the outside. So that you can keep running at a high tempo without burning fuel too much.”  

Burnout is not a requirement, breathing is 

The general consensus is that to experience burnout is a rite of passage for startup founders. 

But for Taylor, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. 

“I don't think it's a requirement to be successful to burnout. I think about the journey of a business, where you're trying to take it up and to the right. Your experience of that journey doesn't have to be equally high and low,” said Taylor. 

Given the unpredictability of startup culture, when faced with these moments of stress and uncertainty, one simple tactic has stood out for its effectiveness: breathing. 

“Breath work is an important tool to connect right into your nervous system,” said Taylor. 

But it’s not just breathing. Another tactic that has grown in popularity over the years is cold plunges. But for Taylor, the activity isn’t just the “cool” thing to do for founders, it really does make a difference. 

“One of my mentors and coaches, Avi Greenberg. I met him when I first moved here in 2018.  And we would gather on Friday evenings in someone's driveway in Flatbush on Friday nights…a big wooden barrel sauna and two ice baths,“ said Taylor. 

For Avi, the ritual was a practice in regulation, in teaching your body how to cope with acute stress. 

“When things are not going well, my heart really starts to palpitate. My chest gets tight. I'm not breathing fully. And so those are the moments to try to become aware of and then apply these learnings, to down regulate to get yourself into a much better state.“

You can listen to the full conversation with Taylor on Spotify below.

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