When you're starting your own business, it's hard to draw the line between when your work day ends and when your personal life begins.
For some (and probably many) startup founders, that line probably doesn't exist. Few entrepreneurs know this as well as Alexa von Tobel, the founder and CEO of LearnVest.
Von Tobel officially launched LearnVest in 2009 as an online subscription-based service aimed at making financial planning easy and accessible to women with little knowledge of the subject.
It didn't take long for LearnVest to gain recognition within Silicon Alley. By 2011 the company was already valued at $100 million, and von Tobel has been recognized as one of the most prominent female figures in the industry by Business Insider, Forbes, and Inc. among other publications.
But, as is the case with most successful startups, LearnVest's accomplishments didn't come easily. Von Tobel founded LearnVest during one of the worst economic periods in the country's history — the recession that occurred between 2007 and 2009. It took many sleepless nights and workdays that extended as late as 2 am to get Learnvest to where it is today.
In an interview with Business Insider, she shared some of the tips, guidelines, and principles that got her and the LearnVest team through some of their toughest times.Focus and discipline are key
According to von Tobel, there's an important question entrepreneurs should ask themselves to nail down specific goals and priorities:
"If our business was only going to be around for a quarter, what would we be doing?"
Answering this question can help weed out the things that are less important to make it easier to execute necessities on a daily basis.
"When I plan my day I ask 'Am I doing the three things I need to do today? If not, why not?'" von Tobel said. "It's a process you should go through all the time."'Make great decisions every day'
This is a motto that von Tobel lives by, and it drives the work ethic behind the LearnVest team.
"You can't make good decisions, but you don't have to make perfect decisions," von Tobel said. "Every day, come to work and make great decisions. If we're waiting for the perfect decision, we're going to be waiting for a long time. But if we only make good decisions, were never going to get there."
This fits into von Tobel's larger perspective on taking everything one day at a time. Having a long term plan is important, but it's also crucial to make sure you're doing your best work on a daily basis to move the business' goals forward. Looking toward the future all the time can become too overwhelming, she said.Think big, then shrink it down
According to von Tobel, it's better to start out with big ambitious ideas even if you can't execute them the way you initially envisioned. If you think big, you can scale back your idea to something more manageable and realistic.
"It means you're thinking about all the opportunity that could be ahead of you," she said. "As an entrepreneur, you should ask 'How big could this be? What could ths look like? If you only think small, you could be missing opportunities that are ahead of you."Don't forget to take care of yourself, too
In the early days of LearnVest, von Tobel put everything involving her business before her own health and needs. A lifestyle that's based on little sleep, long workdays of drinking nothing but coffee, and forgetting to squeeze in doctors visits obviously isn't sustainable for the long term. Now that von Tobel has been running a business for four years, she says she goes to the gym almost everyday and stays healthy.
Those lifestyle choices play a big role in how von Tobel runs her business.
"I'm healthier, I'm happier, I sleep better. And all of that is important," she said. "When my life is better, my company is better."
Although von Tobel's advice may be helpful, words can only go so far when it comes to describing the immense amount of work it takes to start your own company.
"If you know what it takes to become an entrepreneur, you'd never become one," she said. "Because it's you, in the trenches every day... It's a very hard, lonely endeavor to dream about something that's not even built yet and then go out and build it against the odds."
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