Creative Mayhem: Life as a founder with ADHD

ADHD mind

This article took me four weeks to finish. During this time, I’ve had ideas for more than ten articles, started writing them in parallel, delaying this one so much that I almost gave up ever publishing it… It wasn’t until I read Driven To Distraction that I stumbled upon an explanation for why I was struggling to finish. Through this book and my doctor, I’ve discovered that I have a condition called Adult ADHD.

While the adult variant of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has recently started to become a serious subject of research, it’s difficult to find testimonies about it related to work, in particular entrepreneurship. Early results show that there’s a positive correlation between ADHD and the desire and act to start a company. I’ll share how adult ADHD can affect a founder’s experience and how it played a role in the successes and stumbles of my life as the cofounder and CTO of Truework.

Backstory and the entrepreneurship drive

From an early age, I had trouble remembering important things like my birthday (learned around age 7), how to tie shoes (learned age 12), or even why I entered a room in the first place (to this day, this keeps happening). All the way to the end of high school, getting good grades was easy. However, early signs of difficulty focusing popped up here and there: even when required to, I wasn’t able to sit down and learn. For example, in France, students must memorize entire poems, then are expected to recite it back the next day. As hard as I tried, when I stepped in front of the class my mind remained blank, unable to recall the words I had tried to learn the day before. The teacher, exasperated by my silence, called me “lazy” and “rebellious.”

After high school, I was accepted into the best schools in France. Difficulties focusing on homework became more problematic as advanced maths, physics, and chemistry required deeper focus and concentration to understand complex topics. My grades were now in the middle of the class instead of being at the top. For the first time, I started to feel the deep frustration of not being able to focus when I needed it.

As I started my professional life, things became more interesting. I was hired as a Software Engineer at LinkedIn and finally, it was an environment where my creativity could be unleashed. I suffered from “too-many-project-itis”, a made-up condition for engineers who start too many projects and finish too few. I learned to let go of most of them while focusing on the ones that would yield tangible results. Eventually, one of these ideas, a place to get verified information about people, motivated me enough to want to stop working at a big company and create a company that became a real startup: Truework.

The pressure of long hours and stress to find product-market fit during early startup days pushed my mind to new highs and lows. What I thought were quirks of my personality quickly became signs that something in my brain was different than my peers. These inherent differences, while frustrating at times, also led to surprising successes for our business. Adult ADHD symptoms fall into three categories as they relate to an entrepreneur’s experiences: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Just like in the famous scene they will, throughout your life, face each other or even duel at times: it’s your responsibility to have the “Good” win.

Scene from the good, the bad and the ugly

The Bad

“The bad” are the parts of ADHD that are not pleasant to deal with, for you or others. These behaviors, if not dealt with, will be a challenge to your success as an entrepreneur.

The Ugly

“The ugly” parts are the frustrations of daily life. They’ll make you feel a bit “different” from others or “off”. I’ve found they have little impact on my journey as a founder but instead can bring your enthusiasm and confidence down. Keeping them under control will improve your overall well being as a person which is very important for founders.

The Good

Finally with the “the good” parts. Let me preface this part by saying that the qualities listed below are not superpowers. But they may give you an edge in specific situations.

ADHD traits, described by the media, seem largely dysfunctional. While there’s some truth to it, they affect a founder’s life in contradictory ways: one day you’ll be extremely anxious and wondering why you took the leap in the first place, and the next you’ll be riding high, loving the risk of being an entrepreneur.

It’s too easy to let yourself be defined by the conditions you are born with and see them as roadblocks to your success. With most things in life you don’t get to choose what you’re born with, only what actions you take: if you want to become a founder, ADHD is just one of the problems you’ll need to solve along the way.

For any questions or experiences to share, feel free to reach out to me directly.