The Founder’s Brain: Red Bull and Vodka

Ben Wiener
3 min readNov 26, 2019


Many founders — particularly first-time founders — struggle with the mental chaos of startup leadership. Sometimes it seems like your brain is being pulled in different directions. And that’s exactly the way it should be, at least in the Jungle stage.

One of Jumpspeed’s LPs held a day-long roundtable discussion with his portfolio companies last week and I was privileged to take part. Over the course of the day a number of the founders vented about the daily stress and difficulties they experience in trying to navigate tough decisions based on imperfect or unknown information. Clearly, they felt that this was problematic, a mode of operation they needed to fix or optimize.

I piped up: “Have you ever had a Red Bull and Vodka?” Puzzled looks. I explained: When you drink a Red Bull and Vodka, you feel your brain being pulled in opposing directions, plus a bit of a buzz. To me, that’s a metaphor for startup leadership. Part of your brain is urging caution, care, further analysis, deliberation. Simultaneously, the rest of your brain is screaming: “Move fast and break things!!” Part of your brain says, “We can do that!” and the other part says “How in the world are we going to do that??!” One side screams “BOO-Yah!!” — the other just “Aaaauugghh!!” Just like a Red Bull and Vodka, this sensation wraps your brain in a confusing buzz.

And you know what? That’s normal. In fact I’d argue that initially, at least until you find Product/Market Fit, this dichotomy is optimal. If the two sides of your brain aren’t pulling in opposite directions, you’re probably missing something.

Startups are not orderly; at the outset disorder is the norm. Even if you have a plan, you have to understand it’s likely to change direction often. You’ll hear both Signal and Noise. You’ll feel yourself and your team pulled in opposing directions. I believe the job of the startup leader is not to eliminate the dichotomy, but to keep it in balance; to keep pushing ahead but to always keep questioning and doubting at the same time. Yes, that is a bit terrifying. Yes, you probably won’t know if you’ve made the right decision to power forward or to pivot, until much later.

Of course, your goal is to get out of this chaotic period as soon as possible, and the exit point is probably Product/Market Fit. Post-PMF your leadership mode shifts towards execution and scale, and your startup should begin to move up the continuum from chaos to order.

Just don’t expect that order from the outset. If things are too quiet, too orderly — if someone asks you how your startup is doing and your response is always an unequivocal “We’re CRUSHING it!!” — something is probably wrong. If you’re feeling stressed out, you have both my empathy and sympathy, but that’s probably the way things should be, at least for now.

Keep plugging, and have a Red Bull and Vodka, on me.