When Kickstarter’s Co-founder Knew It Was Time To Go

Have you ever left something that was so tied to your identity, you worried, “Who am I without it?” A job? Maybe a relationship?

Although terrifying, sometimes shedding an identity is where the magic happens. Who you are, and what you actually stand for, becomes a little clearer. At least that was the case for Yancey Strickler. He co-founded Kickstarter and spent five years as its CEO.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

I couldn’t…figure how to make my arm…It just wouldn’t move.

Yancey Strickler: It was in my last year as CEO. And I was really exhausted. And there was a day where I was going to leave my house to go to work, and I stood in my front door – and I just couldn’t even lift my arm to open the door. I was just standing there and my wife thought I left for work, and she found me standing by the door. And I had tears in my eyes. She’s like, “What’s going on?” And I’m just like, “I just can’t… I can’t go in there and be that person today.” I just don’t know how to be the one who’s holding all of these things, who still has the strength and energy to project all the things that I need to project. And the idea of stepping into that role just filled me with a level of exhaustion that I’d never felt before. …It was just about living up to what I thought…an image I felt I needed to live up to.

Laurie Segall: …What an extraordinary thing to just be sitting at your front door and not even being able to open it, right?

Yancey Strickler: I remember the moment so clearly because it was like I was looking at the doorknob, and I couldn’t…figure how to make my arm…It just wouldn’t move, and I could just feel…my body was just telling me, “This is not working for you.”

Laurie Segall: And you know, identity is a funny thing… Having left a job of ten years too. I was Laurie from CNN who covered Yancey from Kickstarter, right? …And I remember writing the goodbye email, sending it to CNN “Superdesk,” which goes out to every employee in the company. And waiting to hit send. …And I remember the amount of anxiety I had. I had to have my boss at the time hit send, because I just couldn’t do it. …Because it was just like watching my identity go.

Yancey Strickler: Mm-hmm

Laurie Segall: When you leave something, it’s such a part of you. And it does mess with your head. I can only imagine leaving behind Kickstarter for you must have been an extraordinary thing for your head, and an extraordinary thing for your heart.

Yancey Strickler: I thought that I was gonna leave, and then just like sleep for three months, and instead I discovered like the very next day I had more energy than I had had in years, and I realized that I’d spent a decade filtering every thought I had through the organization, through the brand, through “What’s best for the creators, what’s best for the employees, what does everyone else need?” And that I was suddenly in a place of hustling for myself.