Startup Advice

Why this founder says battling cancer was easier than building her first startup

Dominic Powell /

Loretta McGill

Loretta McGill. Source: Supplied.

For Loretta McGill, battling an unexpected bowel cancer diagnosis was an easier task than creating and launching her first startup.

“The thing about cancer and chemotherapy is that you’re told every step of the way how to do it. It’s all planned out for you, you just go through it,” McGill told StartupSmart.

“It’s a routine, you know what’s coming, and there are clear next options if something isn’t working.”

But as a startup founder, McGill says you’re often left not knowing where to turn if you have problems or questions. And while friends and family are supportive of founders, they’re not truly “helpful” as they are when providing support for dealing with cancer, McGill says.

“I ran a crowdfunding campaign for to launch my startup, and then my friend ran one for me when I was diagnosed with cancer. I ended up with half the amount of my first campaign, without me doing anything,” she says.

“At the same time, my bank wiped my loan I took out to finish building the company’s website because of my cancer diagnosis.”

McGill’s startup is Let’s Meet At — a social network and meetups site she launched in March 2016 to help anyone connect with people over a mutual love of food. In the month it launched, she told StartupSmart the goal was to reach 700 members by the end of the year.

Launching Let’s Meet At placed McGill firmly outside of her comfort zone, as it was her first tech startup.

“It helped me get out of my comfort zone and go and talk to people and go and network with people and become the face of Let’s Meet At — that’s not something that comes naturally to me,” she said at the time.

But just eight months after launch, 33-year-old McGill received her cancer diagnosis. After 12 rounds of chemotherapy and more than eight weeks of recovery, she has only been finished treatment now for two months.

Following some final tests in February and some ongoing operations, McGill is hoping to confirm she’s cancer-free over the next three to six months.

Now, faced with the prospect of continuing to work on Let’s Meet At, McGill says the experience has made her realise she’s not the right person to continue her original vision.

“For some, illness makes them push harder into their businesses, or go on to launch something more meaningful. For me, it meant I simplified my life, and it showed me what I could and couldn’t do,” she says.

“I still believe in the concept of Let’s Meet At, but I also know if it’s going to be a success I’m not the person to make that happen.

“It’s a strange feeling — I’ve built the baby but I’m not the one to raise it.”

Stress should not be viewed as “normal or healthy”

McGill has been trying to sell her startup, but so far has been unsuccessful. She now looking at giving it away more than selling it as she’d rather someone pick it up and run with the idea, although she’s still planning on keeping around 20%.

Looking forward, the founder admits she’s unlikely to go back to startups, saying it “didn’t feel right” and was a constant struggle. Her background is in marketing consulting so she says she’ll be looking to help other people better grow their businesses as she finds that “more rewarding”.

However, she warns startup founders to keep vigilant about their mental and physical health and wellbeing, saying that constant stress should not be viewed as a “normal or healthy feeling”.

“Stress is just one part of it, but if you can find a way to manage that better, you’re going to be in better health. We only get one body, but you can have many opportunities to start a business,” she says.

“I personally believe you know deep down what you want and what you don’t, and when what you’re doing isn’t right for you. Your general happiness is never going to come out of doing something that isn’t right for you.

“I never really wanted to launch a business and I struggled for a long time over whether I was going to or not. But now, I never view it as, ‘should I have done it?’— I was just trying something, and there’s no harm in trying.”

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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