Worst Day on the Job: How Joey co-founder Mandy Potter bounced back from burnout

Mandy Potter has worked on various ventures throughout her career, but one in particular made her want to quit entrepreneurship

It’s hard to tie Mandy Potter to a specific industry. The serial entrepreneur has spent over 15 years starting and scaling businesses in Vancouver—from online cleaning platform Cleanify to on-demand cannabis delivery company Jane Technologies to now selling at-home insemination kits as the co-founder and CEO of Joey. There is one venture that’s not on that list, though: an alcohol delivery company called Swig that Potter started in 2019. It’s the one that got away, but also the one that made her say, “I’m going to quit being an entrepreneur.”

This was probably late 2019. I had just launched a new company, Swig, and it was Canada’s first third-party alcohol deli­very service. I used my own money to start and grow the company… and I’m very, very scrappy. What would probably cost someone $75,000, I did with around $30,000. Prior to Swig I had launched and sold Jane, and that was a cannabis delivery company. So I saw it as a really good opportunity—I’d been in the logistics game for a while.

As it goes with most startups, your workdays are very long and gruelling. But this is especially the case with a logistics software company. I didn’t have a co-founder, so I was everything: product, marketing, partnerships, business development, customer service and the main delivery driver.

There was absolutely no balance in my life. I was on call from about 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. I went out to dinner once and had to leave because a deli­very came in—and that was my life for quite a few months there. The positive side of that was that Swig was doing really well. I was lucky to partner with a lot of amazing companies—I was in talks with B.C. liquor stores about a partnership as well, and they had never done anything like that before. I was doing a significant amount of deliveries in Vancouver—several per hour.

I ended up getting accepted into an accelerator in San Francisco for Swig. So I hired some drivers… and then my ­partner [Kristine Wilson] and I moved there in 2020. On March 16, the government started talking about closing the border. We were like: Should we go back home? Should we stay here? I didn’t want to leave the program because we were having a lot of traction with it. But a border closure was scary, so we decided to head back.

We arrived home at around 5 a.m., so that would have been March 17. And I woke up at 8 a.m. in excruciating pain. I spent the next month in the ICU, basically fighting for my life with a very rare disease called necrotizing pancreatitis. Stress was a part of developing this—not all of it, but definitely a part of it. And I had to make the decision, while very sick, days into that hospital stay, to put Swig on hold indefinitely.

Obviously, at that time, my health was the most important thing. My recovery ended up being very long and very difficult—I had to learn how to walk and eat again—and months later, I made the decision to not restart Swig and to basically quit being an entrepreneur. The lifestyle that I was living, that I had lived since I was 19, just didn’t seem sustainable anymore.

Once I recovered, I ended up working with a couple of software companies in an executive (but employee) role. I used to joke and say that it was the first job I’d ever had: for the first time in my life I worked normal hours, I had weekends off, I took care of my mental and physical health. I realized, also for the first time, that burnout wasn’t cool and the hustle was dangerous. I spent a really long time trying to grasp this concept of balance because it was something that I had never really known; even prior to starting companies I played extremely competitive sports, so my whole life was basically one big hustle. And it caught up to me.

I did get to a point where I felt strong enough in every way and that’s when [Kristine and I] started working on Joey, which is Canada’s first at-home insemination kit. I truly believe that I’m a better leader today because of my journey. If you have people who are burning out, they’re absolutely useless in a business setting—and there were many times where I would fall sick with pneumonia or something because I was just so stressed, so overworked.

Having a kid, you’re forced to slow down a bit… Now I have set hours that I’ll work (obviously, if something comes up, I’ll do more), I try to take off weekends to hang out with my daughter, I go for walks in the middle of the day, I meditate, I work out a lot… I don’t remember the last time I burned out, whereas I used to do it constantly. So, as cheesy as it may sound, I think that quitting entrepreneurship set me up to be a better entrepreneur.

This interview has been edited and condensed.