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What can investors and founders do about founder mental health?

It is through their passion and efforts that we succeed or fail.

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We can either choose to see founders purely as a means to an end generating returns or we can see them as the whole people they are. When I make an effort to get to know our founders beyond the most superficial level, then I cannot help but be moved by their personal struggles.


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Seeing founders in our portfolio succeed on a personal level is just as rewarding for me as sharing in their professional success. As Michael Freeman writes :. Mental health is as essential for knowledge work in the 21st century as physical health was for physical labor in the past. Creativity, ingenuity, insight, brilliance, planning, analysis, and other executive functions are often the cognitive cornerstones of breakthrough value creation by entrepreneurs.

Depression, anxiety and mood disorders all actively work to undermine founder performance. According to Noam Wasserman at HBS, 65 percent of failed startups fail for avoidable reasons like co-founder conflict. All of these experiences are exacerbated when founders are in a time of high mental and emotional strain. If a firm were able to help even half of those companies avoid failure caused by burnout and mental strain, that would mean an additional five companies would be successful, doubling the number of successful outcomes in the portfolio.

Even if one were indifferent to the personal lives of the portfolio founders, they should care about founder health if they care about portfolio returns. Mental health problems permeate every industry, not just the tech industry, but the statistics above would seem to indicate that we have a particular problem.

What causes entrepreneurs to suffer at substantially higher than average rates? For now, based on our own observations of founders, we believe there are several explanations that may contribute. Founders are almost certainly pre-disposed toward certain conditions like ADHD for example. Poisonous industry tropes: The narratives our industry tells are less real than pictures that grace the front of fashion magazines and are just as destructive.

Startups are hard: The magic of a great team is in building a group with complementary skills. Startups are alienating: The all-encompassing nature of a startup often causes founders to spend less time with family, friends and significant others, and many are required to re-locate away from these support networks for funding or strategic reasons. As stress at a company builds, founders are more inclined to double down at work a natural response to an emergency. This tendency only further burdens the founder by muting their supportive relationships and reduces their ability to cope with company pressures.

As a result, they are often alone when they need others the most. Founders report that they feel they cannot talk with their co-founders, especially when the problem is with the co-founder, they cannot pass the burden of their worry on to their employees and they feel their friends and family do not understand or are tired of hearing about the company. Founders eat last : I have yet to meet a founder who has a budgeted line item for self-care or who takes guilt-free vacations. In almost every other skilled industry there is recognition that people have a right to take care of themselves and that a little bit of self-care actually leads to a more productive workforce.

Investors, founders and poorly trained middle managers all perpetuate a myth in the startup ecosystem that the only way to be successful is to grind yourself inexorably to the bone. Financial risk: In addition to opportunity cost, founders often go without a paycheck and pour a significant portion of their personal capital into their businesses.

Signs and symptoms of burnout syndrome

This creates enormous financial stress and anxiety that sets up a scenario in which a business failure also creates personal financial ruin. A founder with too much skin in the game may live under a Sword of Damocles and be unable to focus on the key tasks, ironically bringing about their own worst fears. This leads founders to chalk up success to luck, but to take all the blame for any failures.

Indeed, 58 percent of tech workers suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and I suspect the number is substantially higher among founders. Moving the goalposts: Founders find it difficult to celebrate the small wins, as each victory brings on the next, greater challenge. The second most stressful time for founders is right before they are able to secure a major fundraise; the most stressful time is right afterward.

How to manage anxiety and depression at work

These substances are both a cause and a symptom of broader problems in the ecosystem. I wager that simply reading the above list left you stressed out and self-identifying with a number of the factors that cause founders stress. Luckily there are some things we can all do to combat mental health strain. Each of us who participates in the startup ecosystem contributes to the problem of poor founder health. This puts each of us in a position to positively impact this experience by acting. Here are a few things we can do. Investors should make sure that the founders they work with know that they take mental health issues seriously.

Drop the act. If investors want to support their founders, they need to be authentic and vulnerable in front of them.

You suffered to bring your company to the pinnacle of success and you had to invest heavily in yourself to survive the trip. Our SN buddies are trained to lend an ear and provide judgment-free advice. Here are some tips for fostering positive personal relationships at work:. With its mood-boosting and endorphin-releasing properties, regular aerobic exercise is a natural stress reducer.

In fact, a study found that exercise was just as effective in eliminating depression antidepressants. You should aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity each day. Safe to safe that dealing with work stress in this manner is not good. Why does this happen? Not sure what to eat? Here are some tips: Eat this:.

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The availability of healthy snacks will help improve your diet and keep your stress in check. Stress has long been linked to chronic insomnia. But while conventional wisdom treats the inability to sleep as a symptom of stress, researchers at Harvard medical school found that poor sleep may actually be a contributing factor. Here are some tips to get your sleep schedule back on track:. Feeling overwhelmed is a major stressor. Managing stress at work is partially about your mindset. Your outlook can have a huge impact on your ability to cope with everyday stressors. Here are a few tips to change your mindset by break the bad habits that are holding you back:.

Follow the tactics outlined here to bring your stress level back down into the healthy range so you can continue to experience breakthroughs and create some real magic for yourself. We hope you learn how to avoid stress at work. Let us know in the comments below. I was stressed. Great article! Proper planning — setting expectations and giving everyone a road map has really helped reduce last minute project stress and has prevented people from bloating project.

Thank you for sharing! Slack can definitely provide value, but the more face to face interaction, the better.

We Need to Talk More About Mental Health at Work

It tends to de-escalate stressful situations. Hi Jeff, may I put a link to your article on my website? And with your article also some tips, too. Thank you! Hello Jeff. The expectation is higher, besides the workmates are cold and unfriendly, kinda feel nervous all the time. It really does make a huge difference. Hang in there!

Workplace Bullying

A nice reminder to stay focused on being unstressed. Hi Jeff, thanks for sharing! I love the infographic! Is there anyway that I can print out just the infographic? I would love to be able to post on my HR Corner board for my employees! I can help you out with this. You should be able to print or download from there.


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Great article on reducing stress! I think getting the appropriate amount of sleep per night and taking care of yourself through exercise and nutrition is such common sense, but we forget day to day that we need to do these things. I know I need to remind myself and work at it constantly!

This is an awesome article. Very timely. When I started reading it, I was really stressed and was just sitting on my desk, my mind blank. I am glad that as I finished reading the story, i am longer stressed. What an article! Very well presented info-graphics.