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Entrepreneurial Culture & How Investors Can Help Founders Cope with Stress

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Successful entrepreneurs are modern celebrities. The Elon Musks, Mark Zuckerbergs, and Jack Dorseys are perceived by many as mentors, futurists, and titans of industry. They enjoy massive fortune and fame and have cult-like social media followings. But it all comes at a hefty price.

As many as 72% of entrepreneurs – Musk and Dorsey included – have faced mental health issues on their journey to build successful enterprises. 

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The Extreme Strain Of Being An Entrepreneur

First and foremost, entrepreneurs are human. It is our blindspot as an industry to expect them to be anything else. As humans engaged in the demanding and arduous process of bringing a company into existence, they are subject to all the same responses to those demands as any one of us.

For far too long, we have avoided talking about the extreme strain of being an entrepreneur.

The stress of leading a startup can be profound. Meeting the needs of customers, raising funding, and constantly making critical decisions that impact the lives of all employees leave many founders burned out and at their breaking point. 

Unfortunately, despite a large percentage of entrepreneurs privately reporting feeling this way, many do not properly seek out the support they need through therapy, coaching, founder networks, and trusted friends.

In 2013, Jessica Bruder tried to start a conversation on founder mental health with her award-winning article, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. Featuring insights and data from Michael A. Freeman’s research on entrepreneurship and mental health, Bruder showed the world that founders were twice as likely to experience depression, twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts, and three times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder than the general population.

Despite the article initially garnering traction in the industry, the world quickly went back to celebrating ballooning funding rounds as the barometer for success, and sweeping any notion of founders' mental health under the rug.

Thankfully, we’re no longer in an era of ignoring mental wellness. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of sharp increases in anxiety and depression led companies and governments to prioritize mental health support services. As a result of this and the long-term efforts of activists, the stigma around discussing mental wellness is slowly fading. Many people, including Olympic athletes, business leaders,and politicians, have started talking about mental health in a healthy and productive way.

Mental Wellness

Investors are often a specific source of mental strain for entrepreneurs. The very nature of the relationship between VC and founder pressures founders to succeed. Founders might not share their vulnerabilities out of fear that their openness will undermine the confidence of their investors. While this attitude is hopefully less pervasive than it once was in the investment community, it is an important consideration. 

As investors we should care about the people building the company as much as we care about the company being built.The investment community should be champions of founders’ mental wellness. Their outsized influence makes them ideal vocal leaders of reducing stigma and improving the ways entrepreneurs care for their mental health. 

One of the most important ways investors can help is to amplify the philosophy that founders should proactively address mental wellness, which experts agree is a superior way to tackle issues compared to strictly reactive mental healthcare. Advocating for entrepreneurs to seek assistance before a situation becomes a crisis is the surest way investors can encourage entrepreneurs to succeed. 

Mental health should be at the forefront of concerns for any leader. It is beyond critical that everyone, including entrepreneurs, feel comfortable admitting vulnerabilities and seeking help. 

There are healthy levels of anxiety that give founders and entrepreneurs the spark and drive needed to be successful. Effectively confronting mental health challenges allows individuals to identify this level and avoid catastrophic burnout.

About the Author

Jim Kim, is a founder and General Partner of Formation 8 and Builders VC. Believe this is particularly timely now as founders experience increased pressure to lay off employees and succeed amid slashed valuations. 

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Jim Kim

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