August 22, 2021
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About mental health awareness for startup founders

You’re building a ship in the middle of the ocean. You’re building a plane after jumping off a cliff. These are some of the metaphors you hear about being a startup founder. If you’re a normal human being, these words should scare you. Your friends are making money in this or that big company while you’re struggling to get your first customers. It is incredibly brutal and unforgiving. There’s a whole “business porn” industry glorifying being a founder and you hear podcast after podcast about how often people are raising money for their startups that seem a lot less interesting than yours.

It takes a lot of guts to be a startup founder. You should at least give yourself that. What percentage of people who have the guts to do what you do? Very small. Back in the 16th and the 17th centuries when the first ships were arriving in America, not everyone had the stomach to go on such a journey. Not everyone made it either. You should well be aware that what you’re doing is high-risk and you may not make it. The positive stories that we hear all the time are the ones that make news. For each success story, there are dozens that we never hear about.

That being said, if you are still up for that task, you are among the people who get a chance to shape the future for the rest of humanity. If you find a shorter path to what others need, people will follow you and that’s the reward that you’ll get. You won’t be a sheep. You’ll get to be a shepherd. We all get to live once so what if we fail trying to live differently from the lives that have been lived billions of times before? If it wasn’t for the explorers who lived centuries ago, we were not anywhere near where we are today. This journey is not for fame or money. This is for shaping the future of humanity. This is not an exaggeration. In a chaotic world, if a butterfly can change the weather sometime in the future, a successful startup certainly will change the future of humanity. Imagine the world without Google. Google is an obvious example. Any startup that helps to do things faster and better will help the next innovator makes his or her breakthrough.

There’s glory in defeat if the war is for a better future. The most likely reason for the failure of a startup is its founders quitting.

The most likely reason for the failure of a startup is its founders quitting.

When do we quit? When we think that all the roads ahead are closed and there is not a single path forward left to us. It’s a mental state. We all know the story of how Slack was created. Slack was a simple chat tool that a game development team was using. In 2011 when “Tiny Speck” was developing “Glitch” without much success, they decided to market the byproduct of their efforts and Slack was born. If they did quit at that point, we would not have Slack as we know it today. If Slack did not exist today, many other innovations that it helped shaping did not exist. The velocity that Slacks provides is unmatched. I’m not counting MS teams. Teams is just a mock-up of Slack, nothing more.

Personal finances are the most important reasons for entrepreneurs to stress out and quit. At the same time, it takes a while for a new business to generate traction and becomes fundable let alone viable. It is frequently said that you’ll need to quit your full-time job before starting your entrepreneurial journey. I personally don’t subscribe to that point of view and I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. We’ll find out from the outcome of IdeaCooker.

In general, quitting your day job and losing all your benefits puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders to almost a breaking point. The entrepreneurial journey is stressful enough on its own. Adding incredible financial stress on top of it is not my first choice. I’m sure so many people disagree with me, but there should be a way to bootstrapping the startup to the funding stage without losing your jobs and benefits.

Once we find an idea that has legs, we can quit and build the business. I’m literally testing this path right now and I’m not sure how viable it is, but losing all my income and not being able to pay the mortgage is something that I’m not willing to try right now and I think you shouldn’t either.

Having founders around you helps with taking some of that anxiety away. A startup is not something that you can talk to your wife or buddy with. They will not understand. Find a community on Discord, Slack, and other places and hand it out with them. A good community that I found is on startups discord and I found it useful. They have paid memberships to help founders go through difficult times as well, but at $200/month it’s a little steep for me. There are countless Facebook, Discord, and other groups that don’t require any payment, and you can still talk to other founders and get some sympathy and guidance from them.

We face mental health crises when we feel rejected and lonely when we fail. If you become part of a community with people around you who support your vision and cheer for you, it’ll be much easier to deal with uncertainty, risk, and failure. This is true about every situation in life, not just startups. There are so many countries with very low average income levels and yet they are among relatively happy countries. Why is that?

The secret is in being part of a group. As long as we feel we are not alone, we can take a lot more abuse than we think we can. Take soldiers who go to war for example. I can’t imagine if there is a more difficult or dramatic experience that anyone can go through than what these soldiers do. What keeps them motivated and alive in the battlefield? I think it’s simply the team. Soldiers become closer to each other than brothers. Any type of hard experience can be mitigated in a pack. That’s why animals move in packs.

We, humans, are dangerously becoming individualistic. I strongly believe that’s very dangerous to us and the existence of our species. When we become more isolated, we become less sympathetic. It becomes easier to dehumanize others. With the advent of the pandemic, things have become worse. Technology is also to blame here. The time that we used to spend together is now spent with a smartphone looking at other people’s photos being fake. As founders, we should break this cycle and go back to the group. If you are running a larger startup and have a team that you feel comfortable with, you can certainly leverage it. Hanging out with your team not only builds the culture of your company but also helps you reduce your stress and build better bonds with your team. I’ve read so much that a team’s performance has improved dramatically after founders spend more quality time with the team.

If you know some founder communities that we can benefit from, comment below. I personally would love to attend as I’m sure others will find it useful as well.

Yours, Adam

1 Comment on this article

  1. Adebola Taiwo