A Look at the Stress of Startup Success

Wall Street Journal writers Shalini Ramachandran and Rolfe Winkler reported recently that, “This year is set to be a huge one for startup IPOs. Going public is a cinematic moment for founders, CEOs and early employees, one that can turn years of hard work into immense wealth. But off-camera, the startup world has a dark side. Under the veneer of fancy parties and multibillion-dollar valuations, many founders and early-startup executives are striving to build pioneering businesses while wrestling with issues like anxiety, drug addiction, insomnia, depression and binge eating.

“Stress, of course, is a part of any leadership role, and startup leaders often have more resources than most to cope with mental-health woes. But it is also becoming clear that the swashbuckling creativity that pushes many startup founders to take bold leaps often comes with inner demons.

“Entrepreneurs were 50% more likely to report having a lifetime mental-health condition and reported significantly higher rates of depression, attention-deficit disorder, substance abuse and bipolar disorder than a control group, according to a 2016 paper by researchers at the University of California San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University, who surveyed more than 200 founders.”

The Journal writers indicated that, “Some entrepreneurs have ‘a high degree of energy, a low need for sleep, a drive that seems far beyond ordinary driven people and a vivid imagination,’ says Kerry Sulkowicz, a New York psychoanalyst who advises CEOs. These traits allow them to ‘keep going when everybody tells you what you’re doing is crazy’ but also makes them vulnerable to mental-health issues, he says.”

The article also pointed out that, “An oft-cited issue in tech circles is that many startups fail because of people problems, not business issues. In a 2016 study, 92% of more than 13,000 venture capitalists surveyed by the National Bureau of Economic Research identified the management team as the most important factor in startup failures. ‘It is shocking how often startups fail because of the personality flaws and deep-seated traumas of their founders and execs,’ said Garry Tan, managing partner at startup investor Initialized Capital, in a tweet.”

“A few venture-capital firms are now focusing more on developing founders as human beings rather than just CEOs,” the Journal writers said.

Alpha Bridge Ventures has created a program to help support founders’ well-being. Kari Sulenes, its executive director, says digestive and autoimmune disorders can be exacerbated by stress. Founders’ ‘expectations for health are so low that even when they have something like Lyme disease, they think that’s just something to push through,’ Dr. Sulenes said.”

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