Local founders uncover Kiwi entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues

Jonah Merchant — BizDojo Cofounder

A wakeup call we all need to take.

This year has in many ways been a steep learning curve for our whole team. We have bitten off a lot, opening Parnell and Takapuna, expanding Christchurch and Wellington and weathering building pain in Ponsonby.

Unsurprisingly it has been a huge ask of our team from the ground up, as Nick, Lachlan and I grapple with next steps, and our team on the ground keep smiling while hustling to get stuff done.

It has been a super stressful time. Great, but stressful. And in the midst of all this mayhem life happens.

I started off the year with some pretty decent head injuries after a mountain biking expedition went wrong. I was forced to take a step back, just at the moment that Nick, Lachlan and I were due to be heading abroad to talk investment for our digital platform CoLo. As the weeks ticked by, Nick and Lachlan stepped up, managing to keep the wheels for my workload turning whilst churning out their own work. At home I grappled with the desire to do what the doctors told me (rest), whilst wanting to help at a pivotal moment in the business.

It would be a few months before I published this LinkedIn post asking the business community what it felt we, as a collective needed to do to better support our founder community to success. And a few weeks more before the feedback started rolling in. You all told us plenty of great things for us to focus on when creating founder focussed services both under Founders Central and BizDojo, but as time went on we increasingly saw a pattern emerge, one that rang a wakeup call. Perhaps it was one that I needed to hear back in January when I was laid up in a hospital bed.

As some of you may have heard from Nick recently, the number of stories we have heard around the issue of founder mental health started to really alarm us. These anecdotes and insights have rolled in as Nick came forward to share how his own struggles with mental wellness through his founder journey had impacted him and those closest to him.

As a co-founder, I have not been immune to the immense stress that has come with helming BizDojo, and as we surveyed the founder community on the depth, causes and solutions to their mental wellness concerns it seems many of you are in the same boat as Nick and myself.

95% of those surveyed told us they felt that their mental health had been affected by their choice to follow an entrepreneurial path and of those affected over half of you did not seek support.

The reasons range from a simple lack of time or financial resources to a belief that their stress, depression, insomnia, addiction issues and anxiety are simply part of being a founder.

As we ramp up to an election later this month, issues affecting us all are coming to the fore. Public conversations are being had around pressing issues like housing affordability, homelessness, health care, clean water, the economy and increasingly mental health and as we publish key insights from our founder mental health survey today we want to make sure that the conversation about supporting the mental health of our burgeoning business sector receives the attention it deserves.

We are proud to be launching new wellness initiatives for founders under our Founders Central banner. With activity first due to kick off in October to align with the national Mental Health Awareness week, you will see events, content and services starting to be delivered aimed at supporting founders through their journey. The learnings and impacts of these interventions will be recorded, used to iterate the on the programmes for best effect.

At the same time, we are calling on the wider ecosystem to support the founder community. That means creating safe spaces for people to have conversations and widening the approach we are all taking in supporting founders to success.

If you, like us have a mission to support New Zealand’s entrepreneurial community, or want to collaborate to move this conversation forward into meaningful widespread action we would love to hear from you.

And if you are concerned about your own stress levels or about your own resilience, please reach out to friends or family or even to health care professionals. There’s no stigma involved — we are all in this together and we want you to know you’re not on your own.

Download our mental health survey insights one pager here.

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