Mental Health Is A Taboo Subject In Tech. This Y-Combinator Alum Is Sharing His Story
Entrepreneurship is commonly described as a lonely and challenging endeavor. Mental health issues for those in the startup community only make normal difficulties in building a company even worse. Unsurprisingly, startup founders are quick to share their success with the world but curiously slow in discussing their failures with their peers.
His name is Alexander Mistakidis, an alumnus of the famed San Francisco Bay Area-based startup accelerator program, Y-Combinator, and CEO of Gamelynx, a startup focused on building team-based competitive games for the mobile platform.
This is his story.
Mistakidis was interested in gaming from early childhood. He would spend days and nights trying to get emulators of his favorite games working on his desktop. His ability to find the right programs to run these adapted games was an early indicator of his problem-solving skills.
He was certain that he would go on to create something meaningful for others. The intersection of his three main interests — gaming, people, and the Internet itself — would be the foundation of the future impact he wanted to have.
Mistakidis carried his passions to the University of Waterloo, a top Canadian university. He enrolled in Waterloo as a computer science major. Outside of classes, Mistakidis spent a portion of his time in the Velocity Residence, a dorm built to foster an entrepreneurial community among its residents. Mistakidis instantly felt at home among his peers living in Velocity.
During his time there, he took his ventures seriously, dedicating as much time as he could to the ventures outside of his coursework. Mistakidis became a standout in the dorm, winning an audience choice award with his team at the Velocity Fund Finals, a pitch competition for local startups to win equity-free funding.
After winning the Velocity Fund $5K, he committed to turning his pitch into a startup. He moved into the Velocity Garage, an incubator and workspace for founders to build their startups while at Waterloo. Mistakidis was deeply involved in his startup, going as far to reduce his academics to a part-time workload, and drained a majority of his personal financial resources to keep his idea going.
In addition, Mistakidis had failed a couple of early courses in pursuit of his degree. He was depressed and anxious and constantly wondered whether he belonged in college during his first and second years there. The stresses that resulted from his startup and financial troubles, compounded with his emotional and academic struggles, made life difficult for him at Waterloo.
Before getting involved in the entrepreneurship scene at Waterloo, he would just play video games and avoid getting involved with the general student community. Once Mistakidis got more involved on campus and in entrepreneurship, the additional constraints on his free time pushed him to improve his time-management skills and become more mentally and emotionally resilient to stressors at Waterloo.
He eventually overcame his struggles with the support of his peers and dormmates. These personal challenges he faced inspired him to be Residential Life Don, an individual responsible for looking after the well being of his fellow residents, similar to a resident assistant in American colleges. He met his now co-founder, Carter Minshull through the Residental Life Don program, and a third teammate, Zeke Foppa, in residence as well.
Through learning how to cope with his depression, Mistakidis was able to help others overcome their mental battles as well. He looked after thirty-to-fifty students at a time as a Don, reaching out to each one individually if they were struggling to cope and needed help. He became a trusted confidant of those who felt like they had no one else to talk to. Mistakidis’s social anxiety began to subside as he helped others face their problems, too.
During Mistakidis three years as a Residential Life Don at Waterloo, his openness and transparency with others in discussing mental health issues while building startups made him become more than just a young entrepreneur, but a student leader.
This leadership he developed at the Velocity Residence served him well during his time in Y-Combinator. After graduating from Waterloo, he entered the startup accelerator only a few weeks later with an early version of Gamelynx and his small Waterloo team. In any startup, a founder needs to be able to have honest-but-tough conversations about the team and how their work is progressing.
Mistakidis had plenty of experience talking about difficult topics in a forthcoming and honest manner from his time at Waterloo. He knew that people shied away from talking about negative things. Mistakidis set the expectation with his YC team to be open with one another.
Setting a culture where team members could speak their minds led to his team pivoting their startup into what it is today. The change was difficult, but made easier by fostering an open, welcoming environment for everyone involved.
Mistakidis realized that by actively building and promoting an open, feedback-centric culture, he could build trust and confidence between his members of his founding team — the same kind of trust and confidence he built with his peers at the Velocity Residence when he was struggling with his own mental health issues.
By being honest and open with others about his own inner pain, Mistakidis unconsciously gave others permission to reveal their own internal struggles, too.
Both in his dorm and in his YC-backed startup, he was able to show that people are not alone in their fears and insecurities.
And that one doesn’t need to suffer from mental health problems in silence.
By revealing our weaknesses, we showcase our strengths. Mistakidis’s social anxiety and depression kept him away from others in his life. Now, he’s overcome those challenges to share his passions for people, gaming and the internet with the world through his startup, Gamelynx.
He hopes that his story can inspire others to speak out about their own struggles publicly as well. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a lonely pursuit, where only our successes are shared and our failures hidden.
Student entrepreneurship is difficult enough on its own. Mental health issues only compound the issue.
Yet, people like Mistakidis are making the topic less taboo, one conversation at a time.
This story was first published in Forbes.