It Is Time To Talk About Depression In Startups.
Pouring your heart, soul and everything in between into a company that, statistically, will fail, can wreck you emotionally.
And yet, as you look around at fellow entrepreneurs, or listen to them on podcasts, or read books by them, they don’t seem to suffer this.
They are just out there ‘crushing it’.
Lets set the record straight here.
Every single entrepreneur out there suffers days of doubt, depression and darkness, myself included.
The Truth Hurts
Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs succumb to it, ultimately ending their businesses, relationships, and much much worse.
And it isn’t surprising.
With 9 out of 10 startups failing (Harvard Business School Study), and the failure rate of all U.S. companies after five years over 50 percent, and over 70 percent after 10 years (Statistic Brain Study), the odds are stacked firmly against you.
There are so many pitfalls that can cause this failure to occur at any minute.
Poor price, poor quality, over competitive market, no market at all, poor marketing, poor promotion, lack of cash, lack of cash flow, bad decisions, bad clients, the wrong team or even the wrong leader.
There is a lot on your plate, and with that comes serious pressure. With 1 in 4 suffering depression here in the UK, it isn’t surprising that founders are likely to suffer too.
It is likely you are more depressed now than you were when you started reading this.
My sincere apologies.
It is maybe no wonder so many entrepreneurs deal with mental health issues.
What kind of mind can read those statistics, understand the high mortality rate, and still be willing to dispel them and give it a shot?
We are the crazy motherfuckers.
The Responsibility To Make Everyone Happy
Founders put a lot of weight on their shoulders.
It might be to do with the cut throat environment in the startup world, but everyone tries to lock away any internal or external negativity and always be ‘doing great’.
Most entrepreneurs are great at keeping things looking good from the outside.
It really is an impressive skill, always trying to look strong, confident and in control, even when shit is literally falling apart in front of your eyes.
Then there is the responsibility of making sure everyone and everything is happy, even when it goes against what you want. You don’t want to let people down, let employees down, let customers or clients down or let backers down.
You don’t want to let yourself down either.
Then add pressure of home. Of not wanting to let family down, or your partner down, or your friends, or anyone you include in your support network.
To keep up with rent and bills, to support those around you even though you are finding it hard to support yourself.
And then, to top it all off, there is the fear of failing. No one wants to feel or look fucking stupid.
Failure is terrifying, yet it hangs over you like a dark cloud, following you even during your successes, even when the momentum is running in your favour, always reminding you of its presence.
Read that list and explain to me how anyone starting up a business couldn’t struggle with a little bit of depression?
Dealing With Startup Depression
I will be honest here.
I don’t think my startup has caused me to suffer any long term depression, or mental health issues. It has however, certainly affected my moods, my outlook on life and my happiness, at various points in its course.
The difference with suffering depression as an entrepreneur is the very thing you have staked your life and livelihood on will literally shut down if you can’t get out of bed or motivate yourself to get your shit done.
That is a vicious cycle.
There is no easy way to overcome it, but there is a few pieces of advice from me and others that could help prevent it, or keep it on control.
Ease Up On Your Expectations.
Lets start right at the beginning. When you decide to start your own business, when you commit to it, there is an instant buzz.
That shit is like crack cocaine (disclaimer: I have no idea if that is a fair comparison) and it is no wonder those who fail try again and again.
It is exciting!
But you need to be real when setting your goals, plans and expectations.
‘Failure is not an option’ is a bad mantra to work by. You are literally piling the pressure on from moment one, and are going to be let down by these high expectations.
Start with far more attainable goals. First customer or first sale. Designing your first product. Trialing your service. Searching for funding.
Something that can actually be achieved. Something that can build some buzz and some momentum.
That will do you self esteem wonders!
Don’t underestimate the challenge you have set yourself when you start a business.
So start slow, and start steady.
Be careful of ditching your current job or commitments from the word go. You can easy do some of the grunt work behind the scenes and build a solid platform to launch off, while still being able to afford to eat.
Eating is important.
Similar to point one, goal setting is something that can affect your mental position. If you always set difficult goals, you will find you fail to achieve a lot of them.
So change your mindset. You’ve read the stats earlier in this piece. Surviving is an achievement in itself.
Keep afloat. Keep above water. Keep building slowly and surely.
Think survival, then thrival. (Made up word, I know).
Talk To Somebody!
The final point is the simplest, yet at the same time the hardest piece of advice to follow.
Talking about your problems is difficult. The entrepreneur ‘way’ is to shut all that shit out and carry on like nothing is burning down.
But the reality is, you are not going to be laughed out the room. You are not going to be turned away. Every entrepreneur has gone though this, and in truth, so will many others around you.
So reach out to other entrepreneurs in your community.
Look online, places like Reddit have great subs for entrepreneurs filled with real, lived through advice. Listen to podcasts with entrepreneurs, leaders and startups. A great one is the Reboot podcast (https://www.reboot.io/podcast/).
You can also lean on your support system. Note that it can be hard for your loved ones to understand your plight. “Why can’t you just get a real job?”
You know, that shit.
So it helps to educate your spouse and loved ones about your entrepreneurial life. Right from the off, help them understand. Help them get invested in what you are doing.
Then, they can actually help you if the pressure begins to get too much.
Once you realise you have company, and that it is entirely normal, it will help you begin to put the pieces back together.
At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is a choice.
It is not the end of the world if it is bringing you down to much and you quit, or if it just doesn’t work out and it fails.
“If this business was a failure, does that mean I’m a failure?” Not by any means!
If it fails, you haven’t failed, the business has. Being able to make this distinction is important for your mental health.
Don’t run from your emotions, but remind yourself that failing at a business is different from failing at life.
And you won’t fail at life. Trust me.
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