• Avy-Loren Cohen

Avoid Depression as a Founder in a Startup

The Startup Journey is Mentally Taxing

This article is about recognizing that being involved in a startup is a mentally challenging experience — both for you (the founder) as well as your significant other, family and friends. In recognition of this fact, here are some points of wisdom I have learned over the years as a founder of many startups, as a business consultant, coach, and mentor working with hundreds of startups, and as a VC.

This article is especially beneficial for a startup that will require funding.

1- Personal Life: If you are part of a startup and you have a significant other, family, and friends, make sure that they are aware of what is to come during the journey of a startup company. Depending on your situation, vis-a-vie funding, startup capital, bootstrapping, size of the team, need for legal vis-a-vie IP, and so forth… the distress period prior to receiving adequate funding and human resources as well as traction can reap havoc on relationships, be it friendships, marriages, and with family members. The road of a startup founder is a road less traveled, and there is a reason why. This is a very challenging and long road trip. The risks of failure are high, the probability of experiencing burnout is also high, and the risks of quitting are also very high. You have to look at the risk and reward equation and be sure that this is worth the tremendous sacrifice you will likely have to experience in order to bring this startup to its hopeful success.

2- Funding and Rejection: If you are an individual who does not deal well with rejection, think twice about seriously being in a startup if the road to success requires you to interface with prospective investors. The amount of work you will have to do to create quality documentation for investor presentations of all sorts and sizes is daunting, let alone the amount of time that you will need to invest to produce these materials. Think of this experience as a marathon — nothing worthwhile comes too easy or quickly either. Being shy, being over humble, unable to present in front of a group, think that pitching people for funding feels like you are begging for money; if this is your mindset now or if it develops into this in the future — deal with it. And the amount of prospecting for investors, finding people to find people who find or raise capital is daunting — as well as costly (lol). Think of rejection as a learning moment, regardless of how many moments you have. Pitching is somewhat of an art, a gift of the gab, a bit of showmanship with personality, charisma, and charm matched with intellect, and a swift mind and much more. Pitching takes time and regardless if you found a person to find investors on your behalf, you will still likely have to pitch in some way shape or form — and you will waste, what feels like, lots of time with people who frankly may come across as ass holes… it’s their money, not yours so get over it (see the trend here?).

3- Failure: Failure(s) exists in the marathon of a startup company. You best accept this and position this in your mind as something that you will likely experience — probably more than once, so, deal with it. How you may ask? By realizing that failure includes both failures as well as positive learning experiences. There will be many times when you will have to make the best of the worst decisions and in these cases, you are exempt of error — but you may end up paying for these unavoidable (poor) decisions in the future… but its nothing you will likely not be able to overcome, so do not sweat it.

In situations where you really make a serious blunder — do NOT tear strips off your back. Understand the entire situation, break it down and learn as much as you can to better yourself for the future. I am not suggesting this lightly as pop psychology, I seriously mean that you need to mindfully review everything and with team members applicable. If you are going to fail, you had better learn from it and had better not make that mistake a second time. So extract the learning points as your reward for this error.

4- Busy Mind & Lack of Rest: Building a startup company is not for the faint of heart and if it would be easy — trust me, everyone would be in a startup… with the exception, perhaps, of the Silicone Valley startup community (joke, I love you guys, you financed my new car). Seriously, there is a certain mindset that you will likely have to adopt in order to separate the stress and anxiety going on in your mind that will possibly prevent you from getting sufficient rest or sleep. One of the strategies that have worked exceptionally well both for me as well as with my clients is what I refer to the “Silo Strategy”. The idea is to see your day as being divided into two separate silos. One silo is dedicated to the amount of time you will allocate your brain and emotions to focus on the business and the other will be allocated to you and your well being.

You need to grant yourself permission to allow yourself to have a life outside of the startup, to not worry about all the multiple stressors in your project — and yes, especially as it pertains to funding and traction. If you do not control this with balance and perspective you can risk burnout as well as damage relationships. So, when you go to sleep, turn your brain off. I find that what often helps individuals calm down their mind from racing is to fold. One is to have a pad and pen with them during the day and at the side of their bed in case they need to take a note to not forget for the next day. Doing this will allow your brain to relax as it does not need to remember the idea and carry it in your thoughts until the next workday. The other is to distract yourself with activities that give you (positive) pleasure.

Whatever you do, allow yourself to turn off, turn your mind off, turn your anxiety off, turn your worry off — turn off. Like a muscle, over time this will become easier, but practice this as it will preserve you and your relationships.

5- Staying Positive: Feeling down, demotivated, depressed, sad, mad, angry, anxious, the list goes on. Psychologically, startups will test your brain power and your emotional intelligence. You have to engage in activities that can help you through your journey. Obvious solutions include working with a seasoned business coach who specializes in working in startups. The other can be to find a mentor, however, many mentors do not always provide its mentee with adequate time. You can go to startup meetings from various associations and organizations but unless these group events provide you with an outlet via individuals who can help or peers who can help — it may not be a positive experience, so look into these before attending. You can also surround yourself with individuals who believe in you, support you and will in essence — cheer you on. When you are down or questioning yourself, call your best friend as an example. He/she can likely know your weak points and get you out of the negative space…baring this, a psychologist is also not a bad idea. The point is, you can not do it all alone so do not be shy to ask for some level of help from someone. One last thought is about reading some excellent books in the startup world, without listing them, look into them as the additional knowledge you can derive from reading these books can provide you with additional confidence — thus boosting your level of positive energy and confidence. You can also achieve this with online videos on various subjects as well.

Final Pointer — Stay Physical. Try not to be sitting for most of your working hours. Add walking during your daily routine, go to the gym, play a sport — be physical as it acts as a healthy out to destress amongst many other obvious benefits.


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This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +427,678 people.

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