Although the founders must assume a certain amount of uncertainty and risk, the news of the closure of Bank of Silicon Valley– the biggest banking meltdown since the 2008 recession – highlighted another serious reality. The enormous pressure to stay strong, positive, and confident during the chaos can come at the expense of the founders’ sanity. Startup founders, many of them newbies, made up a large part of the bank’s ecosystem, struggling to be responsible for the livelihoods of those who entrusted them.
Those who had assets in SVB had to ask themselves: “how am I going to do the payroll? Nathalie Walton, the co-founder of Expectful says.
“In those situations, as a founder, you’re actually not taking care of yourself,” Walton said. Fortune. She sold her business in January but deeply understands the sudden stress the founders felt after the SVB announcement. “You put out the fire and make sure everyone is fed and taken care of before you take care of yourself.”
She adds, “I don’t think any founders practiced self-care this weekend.”
And when there is a fire to put out, the founders must operate at full speed.
“Sometimes it gets to the point where, if you don’t respond, you can lose everything,” she says, adding that being a founder had a detrimental effect on her mental health, and especially her sleep.
For Niles Lichtenstein, co-founder and CEO of Nestment who has worked with a number of startups, the hardest part of being a founder is when you suddenly lose control of the situation. It’s like the world is falling apart, he says Fortune.
“You’re in this scary place where you feel indebted to your investors, to your team, and to yourself,” he says. “It can be a very lonely position.”
Brad Feld, venture capitalist and co-founder of Foundry Group, noticed the immediate impact of SVB on the well-being of founders, especially founders new to the arena. He wrote a blog post address the issue on Tuesday.
“…the level of stress and anxiety, especially for the new founders, was extreme,” he wrote in his blog, adding that he facilitated several one-on-one conversations with the CEOs of his portfolio companies where the people could openly ask questions and “just sympathize.
A commitment to the mental health of the founders of the center
Pioneer Mind, a company providing mental health support to founders that was also funded by SVB, publicly acknowledged the need to address founders’ mental health this week. Naveed Lalani, CEO and founder of Pioneer Mind, with the help of Aaron Gershenberg, the former founder of SVB Capital, created a google doc where startup investors and founders can pledge to “commit to playing an active role in fostering mental health care for founders and the broader startup community.”
It highlights the need for founders to take care of their own mental health and foster environments within their workplace that support mental well-being.
“The process of starting a business requires tremendous hardship, risk-taking, and intense ambiguity,” the pledge reads. “Founders make countless sacrifices, both professional and personal, that come at the expense of their mental health. Yet the founders’ mental health struggles remain stigmatized and rarely discussed.
So far, more than 30 venture capitalists have backed the pledge, totaling more than 120 signatures representing more than 13,500 portfolio companies as of Friday.
It comes like previous research from the University of Berkeley, California, and the University of California, San Francisco, reports that founders are more likely to have symptoms associated with mental health issues, such as depression.
Mental health as a corporate priority
Lalani hopes this public support will allow founders to speak openly about stress and anxiety, highlighting vulnerability as a strength for the company. He sees VC support as showing “mental health as an advantage over a disability”.
Lalani says building resilience should be viewed as a “business expense.” Venture capitalists’ commitment to the mental health of their founders reinforces that mental well-being is part of the bottom line. In a Pioneer Mind Poll of 200 D+-series startup founders and leaders who participated in one-on-one or group therapy or coaching, about 90% reported reduced stress and loneliness; 91% improvement in business performance and 75% improvement in employee retention.
“We don’t facilitate startups. We even make founders stronger,” says Lalani, using his team’s internal motto.
While the founders were able to ease off on Sunday when the FDIC promised to return SVB depositors whole, the panic and pressure to keep climbing persists. Prioritizing mental health on a habitual basis is key – it’s not a one-time thing.
Taking responsibility and accepting a leadership role comes with founding territory, Lichtenstein says. But he’s been most successful when he has what he sees as “patient urgency” or “the urgency to get things done, but also the patience to let certain strategies play out over the long term.”
While a willingness to disrupt the status quo can help founders succeed, “it doesn’t necessarily mean we always have to break up and create a ton of friction in the process,” he says.
Walton suggests founders practice creating boundaries when they’re in a “steady state,” when fundraising isn’t a priority or the fires appear to have temporarily subsided. Taking the time to recharge will benefit their productivity in the long run, but it’s naive to think that personal care can always take priority over business, she says.
Brian Femminella, co-founder of SoundMind, a mental health education and technology platform, remembers celebrating small victories.
“Being a Founder is like being really knocked down 99 times, and this time you win, you have to cherish it, even if it’s a small victory, because that’s what sustains the sanity of Founders in the most difficult times,” he said.
There is also comfort in the camaraderie, knowing that other Founders are in the same boat.
“…many founders have told me that just feeling part of a larger community is helpful,” Feld writes in his blog post.
Having someone to call when the going gets tough has saved Lichtenstein in many ways, he says. He knows that there are times when recharging and seeking support, whether through an individual therapy session or group coaching, has given him more resilience for future challenges.
Looking after founders’ mental health means not just implementing standard self-care practices, but instilling a mindset that while restlessness and resilience may be essential, recharging and being vulnerable strengthens the spirit and, therefore, the company.
“Are there ways to be healthy, to be incredibly efficient and productive?” Lichtenstein said. “How do we not necessarily have to devote all of our time as founders to our company? »
While some may call it idealistic, there may be a forward paradigm where founders who move fast and break things also get some air, many of them say Fortune.
“You can go fast and break things, but don’t break people,” Lalani says, a phrase another founder once told him. “People have to be strong to perform better, and that’s what I hope [this pledge] do.”