Understanding Entrepreneur Mental Health: We Need Each Other, Y’all

One of the largest overlooked segments of our population when it comes to mental health is entrepreneurs. The life of an entrepreneur, particularly those of tech startup founders, can be really, really stressful. We all doubt ourselves at times. The reality is it is lonely at the top, and we need each other. We all crave a sounding board. 

The lack of connections to other people who can relate to your scenario in life can lead to increased anxiety, unhealthy coping tactics, and decreased mental health; it drives more stress and can take you away from building your company. Not having access to others who have been there and done that is actually part of the relationship gap.

Our answer to this problem is our monthly “Founder’s Therapy” sessions – meetings created specifically to show entrepreneurs that they aren’t alone on their journey, and that many others share their pain… over drinks, of course.

Here’s how we got here: 

In January 2011, I was in a mental space where I was extremely frustrated about the ups and downs of running my company. By this point I had been a full-time entrepreneur since 2003, and I simply wanted to get these frustrations off my chest by talking to someone who understood. However, even with over 20,000 people in my network, I struggled to find one person that would give me a few minutes on the phone. Eventually, I decided to invite 30 other entrepreneurs to the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta for drinks and conversation. 

Two people showed up, but it was the best venting session ever! I felt better, and was able to resume focus on growing the company.

Fast forward three months, and again I was stressed – this time about running out of money because I didn’t want to charge for efforts to help a non-profit. A wonderful South Florida life coach felt sorry for me, and gave me a series of free coaching appointments.

It can’t be understated how enormously helpful it is to take time and sit in the presence of other people that have been/are going through the same thing and just – let it out. There is beauty in validation! Other founders are going through the same thing. You are not crazy!

Founder’s Therapy creates a space for this type of connection. People talk, people laugh, people vent, and someone always cries. These common connections allow us to really let our hair down. 

Here are some of the all-too-frequent areas of stress:

“Famous, But Ramen Profitable.” I define this as “barely paying the bills while everyone else thinks you are doing great.” Where the reality is totally different from the perception: you have visibility, are doing engagements, even getting press, but your finances – either for the company or personally – are not keeping up.

Non-Supportive Significant Others/Family. Unfortunately, diverse founders see this a lot, as we are sometimes executing ideas that others close to us don’t understand. Or our culture may historically support a more direct pathway to success, other than entrepreneurship. The founder starts thinking: does my family/significant other not believe in my ability to make this happen? Such thoughts can be very discouraging. 

Talent and Leadership. The ability to find talented people can also be reflective of the relationship gap. The founder thinks: I have a great idea, I have raised money, but now I need to hire, and don’t have the networks to find those great people. Or, I have talented people, but now I have to manage them. 

Co-Founder Drama. This another common stressor, as your co-founder is a major relationship in your life. What to do? Again, the relationship gap comes into play: we need mentors who have been there, and can speak to experiences and best practices.

Fundraising Frustration. Especially for diverse founders. How do I get in front of the right people? How do I handle the meeting? How do I get the access?

Advice is needed in these specific, entrepreneur-related situations that few have actually handled – such as building a company to 50-plus people, and then dealing with the particular types of problems that come along with that. Securing access to such mentors, developing a relationship with them, getting their time, and receiving actual, time-tested advice is invaluable, as the truth is it’s a small group of people who can give this type of counsel. 

Our first Founders’ Therapy took place on January 17th, 2012, and this offline gathering of people eventually evolved into Goodie Nation. Today I’d like to know: Can you relate? What are you struggling with? How can we be a better encouragement to one another? How can we close the relationship gap?