A Startup Founder's Guide to Mental Well-being

Mar 05, 2024

So much of a startup’s success lies on the shoulders of the founders, which means that founders need to maintain their mental well-being and inner strength to succeed. The challenges along the journey of entrepreneurs are immense, and many founders find themselves weighed down by a multitude of tasks, challenges, and responsibilities, to the point that they neglect their emotional needs. 

In a recent episode of the Meet.Capital Startup Podcast, we spoke to Charlie Lass, the founder of Humble.Inc. Charlie has been a lifelong entrepreneur and exited three of his ventures before starting Humble, a community and information hub for startup founders that prioritizes founders’ mental well-being. He shared some of his best advice for startup founders. Here goes: 

1. Recognize the Importance of Mental Health

The journey of entrepreneurship is not just challenging; it can be downright lonely. Mental and emotional difficulties are highly prevalent among founders.

Recognizing the importance of mental health is the first step toward well-being. Founders need to understand that it’s not just their business that needs nurturing; their mental state does too. Acknowledging feelings of isolation or stress and addressing them proactively can make a significant difference. Get professional help when you suspect you might need it - don’t ignore your emotions and challenges.

2. Build a Support System

Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. Building a support system of peers, mentors, and even a therapist can provide not only business insights but also emotional support. Surrounding yourself with individuals who understand the unique challenges of startup life can offer comfort and guidance when navigating tough decisions or facing setbacks.

3. Maintain a Routine (But Be Flexible)

Maintaining a structured daily routine that includes exercise, time for reflection and relaxation and more, can significantly contribute to productivity and wellbeing. However, founders should also allow for a degree of flexibility. Life, especially in the startup world, is unpredictable. The key is to aim for consistency in your routines without beating yourself up over the occasional deviation. This balance between discipline and adaptability can prevent burnout.
One way to keep this balance is by incorporating the "Two-Day Rule": if you miss a day in your routine, it’s ok, just don't let it become two missed days. Use the missed day as an opportunity to reflect on what you need to better maintain your routine.

4. Keep the Dialogue on Well-being Open

In an environment that often celebrates relentless work and sacrifice, it’s vital to keep the dialogue on well-being open. Sharing struggles and vulnerabilities isn't a sign of weakness but of strength. Encourage discussions about mental health within your team and broader network. This openness can cultivate a culture of support and understanding.

5. Find Your Own Well-being Practices

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellbeing. Some may find solace in meditation or exercise, while others may benefit from hobbies unrelated to work. The key is to find practices that help you disconnect, recharge, and maintain a sense of inner peace. Regularly dedicating time to activities that nurture your well-being can significantly enhance your overall quality of life and productivity.

6. Embrace the Journey

The path of entrepreneurship is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Learning to find joy and fulfillment in the process, with its ups and downs, will help you. This mindset can mitigate the pressures of achieving specific outcomes and foster a more sustainable approach to work and life.

7. Keep a fair dose of self-compassion

The startup journey is fraught with challenges and failures. Treating yourself with kindness and understanding during tough times is essential. Recognize your efforts, learn from your experiences, and remember that it’s okay not to have all the answers

8. Normalize the Discussion of Failures

The startup culture often glorifies successes while quietly brushing failures under the rug. However, acknowledging and sharing failures openly can be incredibly therapeutic and educational. It normalizes the fact that not every venture will be a home run and that missteps are part of the entrepreneurial journey. This approach not only fosters a culture of transparency and learning but also helps alleviate the personal burden of feeling like you must always succeed. Encourage environments where founders can share their "startup funerals" as a way to learn, heal, and move forward.

9. Delegate to avoid burnout

Many founders fall into the trap of wanting to control every aspect of their business. Learning to delegate effectively is crucial for personal well-being and business growth. It allows founders to focus on their strengths and areas where they add the most value while trusting their team to handle other responsibilities. Delegation also helps prevent burnout by distributing the workload more evenly, ensuring that the founder is not stretched too thin across multiple fronts.

10. Reevaluate Your Relationship with Success

Reevaluate what success means to you, on a personal level. The traditional startup narrative often equates success with external validations like funding rounds, user growth, or exits. However, some founders might have a more immediate and easier-to-achieve goal, such as securing the financial needs of their family or supporting a loved one in need. Following your own path and sticking to your values will make the journey easier. 

If you are to take only one piece of advice from all of the above, simply give your well-being and emotional needs due respect. Give yourself the time to reflect, surround yourself with support, and address your emotional needs.

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