Mental Health Issues Among Startup Founders And The ‘Unicorn’ Pressure

Via Peters

Two years of the pandemic, on and off lockdowns, the uncertainty of jobs and cloud over the survival of businesses has put a lot of pressure on a huge segment of India’s millennials to become entrepreneurs—start their own “hustle”, follow their “passion”. While becoming job givers instead of job seekers is a good change, there is a dark side to the story, which often misses the limelight.

Behind million dollar fundings, billion-dollar valuations, millions of founders struggle every day and face the unnerving pressure of becoming a unicorn. While the basics of business have shifted from profitability to scalability and valuations, these founders found themselves in the middle of a crisis – creating value for businesses or for the world to see them merely as “success stories”. Our ecosystem tends to make heroes out of successful entrepreneurs. And by definition here, ‘successful’ means founders of companies with huge valuations.

However, we often fail to understand before these founders made it big, they struggled through moments of enfeebling anxiety attacks and hopelessness – times when it seemed everything might come down shattering.

Moreover, there is another disheartening pressure of not talking about it. Discussing mental health among founders is still a taboo at large. ‘You chose this path for yourself,’ is a common comeback in Indian society when you talk about your entrepreneurial challenges. The fear of failure and being looked down upon as a ‘failed entrepreneur’ still looms over the dreams of millions of Indian youngsters.

The biggest reason is the extremely lonely and alienating journey entrepreneurship is. In India, most families do not support entrepreneurship as a career option. Founders spend less time with friends and often relocate to bigger cities for greener pastures. Overall, they lose support networks and rarely find someone to talk to.

Mental health is an epidemic. However, mental health and the pressures among startup founders are not commonly discussed. Studies state startup founders are 2 times more likely to suffer from depression and three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse. It is high time we make the conversation mainstream, and the investor circles make this a regular function to check on the mental health quotient of the startups they are invested in.

As a society, we also need to start considering entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice. Like switching jobs, a founder can fail in one business and move on to another. For the record, failing in entrepreneurship is normal. We have to destigmatise mental health conversations and provide the right resources to young, first-generation entrepreneurs by talking to them.

The unseen, unrealistic pressure on every startup to become a unicorn is both baseless as well as unnecessary. Great ideas are ‘great’ only if they earn money and can become profitable businesses. Period.

Let our younger generation; the millennial minds run the course of learning. It’s okay to make mistakes, to fail, to change the course of your career as per your will, and it’s okay to unlearn and start again. The only thing that matters is maintaining a work-life balance and doing things that give you mental peace. Founders also need to understand that the glamorised ’24 hour work culture’ doesn’t help anyone in the long run. Take a break and create value for yourself.

– Pawas Jain is Senior Product Manager at CNBC-TV18. Views expressed are personal.

(Edited by : Yashi Gupta)

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