I am writing this as a young entrepreneur who has tasted the upset that comes with being a startup founder. For every success, there are many struggles. My journalist-guts have held me up even as I learn to navigate this complex space. And so my article today comes from a place of real humility mixed with anger, to understand why entrepreneurs are pushed to the brink. Sometimes to over commit and at other times to end their lives.
We should be discussing solutions and seeding an important conversation on failure in our media, our society and ecosystem.
I have been sad to hear about #VGSiddhartha - the founder of Cafe Coffee Day, India's largest chain of cafes. His letter blamed his ‘failure'. His inability to raise funds, rid the company of debt, deal with controversy around his funding all are in the mix. But that's not the point.
Why did VG Siddhartha kill himself is something that will continue to unravel. And the reasons could be his ongoing controversial relationships, much reported funding sources, and many other reasons.
But the question it brings to the front is one we must discuss - Is this what entrepreneurship can lead to? Have we obsessed with the headlines that celebrate but don't tag realities? Have entrepreneurs been forced to struggle silently and not talk about it because it will be perceived as a weakness? In building a buzzing ecosystem have we forgotten to look behind the million/billion dollar valuation? Could entrepreneur depression have causes we overlook or ignore?
If we truly believe people run businesses, and not the other way round, we would be paying far more attention on issues that entrepreneurs face. The stairway to a startup is lonely for most. First it’s the idea. The founder is invested in it but it can take long long time for many others to see it.The entrepreneur grinds at it until it seems somewhat perfect. And then there is anxiety, chronic insomnia, depression, fear - all of these are common in startup owners.
Fake It Till You Make It?
Ask any entrepreneur, and they will tell you how often the advise given to them is 'fake it till you make it.' An environment raised on a feed of constant success will build entrepreneurs up for an implosion. Not only can it push founders to ‘think’ they have it all figured out, it can push them to take decisions based on little evidence, reality and fundamentals. I think we need to get this phrase out of the conversation entirely. The pressure to scale, to raise money, to sell out, to seem more successful.
This Siddhartha incident is a symptom. There could be many founders who don't take extreme steps but remain embedded with problems within and eventually succumb to stress
Driven to Death
It’s an issue we need to talk more about. Founders who fight the stress of a company, wanting to change the world and realise they have no backing and are pushed to the brink. Part of the issue is we don’t have meaningful conversations on health and mental health. According to this academic in an article in Inc. “A founder who has no history of mental illness from a family with no history either "is the exception, not the rule."
This Siddhartha incident is a symptom. There could be many founders who don't take extreme steps but remain embedded with problems within and eventually succumb to stress or simply give up. Some founders positively know how to control their situation and take it on, instead of killing themselves. But is everyone that strong in the gut? Not only should this force us to ask some questions. We should be discussing solutions and seeding an important conversation in our media, our society and ecosystem.
How can we remove shame to the idea of vulnerability? Startup owners begin with wanting to change the world. That's a good reason isn't it? But have we as a system put too much gloss, too much onus on the need to succeed and that the measure of success should only be money? Celebrating failure will make things realistic. And failure isn’t nothing, it’s valuable experience.
Image Credit: Livemint