The startup space can be a recipe for stress, with plenty of work to do, short deadlines, and then a team, stakeholders, investors and customers all relying on you to keep things moving. Startup life can feel like you’re in a high pressure cooker with the heat turned up. Without the right awareness, mental stability, resilient capability and support the stories can be devastating.
The success of a founder, team or business hinges on the ability to recognise the mental health illness signs and build resilience through experiences.
At the recent Global Accelerator Network summit, Brett Holland (our Head of Acceleration) heard the story of a founder who had moved to the United States from India to take part in an accelerator. He was charismatic, driven and dedicated and his startup received funding after demo day. From the outside, everything looked perfect but within six months of Demo Day, he had taken his own life.
The reality is that this tragedy could have happened in any programme. As part of the New Zealand startup ecosystem, it’s important that we know the ways to recognise when someone is struggling and how we can support those who need it.
We also need to be able to recognise when we are approaching burnout and how we can build a resilient mentality to maintain a startup.
Here are a few pointers that we’ve picked up along the way and remember, if you need help with any of this, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Build an open culture, accept each other’s differences
Be open to not only differences, but weaknesses and vulnerabilities too. It’s your responsibility to build a culture where people can feel comfortable. Where people are encouraged to open up with their own vulnerabilities and are able to ask for help when they need it. Ask for help from your mentors, investors, other founders and entrepreneurs. Pair up with someone who’s done it before you – find the tips and tricks that work best for you.
Be transparent and honest in business, always
Transparency builds trust, bringing everyone closer together. You know what playing field you’re on. Access to more information helps employees make educated decisions and leadership doesn’t have the opportunity to deny any real issues.
We need to look at our startup culture and shift the “badge of honour” from “be tough, work hard” to being “transparent and balanced”. It’s not a badge of honour to hold everything in and bottle it up. The aim is to create a culture where it is a badge of honour to recognise you need some guidance, ask for help and accept it when it’s offered. The organisation has to be able to show support when it’s needed, in the appropriate ways. Leadership need to be happy to slow down with you, maybe even take on something for you. This mentality needs to be built into the culture from grassroots up.
Regularly check in with your team
A company called Keen.IO creates a culture of openness by having weekly emotional check ins.
Very similar to a normal standup meeting where you might share what you are working on that day or week, but in this case the whole team comes together and talks about where they are at emotionally.
The emotional standup serves as one of the key factors for building a resilient and open work culture. Different stressors can bring people together, help us understand where one another are at and create a higher awareness of those around us. Our personal lives affect our professional lives, we should strive to relate and support one another on a deeper level. Do some research and choose a method that best suits your team dynamic, team preferences and create appropriate guidelines to go along with the process.
Get out of the building, take regular breaks
This is often something you’ll hear when an early stage venture is validating their target customers or market but it also applies to being mentally balanced. Make it part of your business to get outside and get active. Instead of going to for a coffee, why not try a walking meeting? Bring a balance of work and play into the startup. Find your rhythm, if you’re more productive in the evenings then start later in the day or vice versa. Figure out what works best for you and allow your team the freedom to do the same. This will allow you to create space and have higher levels of performance.
Bring in a Mental Health Awareness expert
Bring in experts to train your staff, leadership teams and programme directors for the signs of mental health illnesses and ways in which you can support those who may be suffering. Make emotional check ins and emotional fitness an integral part of your programme curriculum or your business practice.
The key to being a great founder is to be balanced. We want to create a resilient culture around our own startup community and founders and we can start right now by talking about this issue more and creating an open nonjudgmental culture around it. A startup is a marathon not a sprint, so be prepared for the long road.