Many people have seen startup founders appear with radiant smiles and winning attitudes in the media. But few saw the tears and sleepless nights behind their success.
I’ve had the chance to hear stories from startup founders about how the hardships, exhaustion and challenges they had to overcome to get to where they are now. It was sad to know they’ve been through different stages of burnout as they climbed the ladder of success. But it also was inspiring to see them rise stronger and more resilient.
What causes burnout among startup founders?
Mental health shouldn't be disregarded
Pandemic, protracted wars, worsening inflation, and supply chain disruptions are affecting everyone, especially startup founders who greatly rely on the status of the economy to flourish. When things get rough, they experience burnout.
An article on Entrepreneur reads: “Behind happy-looking faces and successful lives hide a fierce mental battle.” This seems true to every businessman, including Elon Musk. He once shared his true story in a tweet in July 2017: “The reality is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don't think people want to hear about the last two.”
Elon Musk thought that no one wanted to hear about the harsh truth because they were used to seeing his glamorous successes. In that thread, he admitted to having bipolar disorder.
A 2015 research showed that 72% of surveyed businessmen told that they were worried about their mental health. In par, 49% reported having experienced unstable mental conditions once or several times. They are also 30% more prone to depression than regular people.
What are the causes of startup founders' burnouts?
Startup founders carry many burdens as they are greatly expected to be able to generate revenue and profit or take the company to further development. They always have to please several people at once:
- Make partners and customers satisfied with the products and services
- Make sure that the employees are happy and are getting paid on time
- Make investors satisfied and see the growth of the startup
- Make the family proud
- Keep a certain reputation in the eyes of the public
To complete all these, startup founders need more than 24 hours a day. This then results in stress, exhaustion, fatigue and burnout.
It’s also a common problem for startup founders — especially those who’ve just started their career — to not delegate tasks to employees or to partners. Choosing the wrong co-founder and managing people in an organization that is constantly expanding are all problems that cause headaches for founders.
In addition, in the midst of ups and downs when running a startup, founders who are not emotionally and psychologically stable will also easily fall into the above situation. If there aren’t any clear visions or goals, the founder will face a fierce mental battle. Sometimes, this leads to founders just giving it all up.
What startup founders can do to avoid burnout?
First, stay connected. That means staying connected to important values in life such as family, friends, and hobbies outside work. Relaxing moments with close ones will help founders have wider perspectives about things.
It’s also necessary to stay connected with the mission and vision of the startup, its customers, and its employees. When a founder is deeply motivated by those connections, employees get drawn into the business and will voluntarily increase productivity and efficiency.
However, when founders lose their passion and vision, employees can sense it, through non-verbal cues such as inattention, apathy, and lack of concern for their surroundings. As the leader of a growing enterprise, the founder should maintain a positive and healthy disposition.
Most importantly, founders need to build a good support system around them, from family, co-founders, advisors, or investors. They need responsible and trusting co-founders to support their goals, keep their spirits up, and share the workload.
The startup ecosystem in Vietnam is growing, and the ambitious people behind it carry loads many do not know about. It’s necessary to be aware of any sign of burnout or inner struggles. In this fast-changing sphere, only those who can conquer obstacles win.
Translated by Mi Tran