The Startup Depression and Entrepreneur Anxiety

Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup
Aaron Swartz at a Boston Wikipedia Meetup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is with deep sadness I am writing this post that the founder of Ecomom, Jody Sherman passed away. According to Pando Daily, the news on his death is pretty scarce. This is the second in a raw, after Aaron Swartz hanged himself in early January. I have dealt with pretty dark moments myself in my entrepreneur career and the Startup Stress does make you feel suicidal at times. In most cases, the inability to give up and start over does make you anxious and depressed. If you are one of those people who clock-in and clock-out on a daily basis, this post is not for you!

I have learnt many things in my entrepreneur journey and here are some tips for you to avoid being depressed and anxious running a startup.

Hire the right people, the culture matters! I have hired and fired many people in my career, both as an employee and an employer. I hire for culture. I always say ‘I don’t care if you have all the skills you need to do what I am hiring you to do, but what matters is whether you have the passion to learn whatever it takes to do whatever I am hiring you to do!’ I had been doing this for a long time and Brad Feld summarized this in one of his interviews with Jason at This Week in Startups. Look at the diagram below, so you have 4 different kinds you can hire.


#2 people are must hires. #1 you can hire and if they have the passion, they will learn whatever they need to learn fast! Be careful when you hire #3. I usually don’t hire the #3s.  #4 is a definite no. If you come across a misfit for your culture, fire fast! Don’t expect them to change and be agile to the culture you want.

Fall in love with someone who’s as crazy as you are! As an entrepreneur, you will always be doing crazy things. There’s risk in every move you make. Nothing is set in stone. You are dealing with extreme uncertain situations all the time. Your wife or girlfriend has to understand what life is like for an entrepreneur. Don’t get involved with someone who likes regular jobs and who wants to ‘settle down’ as quickly as possible. At the same time, make sure your partner keeps you sane and align with everything you do in your life. They might not understand everything you do in a business, but they will need to understand the basics in a relationship like, being there for each other no matter what or calming you down when you are pissed off! You will be up late night all night, you will read emails when you are having sex, you will not be able to have dinner together like they always wanted to and there will be many things you will have to do that ordinary people might not do. Here’s a great piece David Brim’s girlfriend Lindsey Ament wrote on 10 Things a Startup Entrepreneur’s Valentine Should Know!

Don’t hire friends! I have had pretty bad experiences in hiring friends. You might think that they will do whatever it takes, because you knew them for so long, but you will be wrong in most cases. Don’t hire friends if you have not had any chemistry with them in the past in doing something together. It becomes so complex when your friend doesn’t do what you want him to do and you hope he or she will change at some point. You are not able to fire the person, because you don’t know how that would affect the relationship between families, what other friends would talk about what happened, etc. It’s not worth the effort. I simply don’t hire friends if I hadn’t done anything with them in the past. I have a friend who’s a great partner of mine in my business and we have done a lot of things together in the past. We have played in the baseball team together; we have run a small business when we were in high school. Unless you have chemistry like that in some sort, don’t hire them. Just because of the fact that a friend does talk about doing something different and wanting to be the next Steve Jobs doesn’t make him one. This is a different kind of a ball game, not everyone can do it, and else everyone will be doing it. Most of the school friends I have come cross want to make some extra money. They are not there for a socio impact. If money is the first motivation, you can’t do this job!

Only raise money from people who have invested money in tech! Tech valuations are different. You cannot calculate ROI like you would do at a restaurant. I have gotten offers from people are investors, but in different domains. I have turned all of them down. Only a tech investor would know what you really need. If you are doing a seed round of $50K for a product, a tech investor would only ask for 10% equity where as a non tech investor would ask for 50% equity. Just because the 50K is available sooner with a non-tech investor, don’t get the money. Remember, this is something you will be doing all your life. You will only need to partner with people who can understand what you will go through and who will be there for you for your problems. Angels are not just there to give you money. If they cannot advice you (which means they would have to go through what you are going to go through in your start-up journey), they are not the best fit for you!

Be comfortable being uncomfortable! There’s no other option. Running a start-up is an uncomfortable thing. You are learning new things every day. You will have to do thing you don’t want to do. That is the nature of it. Once you bang your head on the wall couple of times and settle down, you will get used to it. There are much bitter situations in running a start-up than actually glorious moments. If you think that it changes after you raise money or after you go IPO, you are wrong. People will talk about you. Get used to that!

The fact that running a start-up is a constant battle and it is not going to change. What matters is how comfortable you are dealing with these situations. Some will ruin their lives running a start-up  Startupers are a cult. They will share their darkest moments in life. If you are depressed, go and talk to one who has been there in the past. Keep in mind that life in much more than you think it is!


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