Last month’s gathering of Lean Startup Melbourne was devoted to the emotional and psychological downsides to being an entrepreneur. Whether building a startup or managing a successful corporate career, we are accustomed to reading about business success stories; but while we do learn something about corporate failures, we don’t hear much about the personal cost when things don’t go as planned.
But first, given the seriousness of this topic, if anyone reading this feels in need of help then there are some excellent information and support resources available listed here. There are also some useful reference articles such as this.
The evening’s panel Q&A discussion was preceded by a very moving account from Tom Howard, co-founder of Adioso on his own challenges in building a startup, about which he has written here. Tom’s frank and honest story about dealing with personal struggles while trying to manage investor expectations was neatly summed up in this observation: “Writing essays on our struggle was some of the best marketing.”
The panel members were drawn from a mix of startup, entrepreneurial and corporate backgrounds, and their stories revealed episodes of depression, near-bankruptcy and burn-out – tales possibly all too familiar to some experienced startup veterans in the audience, or merely spectres of what the future may hold for other budding entrepreneurs eager to learn from their peers. One of the panel, Andre Obradovic is now a public speaker on mental health issues, and has channeled his own experiences into advocacy and raising awareness.
If there was one recurring theme that ran through the discussion, it was the surprise at what happened to them – seemingly successful individuals who suddenly encountered severe setbacks (personal, financial, emotional, psychological), that came close to derailing their ability to function in their roles (as people, partners, parents or employers). The positive conclusion was that in recognising what was happening, and doing something about it, these individuals have managed to rebuild their lives and their careers, and are probably all the stronger and more resilient as a result.
Meanwhile, a number of hopeful startups were brave enough on the night to showcase their projects in the evening’s Startup Alley: Influx (outsourced customer support for online businesses), Cloakr (mobile device solution for coat check services), Jutsu (personal goal-setting app), Followus (social media site management for small business) and Brakeboard (braking systems for skateboards).