A Co-Created #PledgeToFounders

The plight of the entrepreneurial founder has become the modern hero’s journey. Accelerators, bootcamps, co-working facilities, and investors have sprung up, creating an ecosystem around these intrepid individuals — but despite all this scaffolding and the booming success of the tech industry, it turns out that many founders suffer in silence and seriously neglect personal well-being. 

Far too frequently, there are stories about the founders struggling with depression, isolation, or even suicide — most resulting from preventable internal strife due to poor mental, emotional and physical health. 

We know the best startups are driven by data, and in the case studies done on founder mental health, the data doesn’t look promising. 

Founders are:

  • 2X more likely to suffer from depression

  • 6X more likely to suffer from ADHD

  • 3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse

  • 10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder

  • 2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalization

  • 2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

Former CEO and co-founder of Zenfit and current friend of Atlas, Victor Mathieux experienced the negative effects of startup culture first hand, "Working on my last startup I woke up with borderline panic attacks every day for over a year and told almost no one because I didn't want to impact how the company's success was perceived."

Perhaps you assume this is just how it has to be — being insanely great requires some amount of insanity, right? While it’s true that founders are wired differently (as described by Jessica Carson and others) it’s also true that the pressures of ultra-competitive, #hustleharder cultures cause elevated rates of emotional, relational, mental, and physical difficulties. The combination of these two factors help explain the stats above (for a deeper dive on the drivers of founder struggles see this piece by our partner Jake Chapman). 

Although this topic has gained traction in recent years and the stigma is starting to lessen, many of us (from founders to friends to investors) are still left wondering, “But what can I do about it?”

Co-creating a pledge to founders

Given our mandate to prevent founder burnout and grow their resiliency, we decided to gather 50 experienced investors and founders and an expert panel* at an offsite in Carmel Valley to dig in. 

 
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We were floored by the outpouring of insights, passions, and desires to deepen the relationships between founders and investors. We left convinced that investors and founders must work together to change #startuplife and learn to support each other more holistically.

To bring forth a world in which founder wellbeing is held up in importance alongside company success, our crew broke off into small groups to develop a set of foundational promises culminating in a #PledgeToFounders which we’re launching today for the global startup ecosystem to modify and adopt.

This pledge is meant to grow and evolve over time, and we invite everyone’s commentary and contributions to strengthen and hone its utility. The more participants in our ecosystem that choose to uphold these and similar precepts, the more success we may find in supporting the emotional, mental, and physical health of the next (and current!) generation of founders.

Join us in promoting this first ever co-created #PledgeToFounders and use the links below to tweet your support, or write your own and use the hashtag #PledgeToFounders.

Dear leaders, this is our #PledgeToFounders

We believe that the wellbeing of founders and investors is fundamentally important and key to startup success… and the right thing to do. 

SO WE PLEDGE TO…

  1. Celebrate small wins TWEET THIS

  2.  Allocate fund resources to founder wellbeing TWEET THIS

  3. Lead with vulnerability TWEET THIS

  4. Listen before giving advice TWEET THIS

  5. Provide access to peer groups TWEET THIS

  6. Create psychological safety TWEET THIS

  7. Seek support for myself so I can support my founders TWEET THIS

  8. Level the playing field TWEET THIS

  9. Create confidential spaces for founder connection TWEET THIS

  10. Remember the power dynamic between investors and founders is always there TWEET THIS

  11. Ask, “How are you?” before, “What’s going on?” TWEET THIS

  12. Advocate for founder wellbeing TWEET THIS

  13. Add your own pledge item to the conversation! Use our TWEET TEMPLATE to push this conversation forward.

Which item will you start implementing today? Click the link beside the item(s) to tweet your #pledgetofounders.  Join us in catalyzing a massive shift in the existing culture to one that is compassionate and supportive of founders AND investors as whole people. Help us fight secrecy and stigma in favor of a world that nurtures open communication, aligned goals, creativity and passion. 

Stay involved! CLICK HERE if you’d like to lend your support to the pledge as it grows and evolves. Follow us on twitter @AtlasQ_and follow the conversation #PledgeToFounders 

A huge thank you to Jake Chapman (@runvc), Howie Diamond (@howiedelicious), Chris Messina (@chrismessina), Nabeena Mali (NabeenaM) and Meera Innes ( @meerabel) who collaborated on this article and masterminded the campaign to activate change. Thank you also to the 50 investors and entrepreneurs who are on the pioneering edge of this conversation and helped draft the first version of the pledge. And to Norwest Ventures and Alpha Bridge Ventures for hosting the event. We couldn’t do it without you!

*Panelists included Meera InnesChris MessinaJessica Carsonand Heidi Roizen.