Mental health problems among start-up founders and pressure from “unicorns”


Two years of pandemic, intermittent shutdowns, job uncertainty and cloud over business survival have put a lot of pressure on a huge segment of India’s millennials to become entrepreneurs – start their own “restlessness”, follow their “passion” ”. While becoming job givers rather than job seekers is a good change, there is a dark side to the story, which often goes out of the limelight.

Behind million dollar fundings, multibillion dollar valuations, millions of founders struggle every day and face the bewildering pressure of becoming a unicorn. As the basics of the business shifted from profitability to scalability and evaluations, these founders found themselves in the midst of a crisis – creating value for businesses or for the world to see them simply as “Success stories”. Our ecosystem tends to make successful entrepreneurs into heroes. And by definition here, “succeed” means founders of companies with huge valuations.

However, we often don’t get the hang of it until these Founders get big, they went through times of debilitating anxiety attacks and hopelessness – times when it felt like everything could just fall apart.

Plus, there is another disheartening pressure not to talk about it. Discussing mental health among the founders is still a taboo in general. “You have chosen this path for yourself” is a common comeback in Indian society when you talk about your entrepreneurial challenges. The fear of failure and of being seen as a “failed entrepreneur” still hangs over the dreams of millions of young Indians.

The main reason is the extremely lonely and alienating journey of entrepreneurship. In India, most families do not support entrepreneurship as a career option. The founders spend less time with their friends and often move to big cities for greener pastures. Overall, they lose their support networks and rarely find someone to talk to.

Mental health is an epidemic. However, mental health and pressures among startup founders are not commonly discussed. Studies show that startup founders are twice as likely to suffer from depression and three times as likely to suffer from drug addiction. It’s high time to generalize the conversation, and investor circles are making it a regular feature to check the sanity quotient of the startups they’re invested in.

As a society, we also need to start seeing entrepreneurship as a legitimate career choice. Like changing jobs, a founder can fail in one company and move on to another. For the record, failing in entrepreneurship is normal. We need to de-stigmatize conversations about mental health and provide the right resources to young first-generation entrepreneurs by talking to them.

The invisible and unrealistic pressure on every startup to become a unicorn is both baseless and unnecessary. Good ideas are only “good” if they make money and can turn into profitable businesses. Period.

Leave our young generation; millennial spirits direct the course of learning. It’s okay to make mistakes, to fail, to change the course of your career as you wish, and it’s okay to unlearn and start over. The only thing that matters is maintaining a work-life balance and doing things that give you peace of mind. Founders also need to understand that glamorous “24 hour work culture” doesn’t help anyone in the long run. Take a break and create some value for yourself.

– Pawas Jain is Senior Product Manager at CNBC-TV18. The opinions expressed are staff.

(Edited by : Yashi Gupta)


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