Early stage startups and mental health

Startup life is a mental struggle. I can go from a Monday high of “things are going great” to a Friday low of “things are on fire”, even if objectively, not much changes.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who feels this, and I was keen to unpack that more.

Has early stage startup life impacted your mental health? What makes it more likely to have an impact vs. a classic job? Do you have tips on how to cope?


@amogh, thank you for raising this most vital, emotionally vulnerable, difficult, and sadly, seldom-discussed, subject. :sunflower:

Surfacing some founder notes from the Relay archives; encompassing how founders have learned to deal with various strains of starting up. Those that linger, those that are (and should be) forgotten, and those that lie ahead. Hope you’d find these reflective, earnest probes helpful:

1: EnjoyHQ’s co-founder, @Sofia, on why founding a company has been a "a self-discovery process that I never experienced in any other job, no matter how much responsibility I had.”

2: Crossbeam’s co-founder, @BobMoore, on developing a “combination of muscle memory and scar tissue.”

3: Chameleon’s co-founder, @pulkit, on how he paused to revisit an always-hurried and anxious state of mind he had long assumed as a given.

4: Bento’s founder, @jessefrombento, on being aware of where burnout, for him, really stems from, and a work-life routine that helps.

5: Flodesk’s co-founder, @marthabitar, on learning to freak out less.

6: Geckoboard’s founder, @paul, on the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people as this is “a far lonelier journey than I had anticipated at first.”


Has early stage startup life impacted your mental health? What makes it more likely to have an impact vs. a classic job? Do you have tips on how to cope?

Lately, I find that most of my anxiety stems from ambition and future based thinking. Often, if I cut the scope of my thinking to just the day or hour ahead of me I feel better and just try my best to do great work within that timeframe.

The other thing too is that you also have to forgive yourself if you just don’t have the energy to work. With fitness, the concept of a deload period is fairly common but at work we often don’t take the same approach. So, take a week off, forgive yourself for it, and come back even stronger.


Thank you, @amogh, for asking this question.

There are always phases and days with exhilarating highs and “everything is falling apart” lows. I’ll attempt, here, to reflect upon how we’ve coped with some of those, especially in the first 5 years of our journey. I’m afraid of writing anything that might sound like “advice,” but I felt compelled to try and share my learnings.

Revenue not progressing at the pace you had wanted, a competitor raising a ton or releasing features you’ve been rigorously chalking out, core product updates getting stuck (frustratingly long) in the build phase, a newly surfaced security vulnerability, a fundraising push that sends upsetting signals of falling apart, a key team member quitting, a candidate you were counting on, not joining…The list of things that take a toll — one after the other, or sometimes, scarily at once — goes on.

A useful question I have learned to ask myself in such situations is: “what am I still excited about? what is working well?”

That jolts me out of a default mode of thinking we all engage in. Which is allocating mindshare solely to what’s broken even when there’s little we can act on, aside from dwelling on the equally unhelpful what-ifs and what-will-happens.

That doesn’t mean deflecting or avoiding a fuller analysis of whatever hurdle we’re up against. The opposite, instead. Knowing what’s going well gives me permission to objectively go super deep into what is not. And that, in turn, allows me to accept the obstacle for what it is and clarifies what I can really control, rather than going in circles around what it could/should have been.

Honestly addressing, ‘what am I still excited about?,’ leads me to answers that are often anchored around recent customer wins, the continuing significance of and an exciting obsession with the customer problems we’re solving, the very palpable impact people in our team are making every single day. It pulls me, in other words, into more sunnier, brighter directions. :slight_smile:

As a founder, this has been among the hardest areas of personal growth for me — taking responsibility for my role in any situation and evaluating it thoughtfully, so that I can respond with exactly what it needs.

Hope this helps!


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts there, @Krish. It’s made a bunch of fuzzy thoughts I’ve had crisp. It’s maybe some evolutionary instinct that could explain why we always focus on “what’s broken”, and to really be objective and keep perspective, we need to challenge that default. I think that’s especially true in startup land. We need to be the ones celebrating our wins and “what’s going well”, because no one else will do that for us.


Love the analogy mate! I think treating the “mental” as “physical” is a basic thing I miss on.