I have been trying to write an article on the investment market, on how investors might care – or not – about the entrepreneurs they invest in in terms of the entrepreneurs’ mental health. Being an entrepreneur is stressful to say the least, and I have seen many of them breakdown when working with them on their internal management. However, speaking to a lot of investors, the general answer I got was “We do not really care” or “We have not thought about it… it is up to them.” I even got one who told me they would simply fire the CEO if s/he broke down due to stress.
Hope is not lost; I did manage to find a few investors who took a great interest into their entrepreneurs. Sam, is one of the few mentors / investors / advisors who actually asks his founders to sleep more instead of work harder!
Founder & CEO, 26 Latitude
What are the issues with the current working environment for entrepreneurs?
The current climate has people working 14 or 16 hour-days and 6 or 7 days a week with no breaks. Employees don’t leave until their boss leave otherwise they feel they may get fired. Management is run in a dictator way and not in a creative consensus way, this is why China turnover rate is one of the highest. Ideas that might make a difference get shutdown as appose to nurture.
Can you share an experience of a Founder burning out?
I once had a team who were all super stressed out. One day, the co-founder said, “Forget it, I’m done, I’m leaving” and left the co-founder and staff freaking out. He just left because he could not take it anymore.
I had to step in almost like the temporary co-founder. In retrospect, I came in pretty late to the scenario and was just about to give them funding. However, I have since learnt that if I could have come in earlier in the process results would have been different and that has made me changed my methods – I spend a lot of time advising and mentoring before I give funding now because looking at the documents for due diligence can only give a small picture of what is really going on, so when mentoring I have a clear picture of the team along with their products, and how to build a strong collaboration so that the stress of getting investment does not crowd them out.
How did this affect your founders, and how did you help them?
I had one company who had a great product and the challenge was marketing. They were based in China and decided to take an international approach to marketing, so they were talking to the US and Europe time zones and due to that, they were working around the clock.
They stopped sleeping, and as a result, they executed their plans haphazardly. They could barely remember the script or how to present the material. They could not think on their feet during discussions. The overall presentation was just bad.
I had to stop them and make them sleep! And to work within reasonable hours. Fortunately, they listened; they went from 100+hour work weeks to about 45 hours a week. And simply by sleeping properly again and refocusing their energies on a plan that was reasonable and achievable, they went from USD1500 a week in sales to landing 4 million a month
How do you discuss topics of burn out and stress with your Founders?
When it comes to caring for them, I am almost like a psychologist (laugh). I listen to them, what their challenges are, help them improve the communication and tell them it is okay to say sorry to their wives (laugh again).
I invest into their “emotional bank accounts” by sharing my experience and feelings. And then let them download on me. It actually also helps me to take their load off, because when they feel better, I feel better that I helped someone. It excites me to give back and to help them not sink into a worse situation.
Why do you take the time to care about your Founders’ mental health?
When I was doing my first venture capital backed company, I felt like I had no support. Although I had some family, a girlfriend, and friends, they could not completely empathize what I was going through. The pains of getting rejected constantly was starting to get to me, and my insecurities surfaced. I started to wonder, “Is it me?” is it the fantasy of possibility having the big money? I built a lot of companies and they failed. And I built more, and they exited successfully.
I know when stressed, things can go bad. I know the pains and what entrepreneurs go through. I know how they feel when their wives are upset with them for not having more time to play with the kids or complain that they lose their temper too easily at their wives and kids because of the stress.
So, I want to help them out. I do not worry so much about return, I honestly care, and hope they do not have to go through what I have been through. And it is about creating an ecosystem, so that this new generation of founders will care about the future generations. We need to help and support each other!
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