Mental Health and Startups

Photo courtesy of Andrew Jackman

For the first two years of Insane Logic I worked from home. I spent most the day at my desk or on the road circulating around schools and NHS buildings in the UK.  I like my quiet time but I loved being on the road, playing my own tunes in the car and getting to meet potential buyers of my product MyChoicePad. In one 5 month period I racked up 64 visits to speech and language therapists and teachers around the UK. This is the kind of energy and obsession that you need at the beginning to get your business off the ground. 

I was living on my own and when doing desk time I'd start to work around 11am, pick up speed and focus around 4pm and work through to 2am. Strange eating habits arose and the lure of the microwave meal was spell binding in its ease and lack of washing up. I was becoming increasingly anti-social and quite happy with it too. 

When we got into Wayra in June 2012 I wasn't the only one who couldn't get in for the 10am meetings on a Monday. As a result they were shifted to 3pm, much more in my time zone. Wayra was amazing fun but there was a lot of pressure to be present at the daily talks and meetings. As the only full time member of my team at that point I was also the only sales person. This meant I was out of Wayra and London at least 50% of the time seeing clients. Pressure building. Also we had quite a lot of alcohol most nights at Wayra to help us let off steam, and I think many of us become quite reliant on alcohol (not because of Wayra just generally) as a way to cope with this intense way of life. Wayra lasted 9 months. Yes it must be the longest accelerator. My liver was not thanking me, but it was a brilliant experience.

After three years you start to think that this way of life, the expectations from investors, customers, your ever expanding team, fuelled by microwave meals, endless networking evenings, 3-4 hours sleep a night, beer and pizza diet is normal.  All your friends are in startups. You don't know what happened to the rest. Your family call to see if you are still alive. Your wardrobe is piled high with jeans, trainers and a variety of t-shirts. Your desk is awash in business cards, your laptop is covered in various startup brand stickers and your wallet is bursting with expense receipts. You don't have time to do anything thoroughly as you would like. This starts to frustrate you and burns away at you. You miss those first quiet years working alone and getting things done "properly". 

But you can't dwell too long on that as you've got bills to pay, employees to look after and customers and investors to please. Don't even start to hark on about having a private life there is no room for that. It all piles up. 

This is how it feels most days.

Over the last few years I've seen many a good man/woman fall, the brightest and the best. I've managed to hang on by a thread each time I feel it coming and I take time off and get some amazing support from understanding friends and family. I think being a little bit older helps keep the perspective too. I've recently changed my diet too. Gone are the microwave meals! Four years of shit have taken its toll on my body. And I'm trying to exercise most days...more for positive vibes than anything else. 

You only see the good times in the press, and damn when it's good it's the sweetest thing ever!!! And so worth the other 95% of lesser days that we all keep on doing it. I'm glad to see that mental health is getting more coverage these days. Brad Feld seemed to kick the conversation off a few years back and now we have startups like Sanctus and an event from Three Beards (who I first met in Wayra) called Thinkabout. All brilliant for raising awareness of the realities and how best to prepare yourself to thrive and survive. 

You've got to find your own way to deal with this kind of life and change the balance as you change. When you get it right it's a great life!