Founder Depression

One of the students in my Stanford course this past Monday raised her hand and asked “What do you think is the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?”

I thought for a minute, and responded “I think the hardest thing is to maintain an emotional even-keel”. The life of an entrepreneur is often filled with intense highs and painful lows. But as a CEO you can't get too high when things are going well, and you can't go mope in the corner when things are going poorly. You have to approach each day with the same relentless intent. Your team is depending on you. 

Last month Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, wrote a blog post on the topic of Founder Depression. TechCrunch then followed-up with an excellent post which included anonymous interviews with several founding CEO's. 

Founders have many of the risk factors for depression – sleep deprivation, the need to be “on” all the time, feeling the weight of the expectations of investors, partners, and employees. But they can't show it – no founder who admits to struggling with depression would ever get funded or be able to recruit a team.

Driving home from class on Monday night, I listened to the radio reports of the suicide of Robin Williams. Like everyone else, I shook my head at how inconceivable it was that someone who seemingly had everything going for him could possibly have chosen to end his own life.

Depression is a pernicious thing. It often strikes those who we would least suspect – and those who are least able to talk about it honestly. 

I have no idea what the solution is. But I suspect that an open dialog is a good place to start.