While founders must assume some amount of uncertainty and risk, the news of the shutdown of Silicon Valley Bank—the largest bank collapse since the 2008 recession—highlighted another grave reality: The enormous pressure to remain strong, positive, and confident during chaos can come at the expense of founders’ mental health. Startup founders, including many first-timers, made up a large part of the bank’s ecosystem, who were grappling with being responsible for the livelihoods of those who entrusted them.
Those who had assets in SVB had to ask themselves, “How am I going to make payroll?” Nathalie Walton, the cofounder of Expectful, says.
“In those situations as a founder, you actually don’t take care of yourself,” Walton tells Fortune. She sold her company in January but deeply empathizes with the sudden stress that founders felt after SVB’s news. “You put out the fire, and you make sure that everyone else is fed and taken care of before you take care of yourself.”
She adds, “I don’t think any founders were practicing self-care this weekend.”
And when there is a fire to put out, founders have to operate at top speed.
“Sometimes it comes to the point where it’s like, if you aren’t responding, then you can lose everything,” she says, adding that being a founder had a detrimental effect on her mental health, especially her sleep.
For Niles Lichtenstein, cofounder and CEO of Nestment, who has worked with a number of startups, the most challenging part of being a founder is when you suddenly lose control of the situation. It feels like the world caves in, he tells Fortune.
“You’re in this scary place where you feel like you’re beholden to your investors, your team, and yourself,” he says. “It can be a very lonely position to be in.”
Brad Feld, a venture capitalist and cofounder at Foundry Group, noticed SVB’s immediate impact on founders’ well-being, especially founders new to the arena. He penned a blog post addressing the issue Tuesday.
“…the level of stress and anxiety, especially for first-time founders, was extreme,” he wrote, adding that he facilitated several one-on-one conversations with his portfolio company CEOs where people could openly ask questions and “just commiserate.”
A pledge to center founders’ mental health
Pioneer Mind, a company providing mental health support for founders who also happened to be funded by SVB,…
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