A serial entrepreneur explains how startup founders can find an outlet for their stress
VG Siddhartha’s passing hit me harder than I thought a stranger’s death would.
Perhaps because Café Coffee Day, which Siddhartha founded in 1995, has been a constant, warm, friendly, alternative workplace for many an Indian founder, and Siddhartha a gracious host. In fact, memories of my very first discussion on what went on to become my startup Upekkha, pop up vividly at the Coffee Day Lounge on 100 feet road in Koramangala, Bengaluru.
Every Indian founder goes through more than a fair share of hard knocks. Be it Siddhartha, IndiaPlaza’s K Vaitheeswaran (who recently told The Times of India newspaper about the time he felt suicidal due to his venture’s failure), or the many who speak of their ups and downs privately, we founders usually don’t let the outside world know how we feel at any given moment.
Without an outlet, and having to put up a strong face every day, founders let their emotions and stress build up. When there is no other way forward, they explode.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few ways you should get help in such circumstances:
You are not alone
Know that you are not alone in facing these ups and downs. Most startups are like ducks in the water: calm on the surface, but always paddling like crazy underneath. Most startups go through hell on earth before they get to a comfortable situation. And it isn’t over till it’s over.
If you’re a founder, take a minute to think of your founder friends. If you feel someone you know is having a tough time, stop. Take a deep breath. Ask them to go on a walk with you. Ask them what’s going on. Share what’s going on with you—the good stuff, and the shitty stuff. Then ask them again what’s really going on. Don’t offer solutions. Be kind, and hear them out. Be a mirror. Offer to go for a walk for an hour every week or two.
If you feel you need help, reach out to other founders you know, those you’ve met in networks like Headstart, or in your co-working space, or incubators, and accelerators.
The key is to have an open and free discussion about where you are, and what’s in your head, not a conversation where everyone is boasting about how well they’re doing or how awesome things have been.
Lean on your oldest friends
Speak with friends you have known for years: neighbours, or school and college mates. These are people who won’t even want to talk to you about your business, and care about your health, both physical and mental. Talk to them about life instead of your business.
Create a non-judgemental space with your peer founders. This is a long-term solution. I have a group like this, and it’s absolutely precious. Just hang out with these people often. Yes, you’ll end up talking about business on most days. But build one-on-one bonds with them, where you can step out of business conversations when you need to.
In such conversations, don’t judge others on their choices or situations.
Seek professional help
Try a service like Yourdost, an online counselling and emotional wellness coach. They have non-judgemental support as a baseline. They can also help you improve your mental state. The cost is minuscule compared to the benefits.
Remember, it’s not your life
There are many people in your life, many businesses in you, many careers you’ll have, many wins, and yes, many losses.
Always remember: Your business is not your life. This too shall pass.
So talk to one friend today. Buy them a cup of coffee at a Café Coffee Day. This, too, shall pass.