Founder Suicides

I know this post is going to be a downer but I think there is a lot more to be talked about regarding depression, mental health, and entrepreneurship.

I recently heard a terrifying stat about founder suicides recently. A friend told me that he’d heard of over a dozen suicides from entrepreneurs in the past few years. I didn’t press him for the specific data because I didn’t want to struggle through it, but I personally knew of three so I expected that it would add up to a dozen pretty easily.

Yesterday, I read a post titled The Downtown Project Suicides: Can the Pursuit of Happiness Kill You? It’s part of a series done by Re/code on the Downtown Las Vegas project. The series started out very positive with an article titled Downtown Las Vegas Is the Great American Techtopia but in the middle of the series Tony Hsieh Stepped Down From Lead Role at Las Vegas Downtown Project, 30% of the staff got laid off, and the articles turned negative with Factorli, an Early Casualty of the Las Vegas Downtown Project.

And yesterday, the suicide article – The Downtown Project Suicides: Can the Pursuit of Happiness Kill You? – appeared. It’s a rough one that talks about three suicides – Jody Sherman (4/13), Ovik Banerjee (1/14), and Matt Berman (4/14) – all people involved in the Vegas Tech phenomenon.

I’m saddened by the struggles around The Downtown Vegas Project. I’ve long thought, and continue to think, it’s a really interesting experiment.

But I’m really upset by the suicides. Re/code’s article is harsh and questions the Happiness philosophy of Tony Hsieh and whether it is partly responsible for the suicides. Kim Knoll who was apparently interviewed for the article has a solid response to this. But regardless of the root cause, which we can’t possibly know from the article, the fact stands that three entrepreneurs involved recently committed suicide.

First, if you are ever considering committing suicide, immediate reach out to someone and ask for help. Amy and I recommend the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you don’t know where to turn. The 800 number is  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

When I had my first clinical depression in my mid-20s, Amy and I set up a few rules around things. We specifically talked about suicide and I agreed that if I ever had a suicidal thought, I wouldn’t act on it. Instead, I would immediately stop what I was doing, tell Amy what I was thinking, and we’d discuss it. During this long depression, I only had one suicidal ideation, but it was while we were driving on a highway in Sedona (I was driving). I immediately pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and told Amy what I was thinking. We switched seats – she drove the rest of the way, and then we had a long conversation that night. After the conversation, even though I was still very depressed, I felt immense relief and support.  When we got back to our home in Boston after that vacation, I started therapy, which was incredibly helpful.

Our society still has an incredible stigma associated with depression. Anyone who has been depressed knows that it is extremely hard to describe how it feels to someone who hasn’t ever been depressed. My favorite description of depression continues to be from Hyperbole and a Half. I’ve recently started describing it as an emotional pain that is significantly worse than almost all physical pains you could imagine, especially because it seems to go on forever. And sometimes this pain is so severe that it feels like ending it all by committing suicide is the only answer.

While this isn’t unique to entrepreneurs, the intensity of being an entrepreneur, especially when your company is failing, or you are failing at your role, can be overwhelming. I see it all the time and try to be a very empathetic listener whenever I encounter it. I’ve learned a huge amount from my friend Jerry Colonna about how to be helpful and know that I’ll continue to be on a journey around mental health and entrepreneurship.

It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to lose. It’s ok to be depressed.

If you are contemplating suicide, get help. If you have an entrepreneurial friend contemplating suicide, do your best to get them help.

  • Guest

    Thanks for that excellent post Brad. Many don’t think about this until they are directly affected, and then it catches you off guard. Warning signs are fleeting and subtle, and sometimes don’t exist at all. It’s hard to even start that kind of discussion – to have a game plan is admirable and may be a great approach for some people – founders included.

  • Thanks for that excellent post Brad. Many don’t think about this until they are directly affected, and then it catches you off guard. Warning signs are fleeting and subtle, and sometimes don’t exist at all. It’s hard to even start that kind of discussion – to have a game plan is admirable and may be a great approach for some people – founders included.

  • Ash

    Honest article Brad. Thanks. I think it can be pretty overwhelming when you’re succeeding too btw. Throw in family, constant demands on your time, no time to look after yourself, lack of sleep etc, and it only takes a tiny thing to throw the strongest of us over the edge – as it were.

    • Yup! And like @pranay:disqus says, taking time for yourself / being more selfish, is a way to be more selfless!

  • Thanks for this, Brad. I was extremely close to suicide last September. My loans were going bad, I was in deep financial trouble to the extent we didnt have money for food. My wife was overseas and was equally troubled by my issues. I was unable to see a way out, and despite being very headstrong, very self assured, I could see only 1 way out from escaping my creditors – Suicide.

    At one point, in the middle of the day, I just shut the door to my bedroom at 11 AM and sat down and started crying uncontrollably. I just wept like a baby. I then walked out to my 7th floor balcony and stared at the ground – I felt like it was calling out to me to come and end all the misery.

    My dad needed eye surgery and medication for his heart condition, my mom had a breathing difficulty, my business was stagnant and failing, and I had 2 dogs for whom I needed to buy food. I was at my wits end.

    But thankfully, I got this sudden lightning thought – “If I didnt die, whats the worst that could happen?”

    When I was able to work out all the options, I figured out that at worst, I’d end up in Jail, My Mom and Dad would pass away due to lack of medical attention and my pups would get adopted. And my wife would find a new life.
    And none of my creditors would care. They never had cared and never would care.

    But the only thing that I wanted to care about was myself. I realised that I had to make myself happy first. The only thing that held all these separate threads together was me. And the ONLY thing I had a modicum of control on was the business. And if I didnt make myself happy, it was impossible to please anyone else.

    It was this realisation that liberated me. Rather than being selfless, I turned into becoming a selfish person and decided to live just for myself. And it has worked out so far. And being selfish has made me more selfless and appreciated than when I was selfish.

    Really counterintuitive but Its worked for me.

    Sorry for the rant,

    • jerrycolonna

      Thanks for the rant. And thanks, Pranay, for not going through with the thoughts.

    • Pranay – Awesome. Thank you for letting your story out. I’ve been there too and every time I hear someone else get honest, it helps.

      • Happy to share my story. I’ve always been headstrong and I feel suicide is more about being selfless than being selfish. And the stigma / mental torture arises from the fact that we feel we’re putting ourselves first. When in fact if we really put ourselves first, Suicide pales in comparison to life.

    • Powerful! Thanks for sharing.

  • Mary Juetten

    Thank you for this article. I had the pleasure of being hosted by Ovik at the container park last year and I did not know that he had taken his own life until I read this post. As a founder who has had runway challenges this year, it is a paralyzing feeling when you know so many are depending on you and you hit a speed bump. My first instinct is action and luckily I have the same approach as Pranay – playing out the worst case scenario. Your plan is a great one and goes beyond startup life. Thank you.

    • Thanks. I never met Ovik but I hope many people remember him fondly.

  • I am always struck by this, I have been depressed myself many times. A number of resources have helped me cope with the problem. I think everyone of us go through some form of depression, for some it is acute and others it is superficial. Almost always the depression sets in when there is Fear of Failure. I remember Jerry Colon’s Leadership Reboot session on Fear and Failure, it starts with asking yourself 3 questions. what are you afraid of? what are you afraid of? and what are you afraid of? I also remember Jerry’s notes where I wrote down, in order to make an ally of fear requires that the person treats planning as a chance to be curious and inventive, accepting reality without giving up on the wish to change, the change could be just how one thinks, and also understanding the nature of change and impermanence of the situation. Everything that looks bad when one is depressed is not the TRUTH. The narratives that we tell ourselves given our situations creates the monsters in our heads. I like how Jerry started the conversation… This being so, so what? I so wish everyone who is going through their struggles has someone they can talk to and answer the above question. It is such a shame to lose talented, brilliant and world changing individuals to this disease.

    • jerrycolonna

      And you, my friend, were such a brave soul for allowing yourself to be real and be with the fear.

      • Thank you for creating an environment and the circle of trust that enables everyone who walks into it to become a brave soul. Thank you for your friendship, mentoring and for being a mirror, so that I could see the truth. You know that no one will be able to do this if you did not show your vulnerability and your soft front. Thank you for doing that.

        • jerrycolonna

          You’re welcome.

  • jerrycolonna

    Thanks my friend. We have got to come together on this. I just wrote an email to a reporter in the UK (and when I say just, I mean, just before your post arrived in my inbox). In it I wrote in response to her question: “What can entrepreneurs do to help themselves?”

    “Talking about it, making it less shameful, is the single most important thing. I’ll tell you why Brad and I (as well as Ben Huh and Rand Fishkin) all are willing to talk about this: because we know that normalizing the feelings is critical. The worst part of depression is thinking that you are the only one with it. It’s perverse and cruel because in addition to wanting to die (or being unable to feel at all) your mind uses the feelings of depression to confirm the belief that you suck as a human being.”

    I find it especially difficult to discuss with people who have not worked with depression. Their discomfort with our feelings, their fear for the ones they love, their sense of helplessness often leads them to cheerlead (as Parker Palmer puts) or try to convince us that our feelings are wrong. That has the perverse effect of making us feel worse because it increases the isolation.

    The only answer I can come up with community. We must make it okay for people to say, “Fuck! This hurts and I’m scared and I don’t know what to do.”

    We started our latest bootcamp last night and in the opening we talked about how the feelings of overwhelm, utter incompetence, and tremendous fear are so widespread. And in the midst of that, I asked, “What was it like hearing everyone else share the fact that they have the same feelings as you?” One guy looked up with tears in his eyes: “Fantastic.”

    • Jerry – I was just part of the US/Canada Forum on Mental Health in the Workplace that Brad had posted about several weeks ago. Great representation of the “lived experience” in the content and yes, so important and healing to just let all of us who have been through this terrain to open up, feel heard, and normalize it.

  • Good read Brad and I have watched from afar this debacle play out in Vegas after my visit there earlier in the year, which only reminded me of a desperate attempt to create a community around a business for 1 leader, Tony.

    The way that they get startup founders up there for a visit reminded me of the 1980’s time-share playbooks and the experience while thee of cults that I used to see in Texas growing up, except in this case, there was a lot more money being thrown around.

    Being an entrepreneur, from a family of them, I always try to instill in my own kid your cool words here, “It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to lose. It’s ok to be depressed.” as you will experience all 3 in this life.

    Way to tackle a tough topic Brad:)


    • I had two interesting conversations today about “cults” vs. “movements.” I expect I’ll toss a post up about this soon.

      • Cool. You should meet Stephen who would be a great resource on that post topic. I will shoot you his LinkedIn.


      • Steven Plaat

        Here’s a checklist of cult characteristics. It’s not uncommon to see many of the same dynamics in business / startup environments…

  • Thanks Brad and Jerry, and thank you all who shared and have been down this road. Jerry said talking about it is the single most important thing and I couldn’t agree more. Our society also has this abhorrence to negative emotions, and if you don’t feel “good” there is something wrong with you.

    Any feeling is better than total apathy that we often hear about in depression. I had a friend attempt suicide just over 1 month ago now. While talking about it with my friend, I simply told him that feeling hatred, rage, anger, blame, worry and discouragement were at least feelings. I think talking this through with him did exactly as Jerry said, It made it “feel less shameful.” He’s now moving from total apathy back into the realm of feeling and this has been his start to recovery. Simply accepting them and supporting them by being an “empathetic listener” is critical.

    This is something we need to start sooner and earlier, like in middle and high school. Allowing people to normalize there feelings will go a long way in the prevention of suicide.

    • Jerry is so powerfully brilliant around this. I agree just talking about it destigmatizes it. And this is a tiny first step, but an important one.

  • Guest

    I’m not sure what to think about this article. I am severely bipolar, the severe symptoms have really only surfaced in my late 30’s as failures, tragedy, and loss have added up. I’m also a lifelong entrepreneur. These have conflicted head on with each other in the past. For example, in 2009 my business at the time was booming and I was experiencing success I had only dreamed of, but a depression cycle had started in late 2008 and by March 2009 I was hospitalized (more One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest than Dream Team) without any contact or means to contact the outside world. I literally stopped in to see a counselor early one morning before heading into a client’s office and pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth. I was given one call while being admitted and had no more contact with the outside world for six days. My business did not survive this and collapsed in itself within three months. On the flip side I’ve been fairy stable emotionally, even as I’ve struggled through the startup process in the past 18 months. Eventually, no matter how centered and balanced I had been, the stresses of the business encroached and I collapsed into clinical depression again. It’s not an easy life, but I don’t know any other way to live. I hide the depression cycles like any other entrepreneur, face my demons daily, pull myself up by the bootstraps every morning and put on a brave face for the public (and my family).

    • Thanks for writing – brave for you to put it out there. It’s hard stuff – my best encouragement is to find close friends who love you and share with them.

  • Doug

    From Tim Ferris’ pod cast ( I grabbed the book “What I learned losing a Million Dollars”.
    I just finished the chapter about making an external loss into an internal loss. It directly applies to suicide because of a startup failure, losing money, or any of the things that happen to you in the world.
    They happen to you, they are not about you, and you are not broken just because your startup did not pan out. It is worth a read.

    • That looks interesting, Doug. Thanks. Going to check it out.

    • Pointsandfigures

      Been there done that. Uff da. Important thing to remember is you can’t get a do over on the past but you get another bite at the apple in the future. There never is a closed door if you keep swimming

  • Brad, thank you for bringing light to this topic, and for sharing your story. Some facts that may be helpful are that One in 3 Americans and One in 4 Europeans are currently struggling from mental illnesses — with depression being the largest co-occurring illness and underlying risk factor for eating disorders, addictions / substance use and other mental health complications. The facts speak for themselves and, yet, you are right — the social stigma surrounding mental illnesses makes the battle even more arduous. We liken it to where “cancer” was in the 1970’s. We certainly weren’t talking about it back then and today, NFL players are wearing bright pink on the playing field in solidarity. We will get there with mental health, as well, thanks to leaders like you who get the conversation started. There is some other good news: I have been working in collaboration with nationally acclaimed researchers in prevention and in mental health for the last decade to create educational programs and tools that share the latest research about PREVENTION and early intervention of these illnesses. What we look at are the shared risk and protective factors that occur between many mental health illnesses. For anyone who is interested, I’m happy to share free links and educational resources — just e-mail me or find us on our site at The antidote to many mental illnesses like depression and suicide ideation include: increasing healthy coping skills, mindfulness (there are amazing evidence-based mindfulness programs that are out there), increasing your ability to share your feelings during conflict and difficult times, and making sure you allow your mind to recoup from being online all day (this is a HUGE risk factor for depression — the over-stimulation to the mind isn’t always a good thing) … aka … take breaks. Most importantly is learning how to validate who you are from the inside-out. As Founders, we always look to the outside for measuring our KPI’s and tracking, but research shows that increasing our internal validation skills is crucial to resiliency. We have tools galore, and — for anyone who is struggling, we can help you find help. Learn more at our national nonprofit site: or at To reiterate what Brad has said: please don’t wait to get help if you are struggling. There’s no shame in employing self-care. You CAN enjoy a life without that black cloud of darkness over you head. Sending peace to you all ….

    • Rick

      Good information. Everyone needs to get out and create *new* connections with people. If someone sends you a text call them back instead of texting a response. If someone sends you an email ask them to meet you somewhere to discuss things. Or send out 10 emails asking 10 people to meet somewhere and chat!

  • Anon

    My father attempted suicide 10 years ago, by jumping from the 3rd floor window of my sister’s house. He survived, but is now an above the knee amputee. He had talked about feeling suicidal the week before, and I wish, wish, wish that my 30 year old self had taken it more seriously. So my take away is this – don’t rely on someone else to take charge and don’t think it isn’t serious.

    • Well said. I have a good friend who I recently learned tried to commit suicide 30 years ago. He survived, but it took him many years to be able to even talk about it. Listening, and taking action, is so difficult, but so powerful.

  • freds4hb

    Thank you for keeping a light on this issue Brad. I wish it wasn’t so prevalent. I wish there was a way to better identify the warning signs. From the personal side, My team and I lost someone this week due to suicide. We had worked with them, we counted them as a friend but were removed enough to simply be wholly unaware of the issue. We were days away from sharing great news and now a wonderful person is no longer here. As you note awareness is the first step. Simply sharing these links can sometimes be the difference. Please do so.

    • Sending you hugs and good karma for your loss.

  • Rick

    I think part of the problem is that people choose non-personal ways to interact these days. Text, email, or whatever gets in the way of personal connection. It’s much better to talk on the phone or in person. I know you’re a big email fan Brad and I also agree electronic media is a great way to send and receive electronic content. But for personal communications it’s just plain inferior.
    I’ve worked from home for over a decade and have various methods to deal with the problems of working alone. Depression, I think, can be triggered from the lack of creating connections with people. Even if you get out after work and meet with people. If you work hard all day trying to make things happen in your business life but it lacks direct connection with others it can trigger depression.
    A phone call is much better than email or text and an in person meeting is light years ahead of them all. Doing is business is much better and easier if you can read the tones in a person’s voice or if you can see their facial expressions. Also anyone and everyone whether they want to do business or not will send a text reply. But people who go the extra mile and show up for a meeting really are interested in doing business with you.
    Everyone wants to maximize their communications with electronic methods that increase efficiency. But as I’ve said to you before: Who want’s to build a relationship with their computer? People want to build relationships with other people!

    • Pointsandfigures

      Yes. Co working spaces aren’t just places to collaborate. Good for your mental health too

      • Rick


    • I agree, although as an introvert I’m already spending much more time with other people than I want to. So I now try to focus my time with other people, and make sure I’m engaging deeply with them.

  • Pointsandfigures

    I have had friends and acquaintances commit suicide. 15 that I can think of off hand just from the CME trading floor. High risk high intensity occupations attract a certain type of personality. You have to know how to break the psychological and physical constructs to bust cycles that lead you down the wrong path.

    I am glad Brad has. Glad he is talking about it. Grateful he has been such a valuable piece of my learning about all things entrepreneurship.

    • Thx man. So sad to think of 15 people you’ve known who have committed suicide. I know of plenty, but have been fortunate that I only know one close friend who committed suicide. That was devastating to me and very hard to process.

      • Yes, funny thing is you think it was over the money. Each had a devastating loss. But the reality is it wasn’t about the money. The loss was just a trigger.

  • The increased rate is alarming.

    Maybe there’s a need for a dedicated hotline for startups specifically. Could be a virtual thing that can be set-up to route calls to expert volunteers that are on-call for a brief period. Maybe something like

    • I reached out to Jerry Colonna about exploring doing something around this.

      • Great!

      • There’s a YC startup called 7CupsOfTea ( who I’ve heard are very successful at connecting people with listeners.

        Haven’t personally tried it, since I have a spouse who’s great at listening, but those guys have been growing really nicely, so I take it people love the service.

      • Dallas-based startup Hopestr is trying to help solve some of these issues…

        The founder, Steve Koch, is a really solid dude who has a moving personal story.

  • Brad – Thanks to your email referral to Larissa Herda, I was able to help in a small way with some of the Forum on Mental Health and Productivity in Denver. I’m grateful that you keep this topic front and center. I know it helps me and I’m sure it helps others. Thanks.

    • Awesome – glad you participated and helped.

  • Stevie

    Please don’t say it’s going to be a downer. The more we talk the more we understand and the better we all become.

    • Totally agree, although I’ve learned that it’s ok for it to be a downer. It’s hard stuff, and I think it’s worth acknowleding that it’s hard stuff.

  • Stu

    So well written Brad. I started a company 22 years ago and I’ve suffered from depression since I was a teen. A great spouse and the right Rx have made a world of difference. Great cash flow in recent years sure hasn’t hurt! Thank you!

  • Rob

    Interestingly enough, just before reading this post I watched the following video about one of the world’s best ultrarunners (won this year’s Western States 100, Leadville 100, and RRR 100), who also battles with depression. It’s comforting and inspiring to see that even the most elite business people, athletes, artists, etc. can struggle with depression, and then use the lessons learned from those struggles to lead fuller, more authentic lives.

    • Some of my darkest moments have come after long runs. I attribute the starting point to my depression in 2013 to the 50 mile run in 2012 that I never physiologically recovered from. It was merely the start point, but an important one.

  • This is an important and powerful post. Thanks for writing it, Brad.

    My two cents below.

    I’ve struggled with depression (from 1 week to 6 months at a time) at several junctures in my career, and I’m sure it’ll happen again. I’ve found that my best tools for coping with this unfortunate aspect of my brain chemistry are endurance exercise, meditation, musicianship, adventure travel, and talking to people like Brad and Jerry.

    Here’s the thing, though: these tools only work for me when I have adequate time and space in which to deploy them. But the predominant work culture in tech startups today is a culture of overwork; it’s a culture that eats away at one’s time and one’s space.

    When an entrepreneur and/or their business is really struggling for an extended period of time, the main advice they hear from the echo chamber is to “keep hustling”, “shake more trees”, “leave no stone unturned”. I would submit that the advice they need to hear in those times is more like “climb a mountain”, “go for an inter-state bike ride”, “go to Burning Man”, “take a 5-day silent meditation retreat”, “go zip-lining across Costa Rica”, or the less extreme “try working half-days for a couple weeks”.

    And yet, the knee-jerk response a founder hears when they do this sort of thing is “How can you leave your company for that much time? Are you not committed to it?” I know this, because I’ve heard this kinda stuff my whole career. Yes, I’m committed to the company! That’s precisely why I need to separate myself from it sometimes.

    Ben Horowitz wrote in one of my favorite all-time posts on entrepreneurship, “The Most Difficult CEO Skill is Managing Your Own Psychology.” And as it turns out, most humans possess a psychology that requires taking breaks. Real breaks. Total disconnection from The Project At Hand.

    The eureka moment that breaks a spiral of depression can happen early in the cycle, late in the cycle, or (for those poor souls whom we’re mourning) never. It can come in the form of a new personal psychological strategy, a silver lining, or a glimpse of meaning and purpose. It manifests as a sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual, but always visceral sensation of healing, and I’ve seen it be triggered variously by intense feelings of love, joy, laughter, or awe. But here’s the catch: these intense, positive feelings are pretty hard to come across when you’re in grind-only mode for months on end.

    As a community, we are setting people up to fail at developing this Most Difficult CEO Skill by creating workplaces that reinforce the idea that breaks are a Bad Thing; workplaces that systematically fuse the concept of disconnecting with the emotion of guilt. As a community, we are screwing this up, and people are fucking dying from it.

    We’ve got to fix this.

    But I’m not merely trying to make a moral argument here — I’m making a capitalist one as well. Because I am pretty certain that we will see better business outcomes from companies who reject this culture of overwork as the poison it is. As an accidental byproduct of the industrial economy — a time when capital outputs scaled linearly with labor inputs.

    That’s not how the tech industry works. This is an industry where success is derived from nonlinear outputs.

    This is an industry that monetizes breakthroughs. And breakthroughs can only enter a clear mind.

    A brilliant product strategy, a flash of the perfect pitch, a connection between seemingly disparate areas of business, a re-invention of go-to-market principles, a sudden synthesis of old wisdom into new, a clever design to solve an unprecedented engineering problem — these are the things that make a tech company great in a nonlinear fashion. This sort of lightning doesn’t strike very often when you’re in the weeds for 30 days in a row, and I know founders who’ve been in the weeds for a thousand days in a row (this isn’t an exaggeration).

    This is why it’s strategic to reject the culture of overwork (not to mention the advantage such a company would garner in the talent market).

    One thing we say a lot at Keen is that, when you’re faced with a decision, and one of the options before you is both highly strategic (examined in the most cynical light) and highly ethical (examined in the most idealistic light), the decision is easy.

    We have to stop glamorizing the grind, stop the founder martyrdom, stop reinforcing the hero complex. Stop squeezing the lemon, when we should instead be figuring out how to build sustainable lemon orchards. Stop telling everyone to work harder instead of smarter, because we’re making their lives harder instead of making them smarter.

    • Dude – I love you. I love how you think. I’m glad I’m a tiny investor through Techstars. I regret that I didn’t step up and make a seed investment in you / your company when I had a chance. So so powerful. Thanks for writing.

    • Solid advice. I suspect that some of what you suggest i.e. taking a serious break ties into some recent research into how flow states work. Check out The Rise of Superman for more info on that.

    • “We have to stop glamorizing the grind, stop the founder martyrdom, stop reinforcing the hero complex. Stop squeezing the lemon, when we should instead be figuring out how to build sustainable lemon orchards. Stop telling everyone to work harder instead of smarter, because we’re making their lives harder instead of making them smarter. And people are fucking dying from it.”

      You are exactly the kind of entrepreneur I would LOVE to work for and help succeed in this world. Hope your maturity and your integrity attracts the right kind of talent to your team. All the best!

  • Albert Hartman

    Entrepreneurship is truly a high-wire act. As always, it seems that connection and unconditional compassion are our best tools to cope with the very real hardships. As a first-time Burner I can say that this was my main realization taken back from the Playa, seeing how these principles work at scale.

  • Nice post, Brad.

  • freddo9213

    >It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to lose.

    It’s only OK to fail or lose when you can afford it. For many entrepreneurs, this is not the case. If they fail, they lose their home or their wives will leave them or some other horrible fate awaits them. Suicide isn’t necessarily the answer, but just saying “it’s ok to fail” is almost worse than saying nothing.

    • Brandon

      “It will hurt to fail. It will hurt to lose. It will not be the end of your life.”

      I have lost my home from financial ruin/misfortune, and have recovered from that event. It is not the end of the world.

      • Well said Brandon. Thank you.

        @freddo9213:disqus I failed at my first two businesses. I’ve failed at several very high profile businesses. I’ve had plenty of success as well, but I don’t underestimate the pain from failure. But I still assert that it is ok to fail.

        • freddo9213

          I assume that you can afford to fail, so yes, it’s perfectly ok if YOU fail. I’m happy that you are in that situation. But for most people, that simply isn’t the case and failure will severely damage themselves and their families. Suicide isn’t the solution of course; no rational person would argue that. But it is definitely not OK to fail if you cannot afford to.

      • sworddance

        Good for you. Not everyone does. Most that I know did not recover. Entrepreneurship is a game for the wealthy trust babies. In the U.S. there is no safety net, Failure is not an option. I tell anyone who asks – “should I start my own company” — NO! It is simply not worth the financial risks.

        And yes – I have done so.

    • Rick

      That’s one of the things I’m getting a bit hot about. Why are entrepreneurs losing everything? There are trillions of dollars floating around. Why aren’t we helping the people, entrepreneurs, who are creating jobs and products of the future?

    • My spouse left me. I’m still alive. I’m thriving. I miss her, but going through that process has made me a better person.

  • OneWhoWillNotBeNamed

    Thanks for this. I failed at my role at a startup, I quit my job, left my family, flew 1000 miles to work on it, and three months In , I just couldn’t contribute. I had to be told to leave. I couldn’t take it, when I flew back, the world seemed strange to me. I became depressed. I became scared of everything – the earth, the sky, buildings. I used to love flying before, now I’m scared as hell of it. I couldn’t differentiate reality from my dreams. But the best thing that I did, was not fight it myself. I got professional help. Took medicines for anxiety and depression. Been on it for almost 8 months now and now I feel I’m finally getting back to normal. My ex boss got me my old job back almost immediately, I think that helped my immensely as well. Before this experience, I did not know what fear and depression was. I’ve done bungee jumping etc before. Its amazing what depression does to you. I started smoking, drinking. I still am anxious and get nervous when I see planes, tall buildings etc., Its hard to explain it to someone who’s never been in this state before. But mentally I prepped myself to fight it. I took 2 months off, just unwound. Its a tough road, but its just a phase, its easy to forget this. I found myself following the Kubler ross model – Denial – I just couldn’t take it, Anger – I was very angry at my co workers(I felt they owed me for leaving everything) , Bargaining – I wanted them to take me back, this got very ugly, Depression – Continued state of feeling lonely. Finally a month back I switched to Acceptance and just moved away. Im not depressed anymore, but I can tell signs now and I sure as hell wont be again. But what stayed with me is anxiety. I still get anxious. I wish there was a magic pill to help with that, but there isnt. What worked for me was Swimming, Constantly having a phrase in my head (for me it was – I wont be bogged down by this), watching tv shows that made me laugh. I plan to blog about my experience soon, hopefully it can be a cheat sheet for someone going through the same thing. The worst part when this happens, is that its hard to admit you need help. And its hard to admit weakness . Nobody wants a weak entrepreneur.

  • AnonymousOne

    I find this post a bit hard to swallow.

    I’m sorry, Feld, you and I have not met, I have every reason to believe your intentions are true; that you’re writing from your heart and from a place of caring. You’d like people to be happier, to enjoy what they have, to not suffer depression, to not keenly feel loss, lies, failure.

    Yet, by demanding a suicidal person “get help”, stay alive, continue to suffer through their pain, you sound unremittingly selfish. You want all these people do be around, even when they don’t want to be around, can’t stand being around, aren’t interested in playing the hand they’ve been dealt.

    You don’t want their deaths on your hands – our hands – as entrepreneurs. We participate in a brutal and unfair system. Entrepreneurship isn’t for the weak. It crushes souls, it breaks the spirit.

    Many enter as idealists. Crazy people, motivated by hubris or greed or even the desire to contribute. Enter believing there is a fundamental correctness, a system that works has flaws but honor among those crazy people we call technologists – and causes, occasionally, awesome to be built (actual awesome, not powerpoint awesome).

    Instead, one finds not just lies, but law breaking, contract breaking, going back on one’s word, insults for profit — and having to “suck it up” to the powerful.

    Feeling failure itself is bad. We’re not talking about “having a company fail”, but — and I understand you’ve been through it — being cursed and demeaned by person after person, who may have once respected you and looked up to you.

    Worse is letting down people you care about. People you’ve “signed up”. Knowing you didn’t quite do your best, that you weren’t as powerful, smart, lucky, thoughtful, convincing as you needed to be, as the other guys in the same space with the same idea — but now your buddy has lost his house, another’s lost their life savings, maybe another has killed themselves. They believed in you.

    Some people do have a disease. Some people need, and gain comfort, from a variety of services of our community.

    I had a friend who likely killed themselves recently (body found at bottom of cliff). She was a bit weird, even for these circles. I tried to help, a million small ways, a few large ways. We should have found a place in society for her – she was smart, caring, had enough heart — but was tough to be around, thus got fired from every job, never found a good enough mentor, a stabilizing influence. There was no “amy” in her life. Her mother held my hand and said – you tried, you did enough, and I have to agree. The world should have found a place for her particular crazy.

    We have a brutal society, one that screams insults in the faces of thoughtful, kind, interesting people. Let’s not let off the hook the brutality that infests entrepreneurial system. We have a society that can create plenty – our economy now is limited by demand, not by the ability to supply – and yet we have poverty, fear, “not enough money”, sickness, preventable death.

    Suicide comforts me because it’s the one deal – the one promise – they can’t take away. It’s the option I always have when I’ve taken one kick too many. Which, perhaps perversely, has given me the strength to continue. I know I have a way out.

    Someday, I might take that path. When I do, it’s because this life contains too many liars, thieves, and fakers; or maybe the problem is me, I can’t lie or cheat or fake well enough to be called a human. Forgive me then, I’ve been at this game for years and years, cheated and insulted by some of the largest and most powerful investment firms, and I lasted a while. Or don’t forgive me, because when I come to that decision, I don’t care what you think.

    If I take that path, I will indict humanity, not a disease I suffer from.

    From everything I read, you’re not, individually, the problem. You’ve written a post that brings out thoughtful comments. You have honor and don’t lie and cheat. The fact that you’ve written this post implies you’re not the problem. But — can’t we do better in talking about the problem?

    • i disagree with your comment about the path. There are plenty of paths to choose. I hate to be all Bill Clinton on you but I feel and understand your pain. There are other paths you can take. Suicide is not a way out.

    • Rick

      Negativity is not good. If you think someone is not doing a good job of helping others. It’s not right to attack them. You should give them suggestions on how to do better at helping.

    • There are very valid reasons for Brad’s point of view. The vast majority of people who survive suicide attempts go on to have productive lives. They don’t just do it over and over and over. Why? Because depression is something that is treatable, and new treatments are coming online. Ketamine and psilocybin to name just two, not to mention things like dietary changes, supplements for adrenal fatigue and so on.

      Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I speak as someone who has suffered from severe bouts over the past 25 years, most recently just a few months ago.

      • Sherry

        The saying “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” is a cliche and although it sounds clever it actually can be harmful to someone who in fact is in such pain that they believe will never end. It doesn’t help to minimize the pain that someone is in and it can sounds judgemental. Blog post that articualtes it better

        • Sherry, I’m sorry you don’t like my cliche, but I found it very helpful when I was on the brink two years ago.

  • TorUserStigma

    Serial founder here to give another perspective on this issue. I think about it (suicide) pretty often. I was planning on doing it tomorrow for certain reasons, but decided a few weeks ago to give it another few months to see if anything changes with the business. It probably won’t. But I wouldn’t be an entrepreneur if I wasn’t an optimist. I’m a bit offended by some of the commentators in this thread implying that I or the entrepreneurs who commit-ed suicide might have mental health issues. Thanks, but I have a very robust mental state. In my case, and I suspect theirs, it would be purely a financial decision, designed to get my family out of the financial trouble I’ve put them in. I know my family would miss me, but the way I look at it, they can either not miss me and go broke or miss me and have their medical bills paid. I know which I’d prefer. This reminds me of a great bit of monologue from Game of Thrones, when Eduard Stark is approached in the dungeon by Varys about an opportunity to save his own life by asking his son to stop the war, falsely confessing to treason and proclaiming Joffrey as the true heir. His response is this: “You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honor for a few more years of Of what? You grew up with actors. You learned their craft and you learned it well. But I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago.” I feel the same way. You think I’m going to let someone in my family die because of the stupid decisions I made? No, I’ll take the responsibility…

    • don’t

      You will destroy your family. Don’t do it.

    • ConcernedAnonymous

      Your first instinct might be to dismiss this comment because it disagrees with you, but please try to consider it, even if it’s for just a second. Based simply on the tone of your comment: you are not in a right state of mind.

      Please try to push any suicidal thoughts away and seek help. Comparing your life to a TV show is not healthy. I will not claim to know your familial situation or know you at all, but you need to change this train of thought consciously.

      • TorUserStigma

        Thanks for taking the time to pass judgement on my mental health. BTW I’m not dismissing the original post, I’m giving, to quote my own words ‘another perspective on this issue’. That I mentioned a TV show I happen to enjoy doesn’t mean I’m loopy. Re: your suggestion to seek help, I’m in a pretty good mood right now, so unless the depression hotline is able to come over drop off a dumptruck full of money, it’s not going to be much help to me. It’s a pretty simple and binary proposition. My family can suffer for my bad decisions or I can. Their lives are more precious to me than mine. They will get money when I pass from insurance that I didn’t even sign up for. I have free will. QED. You just can’t deal with the fact that suicide can be a rational course of action.
        Just to elaborate a little more, I partially agree with AnonymousOne’s post. It’s a rough world out there and you take a lot of risk on as someone who is driven to create value through self directed work. No matter how well you plan, sometimes thing come in from left field and even the best laid plans can go awry. Entrepreneurship is a risky business, what can I say…. It’s not like I’m looking forward to taking my own life.

        • I think there is a line somewhere and once you cross it you need to call the suicide prevention hotline and get help. I remember once I put on my Facebook status, “Just shoot me”-which is what we used to say in the pit after a bad trade sometimes. (Legend has it when settlers had horses with broken legs, they just shot them-hence the line) My wife saw that status update and called right away because she knew what was behind that line. I don’t think suicide is something to be flip about. When I hear people talk about it, I get nervous.

        • RBC

          Have you asked your family whether they would prefer you, or the money? I’d suggest that talking to someone doesn’t mean you are in good health or bad health – but provides a platform to share your thoughts. Good luck to you, your family and your company.

        • Rick

          “Entrepreneurship is a risky business…”
          Sometimes I ponder why that is. Entrepreneurs, small business, is what creates jobs and brings innovative products to the world. Why are we not supporting it more?
          “They will get money when I pass from insurance that I didn’t even sign up for.”
          Can you explain that? Who signed you up?

        • Tor – regarding your comment above “I’m a bit offended by some of the commentators in this thread implying that I or the entrepreneurs who commit-ed suicide might have mental health issues” I’d like to suggest that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a mental health issue. I struggle from an anxiety disorder (obsessive compulsive disorder) and it has contributed to three major long term clinical depressions (three months to two years) that I’ve had as an adult.

          I’d encourage you not to be offended.

          I’d also encourage you to talk to your family about your views on whether they’d rather have you or money as a result of you committing suicide. And, please don’t be afraid to reach out to others – especially professional psychologists or psychiatrists for help.

          • My thoughts exactly. The thing about mental health is, oftentimes you don’t know when you’re unhealthy – think of an Alzheimer’s patient or schizophrenic for an extreme example. So you may think you’re just fine mentallly, but then, that’s what someone with mental health problems *would* say.

            And to Brad’s point, if you had a broken leg, would you be offended if someone pointed out that you’re limping and maybe should get it checked out? Suicide ideation is the mental health version of a limp.

          • TorUserStigma

            I’m not putting anyone down. I just happen to think that my logic is sound. Re: Obviously my family is going to say no, don’t do it. What kind of people do you think I have this fierce devotion to? It’s just that the money will be a big help. To me this is no different then me leaping in front of a car to save a loved one. It’s difficult to say more without going into detail I’m not prepared to share. Don’t worry. I’m going to make it look like an accident. No one else will get hurt. I posted my story here because hopefully this will serve as a cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs to not repeat my mistakes. Life – you gotta own it….

          • Sherry

            At times you must be in such an incredible amount of pain or be unable to see any other way out that it makes sense in one way.. I can partially understand. A friend of mine ( a young entrepreneur who was also a doc) died by suicide this past spring – although her family said “she died unexpectedly” most of us knew her heart didn’t just stop in her sleep.

            She had left her New York private practice to start a new one but the stress caused her to resort to stimulants to work longer hours.. That lead to a dramatic amount of weight loss and triggered an eating disorder and depression. After a fund raiser she went home and died

            It has been almost 4 months and I still wonder if there was something any of us could have done to save her life. She was in counseling but very few counselors are skilled in therapy for suicidal ideation – (CBT is the standard of care) but much work needs to be done.. Over 450,000 people end up in the ER each year following a near fatal suicide and 40,000 die and nearly everyone who survives goes on to live a normal life.

            You aren’t “mentally ill” but some people can get caught up in a “suicide trance” The logic you are using is a clear indicator that your focus is constricted and although it seems to make sense to take yourself out you are wrong to assume taking your life would “save them” –

            Losing a spouse or a parent or a child or a friend via an accident or death by suicide results in long term trauma. They might understand the pain you were in and that you were trying to protect them but it won’t work.. They will be much more likely to die by suicide as well. So bottom line – take suicide off the table as an option. One thing I do know even if you were to go bankrupt there are far better options than taking your own life.

            btw – There is a growing movement of suicide attempt survivors and those who nearly die by suicide to find solutions.. (called “Lived Experience”) .

        • philosophersam

          I agree with you that suicide might be the moral and best choice in some extreme situations, like facing execution at the hands of an immoral government or in the midst of combat before capture. However, I do not agree that it is moral to commit suicide because of economic status or economic consequences. My grandfather’s interpersonal issues (anger) kept him from keeping jobs. He was a poor farmer. His large family was very poor as a result. My father and I are not. We are definitely not rich and I work hard. Life goes on. On another note, one of the reasons for his anger was the loss of his own father (my great grandfather) to suicide.

    • whydoihavetoregister

      you should live in a modern country, with a national healthcare system, not the arcane third world that the USA is. that way, you wont need to make that choice.

    • Rick

      I’m curious to know more about your situation. How did you get where you are now? What did you spend the money and resources on? What do you think is the major contributing factor that has you where you are in your business?

      • TorUserStigma

        The root cause
        is I probably bit off more than I can chew with my latest business. Obstinacy also probably played a part.

    • “it would be purely a financial decision, designed to get my family out of the financial trouble ”

      This may seem rational, but please reconsider. Joan Rivers’ husband did the same thing “for” their family, and it nearly destroyed the survivors. Watch the documentary about her to see how devastating it was.

  • Killing In The Name Of

    I think that some VC’s can get too drunk on their power and not realize how easily they can crush entrepreneurs and it can have devastating effects that very could lead someone to take their own life. After being invited to meet with two top SV firms, after flying in I was blown off for an entire week at a huge expense to my company, my team members and my family. Meetings being pushed off, over and over and over.

    Then the final day, I got to spend the day sitting in the parking lot of one of the firms in my rental car basically on stand-by for seven hours waiting for an executive to fit me into their schedule at the end of the day. That moment never came. I’m sitting in my hotel room waiting to fly back home. I actually blew off an important family event which didn’t go over well with my wife or my family because I thought that maybe it was all going to be worth it, and at this point I had already invested so much time already. I’d be able to go back home and energize my team with great news that some really important people believe in us, believe in what we’re doing, and if we want it, SV awaits. Even if we didn’t get the investment, at least someone would take time out of their day to get to know us.

    It turns out that one of the two firms just pretended to have a lot of interest simply to get a close look to help one of their other portfolio companies, and I’m waiting to confirm that they’ve poisoned the well with the other firm whom they sometimes co-invest with. They wouldn’t take the meeting, they just wanted to see our documents.

    I flew out at a time where my company really needs me to be heads down working hard to continue to accelerate our growth even further. We don’t even need the funding, we’re wildly profitable and growing faster than I could ever imagine we would be.

    Now I get to go back and do what, tell my team members and their families that we got played? You’re fucking with people’s lives and honestly, I flew out mainly because of how much respect and admiration I have for one of the VC firms founders. It’s been a spirit crushing week and it’s what, “part of the game”. This isn’t a fucking game. I’m never coming back to the Valley and all this has done for that firms portfolio company, is paint a huge target on it now. Because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all of the different ways I can shift our model slightly, just so I fuck that company and by-proxy that VC up. It would be pretty easy to do as well, their focus could become our new loss leader advertiser and make that cash-burning company even less profitable.

    I’m not going to take my life, I’ve got too many people that are counting on me, and sorry, you ain’t never met a mother-fucker like me, I don’t break. My life was really hard, this ain’t nothing.

    But if things like this are happening all of the time to companies who aren’t as well positioned as we are, or actually need the money to survive, no wonder people give up in desperation and kill themselves.

    I’m not going to change anything about our model, or how we operate and I’m not going to go after that portfolio company either, because they didn’t invite me out here and waste an entire week of my life. We’re raising the bar, not lowering it. We’re going to be successful regardless, but my flight can’t get here soon enough, and I have serious concerns for other entrepreneurs who might actually need help.

    Any entrepreneur reading this who has experienced something like this, or feels beat down, get back up, dust yourself off and dig in and prove them wrong. Even if you fail, you can still be proud for trying and just know that itself is more than most people can ever accomplish.

    • RBC

      Sometimes great people are driven by being told they can’t do something. Way to use their negative energy for positivity and hit them with the magic stick!

    • Rick

      After reading your post I kinda’ feel like a bonehead. I’ve been trying for a few years now to get an idea funded and enter the game. I followed the suggested route by creating the software first then trying to gain traction. But that produced nothing. I don’t know how it could produce any results because I spent my money and time building the software then I had no resources to market and sell it! I also could not get any funding once it was ready. I know the software was better than the rest because I’ve been in the IT industry for ~20 years and most packages have just started offering, within the past 2 years, what my package had from the beginning 5+ years ago.
      I do see others getting funded. But not me. Hmm… I see some get funding that more or less spend the money and get nothing done. But when they need more funding they get it. I’m a bit confused now.

      • Killing in the name of

        If you’ve got a great product but you aren’t getting traction, then maybe look to some other software companies who might be able to partner with you. Or find someone who you can bring in that knows how to promote a product well. It is nearly impossible to be the entrepreneur who can do it all. In my experience engineers are hard wired in such a way that they can’t do the same things that people who are good at marketing can, just like most amazing marketers couldn’t code to save their life if someone was holding a gun to their head.

        The other thing I’ve learned is that you can’t keep chasing one dream, dedicating your life, or a large chunk of it, to making one product work. If it isn’t going to happen, don’t think you’re a failure, it just didn’t happen. There are lot’s of amazing products, services that should be the winner but never get off of the ground because that’s life, sometimes no matter how obvious it is that something is better, there could be an entire mechanism in play in the background that is purposely working to make sure superior products don’t scale because there’s more money to be made from selling services to support shitty products. Car dealers don’t make money off of the cars, they make money from servicing the cars.

        VC is a social club where the thought process is to follow what other more powerful (at that time) VC’s think is worth investing in. Most VC’s have never run a business, they’ve worked on wall street, or something in the financial sector and that industry breeds sociopaths who are willing to accept that not doing right by people all in the name of the $ is business as usual.

        Build around necessity and find smart people to work with, who are better than you, or really good at the things you aren’t. Trying to do it alone I think is just making your probability for success much lower.

        One thing people should realize is that you don’t need to build a product that becomes the next $1B company or $10M company. Build something that shows that you know how to build something worthwhile, have your marketing partner network and then connect with a VC who will recognize that you and your team have learned from why this didn’t work, and that you’re hard working and ready to apply it to something else.

        Just don’t give up people. Failure is only failure if you let it break you and you do something like take your own life. It’s okay to feel like the world is collapsing around you. That you’re totally screwed, but you’re not, the fact that you’re on this website and have these kind of problems to begin with, that’s proof that you’ve done more than 98% of the rest of the planet.

        • Rick


      • James Tibirius Kirk

        Prove your idea with… y’know… actual customers/ early adopters or similar. Maybe find a sales partner that can help build confidence when pitching the model.

        • Rick

          That project is no longer active.
          I’ve changed my process. I’ve learned enough to ensure I have funding before I get started with anything except planning. You need to have enough funding to get to your first sale before you start! I’ve made it to my first sale in the past on the cost of some phone calls alone. But there are businesses that need massive funding to get to that first sale. It’s all about what business you’re going into.
          Sometimes a person can do everything right and still not make it to that first sale. But if you figure you need $1M to get to the first sale and you start with $1K in funding then either you have no self control or you’re just gambling or both!
          I know there are businesses that have been started with no plan and very little funding that skated along getting funding here and there until they made it. But that appears to be a recipe for disaster. I’ve done it before and it was a great adrenaline rush. But if you’re flirting with the suicide of one or more team members then it’s just a foolish approach.

    • E#99999

      No matter how desperate, you should never allow mere mortals like VCs to crush you like that. Eg 1 rule I stick to is never waiting beyond 30mins for a scheduled meeting (assuming no real emergency reason for lateness). At least you have your dignity left in face of such disrespect and potentially contrition and belated respect for you from the badly behaved VC. has a couple of stories on this issue and how founders dealt with it.

      • Killing In The Name Of

        Brad Feld could you chime in here? I’m wondering if this scenario is unusual, not unusual, or if it was purposefully done to send a message other than “yeah we’re not interested”.

        To the person above, John Spitters, I wish I could, but it would most likely mean the end of my career. If I didn’t have team members with families and kids, some with kids on the way… I think the best thing I can do is keep my mouth shut about the details, and simply give other entrepreneurs hope that even in humiliating spirit crushing events like that, you can still get past it. This week has been without question the most frustrating, humiliating and horrible experience of my life. I would have also appreciated it if it hadn’t been executed right in the middle of a major Oracle event. As a result of that, every hotel in town was 3X more expensive, didn’t matter if you were in SF, SV or a crap hotel in SJ. Was just like adding insult to injury, kept getting asked to extend my trip..

        I’m going to use it as a learning lesson and if I do anything, I’ll reach out to the founder of the company that one of the firms was fishing for. Let him/her know that this type of thing, it’s what pushes people to want to retaliate against another company for no other reason that revenge. It would be so easy to fuck this other company as well. We have relationships and partnerships that no one knows about, political connection that I could leverage. We’re not even remotely a threat, we could actually really help this other company, that’s actually why I thought this meeting was going to take place and their investment interest made sense.

        I can’t get into details because it will give away too much and I just can’t risk it. But this was completely unwarranted and not needed at all. Even more ironic and why VC’s should think things through before letting their ego make poor decisions on behalf of their investments, another one of their portfolio companies, I had brought along an analysis of an acquisition that would really benefit them that’s going to be sold soon and inexpensively.

        • The behavior you’ve experienced certainly exists within the VC community. But I wouldn’t paint all VCs with the same brush. Some VCs are amazing, some VCs are awful, and most are somewhere in-between.

          It sounds like you were treated poorly. That sucks and it happens much too often. But it’s not just VCs – it’s pervasive in business. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been blown off by people in big companies, potential investors in our funds, other VCs, and entrepreneurs.

          My recommendation is to acknowledge it and move on. Focus on what you can impact regarding your business. Use the energy to be more focused on succeeding.

          • Killing In The Name Of

            Brad thanks for the advice and feedback, and you’re right about not painting all VC’s with the same brush. I didn’t mean to do that. I got a little wrapped up in sharing my recent experience because I thought that sharing some details about the “worst of it” from my experience, might be helpful to others and to be honest. Truthfully I was on a flight when I wrote that, so things were still a little raw.

            When someone is talking about committing suicide, I’d rather not hold back if I can provide some insight or something that’s going to help someone take any other option than that one.

            To TorUserStigma – Just know that it shouldn’t ever be an option, ever. Just keep fighting to prove people wrong. It might not be your first or tenth venture that something works, might be your 20th. If you work hard enough and don’t give up, something will connect and you will find some level of success.

    • johnspitters

      Hi. Would you be willing to speak w/ me off line about your experience? Our startup is in the business of helping families deal w/ really serious issues such as bullyiing, suicide, LGBT issues, learning differences, etc. If you’d like to learn more, pls feel free to visit http://www.familynationcom and if you identify w/ what we’re doing, then please let me know if you’d be available to discuss this. I’d like to draw upon it as an example of abusers and bullies, (and make no mistake: that’s what the people you mentioned in your post did to you), feeling that they have an entitlement to conduct themselves in such a manner. They behavior towards you, (and probably many others), is in appropriate and they are to be outted, exposed and held accountable. there are ways of doing that which we can discuss but that’s not my purpose in wanting to speak w/ you. THEY ARE ABUSERS AND ABUSERS ARE NOT PERMITTED TO PROSPER. You can reach me at 9259843173. Hope to speak shortly. Thx, JS

  • Thanks so much Brad! As we’ve discussed before, this is an important issue for me and my heart breaks whenever I think of this. I don’t know that stats but a dozen didn’t even surprise me.

    I opened your post in a tab yesterday and kept avoiding it because I wasn’t sure where it would take me. I showed up today to 67 comments. I read a lot of them and I don’t even know what to do next.

    I’m sad. Circumstances are rough for me right now, but I know that’s temporary. Somehow I’ve been blessed? with an optimism I don’t even understand. BUT I’m sad for so many others.

    • Rich

      Another with rough circumstances. What country are you in?

      • “rough” is relative and circumstances are temporary. I’m blessed and I know it. I’m sad for others who suffer from real depression – something I’ve not had to deal with myself. I’m in the U.S.

  • This post gave me the courage to write my own story down:

    Thank you for that. This is one small way in which I’m trying to be more vocal about this type of stuff.

    • Thanks for being so brave and putting your story out there. It’s so powerful.

      • You went first. Sometimes, that’s all that one can do. Thanks for that brad!

  • I have been there before. I understand this completely. I had a few moments pretty close to the edge myself. I had VC try to buy me out and take over my company. I turned down a 5 million dollar first round funding to keep control of my software which I didn’t want to close source. Shortly after, I was in a very bad place for a short time. I ended up using that setback as the driving force I needed to do it myself. I used that setback as momentum so I build a full infrastructure, crm and agile systems, a few products, a book and I am still getting things in line for a huge startup. Having VC try to scare the shit out of you to force your hand can really mess you up if your not expecting it. 🙂

  • Brad, thanks for posting this. I’ve struggled with depression since my teens, and got on the right medication 11 years ago. Literally changed (and saved!) my life. Since then, I’ve had some successes (Mashery exit to Intel) and failures (Jexy went nowhere). After some recharging time, I’ve joined Venzee and am excited about the future.

    While I didn’t have suicidal ideation during the Jexy stumbles, it was extremely stressful. More than once, I thought “hey, if I wasn’t on the right meds, I’d probably be thinking about suicide by now.” I had a number of suicidal contemplations in my late teens and early 20s.

    It’s unfortunate there’s still such a stigma around mental illness, be it temporary or long-term. The fact is that mental illness is really no different from other mechanical failures in our bodies. When you can’t see, you get glasses. No big deal. When you can’t be happy, get medication. What’s happening is a chemical and electrical problem in your melon. It’s not much different than nearsightedness. Get it fixed, and rock on.

    Better living through chemistry.

    • Thx for being open. Congrats on the sucess at Mashery, but more importantly congrats on getting a formula that works for you!

  • Hey Brad, you inspired me to write my own experiences,

    I don’t refute anything you say in in this post. Depression is a horrible disease. These suicides are tragic and we – as a depression – need to do more to prevent them. Thank you so much for openly sharing your experiences.

    The thing is … I’m extremely happy and thankful to have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. When times are tough I try to be thankful for what I DO have. Compared to my great-grandparents, I live in Utopia. I have everything they could have dreamed of – enough food to eat, a healthy family, no wars, and financial security – but I have things they could have never imagined.

    I “work” in air conditioning sitting on my rear typing all day. I can choose what I want to do. Best of all, I was born at a time when I have the exact right interests and skills to be an entrepreneur – every day I get to work with interesting people, write software, and engage with people like you all over the world.

    All of my startups have been financial failures. The best I can say is that I’ve had enough people believe in me to allow me to make a living. I don’t regret it and won’t do anything else. I’m sorry to see so many frustrated people in this post. I’ve had almost all of these experiences happen to me as well. It sucks.

    But it doesn’t have to lead to depression or even sadness. When I get down I take a step back and have perspective. I have freedoms most of the world does not. I am healthy and have great relationships. I can fail again and again and keep going. I can choose what market I want to serve and stop comparing myself to others. And I can help other people become more successful. I work with interesting people and can decide who I want to hire.

    We have choices. We can choose how we react to the adversities of entrepreneurship.

    And I’ve chosen to do it with a smile.

    • James Tibirius Kirk

      I, I, I, I, me, me, my, myself uhhhhh s o c i o path narcissistic borderline guy did you just post an attempt to minimize the authors work in order to promote your own?

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for your post here (and your blogpost). I think, though, that there is a vital distinction that’s missing. It’s understandable that it’s missing, because it’s hard to distinguish by someone who hasn’t lived through this.

      I don’t think you intend this, but I find the current title of your blogpost (that you referred to above) to be a bit offensive. Would you consider changing the blog title from: “I’m a founder. And I’m not depressed.” to… “How to be a Happier Founder” ? That’s a great line from your post, and I think it sets a better framework, and leaves out the (I think unintentional) inferred judgement.

      To understand the distinction I’m referring to, maybe this will help:

      I have down times like you’ve described. For the sake of example, let’s call that the “flu”. The suggestions you make here and on your blog are great tools when I am down in that way. It’s good to be reminded of them!

      I also (like Brad) go through periods of severe, clinical depression. Let’s call that “ebola” (though this metaphor can’t be taken too literally, of course). The point I want to make here is that flu and ebola look a lot alike from the outside. But with ebola there is a very real, physical, invisible difference – and unless it is discovered and properly treated, it is often deadly. People who are clinically depressed have chemical imbalances happening. They are very real, physical problems, usually invisible, and debilitating.

      The stigma on depression causes people to not talk about it, and not get the care they need – whether medication or professional talk therapy. Often, when they *do* talk about their depression to friends, try and get a little support, they get suggestions from well-intentioned people saying things like you did in this post. What you said is great support for someone going through down times. But, unfortunately, these things are often actively unhelpful to someone who is clinically depressed.

      When there is a chemical imbalance happening, the choices you mention simply aren’t available, and the depressed person often feels more depressed because it’s more “proof” about how useless and broken they must be, since they can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or make different choices. It feeds the downward spiral, fueled by the brain’s chemical imbalance.

      I’m glad Brad continues to bring this topic up. It’s a worthwhile discussion!

      • Lori,

        You’re right. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply.

        I got similar emails from friends. I posted the following at the top of the blog post.

        Update: I received a number of appreciative, heartfelt emails from entrepreneurs thanking me for sharing my experiences. And a few friends also sent me messages like, “Hey Kevin, I know you mean well but …”

        In retrospect, I should have exercised better judgement in how I wrote about depression. Sorry. People who understand the disease have advised me that depression isn’t the opposite of happiness. I believe them – giving people simple tips I’ve used to make myself happier won’t help people who are clinically depressed. I should have written a post about “being a happier founder” since that’s all I’m qualified to talk about.

        I thought about re-writing this post from that perspective but decided to let my mistake stand as it is. Hopefully others will learn from it.

        • Kevin,

          It’s great that you’ve cultivated relationships with people who will be honest with you; and that you are open to hearing and receiving what they say. This exchange we’ve had is, IMHO, an excellent example of why it’s so important – and effective – for leaders like Brad to talk openly about depression. It helps us all educate each other.

          Thanks again to Brad!

    • Kimberly Knoll

      HI Kevin,
      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am glad to hear that you are able to step back and have a great perspective. Depression is far more than a choice and this response makes it sound like people should be just grateful and happy. Whether that is what you meant, I only write respond here because I don’t want others to read this and feel shame for feeling depressed or anxious. There’s enough of that out there and I am so thankful more things are being written about suicide and depression because it is a real thing. If you’d like to talk more about what depression is and what that looks like and why it is not something that you can just change your perspective, I am happy to do that. It’s so great to hear that you’ve it hasn’t lead to depression for you, but please be careful to not minimize that it has for others. Depression is not not “Choices” that “we can choose how we react to the adversities of entrepreneurship.” Yes, we have way to deal with depression and therapy helps with that, but it swells up and I hope you’ll never have to deal with it, but please don’t minimize it here.

      • Kimberly,
        You’re right. See my response to Lori.

  • Sally Spencer-Thomas

    Brad, I am not sure if this post was also spurred by the US/Canada Forum on workplace suicide prevention that occurred in Denver last Friday, but the issue of entrepreneurship did arise in the discussion (and I am fairly certain a few folks connected to you attended). I would very much like to connect with you to continue this conversation. I am also a CEO of a start up who’s experienced depression. My organization — the Carson J Spencer Foundation — focuses on suicide prevention and social entrepreneurship in honor of my brother Carson — a 34 year old entrepreneur who took his life in 2004. Please, let me know how best to connect with you.

    • johnspitters

      Sally: We express our regrets and sorrow about the tragic loss of your brother in ’04. Suicide is so incredibly traumatizing but It’s good to see something positive that follows in the aftermath of such a terrible loss by what you’re doing to memorialize his life. That you’re taking an active role to honor Carson’s life and the meaning that you’re delivering to it will inspire and bring hope to others who are confronted with thoughts of doing harm to themselves or contemplating suicide.

      We most certainly would like to connect with you if you’re available and open to it. We’re a startup in the space of bringing online and mobile solutions to families who deal with serious problems such as this on an everyday basis. It would be helpful to listen to you describe the Foundation, how it operates and how you reach and connect with those who are in need of help on a prevention basis and then explore the possibility of including you in the matrix of resources we will be providing families who are struggling to find solutions and help. When/if you wish to engage, please feel free to reach me at 925-984-3173 or via email at johnspittersfamilynationcom. I welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Thanks.

  • Another resource I’d like to mention is Reddit suicide watch –

  • Brad, what was helpful about therapy?

    • Probably worthy of a long post!

      • Awesome. If you can remember please reply here (or tweet @isomorphisms) if you write one? Of course it may be a while and you have more important things to think about, I understand if you forget about this request….

  • rick passo

    my perspective:
    i also am trying to engage innovative, nurturing technology to address the mental health crisis here in Las Vegas:

  • sworddance

    You know I have worked at startups funded and unfunded by VCs.

    Here is how VCs encourage founder suicides:

    1. No salary, minimal salary = no financial resources if the idea fails
    2. Encourages the founders to dip deep into personal savings to prove that the founders are committed.
    3. Demand long and in many cases counterproductive hours, resulting in divorce, no social life and thus no social connections outside of the job that would provide emotional stability.
    4. Create a macho culture where the founders are expected to sacrifice everything (at the same time VCs are living the very comfortable life) – so failure is viewed as a personal failure on the part of the founders.
    5. “A business is business” attitude – failure to realize that the emotional attachment a founder has with the company has a vicious downside if the founder is forced out ( for whatever good reason ).
    6. No vacation or downtime.
    7. Long hours leading to physical exhaustion – lack of exercise, poor eating habits.

    What can VCs do:
    1. Insist that everyone in the team be making enough money to cover current living expenses.
    2. Provide healthcare to all early stage companies.
    3. Enforce a balanced expectation of what is possible
    4. When removing people from funded companies, work to provide a soft landing and a path to a future without being part of the startup. This includes references, health care, severance.
    5. Enforced mandatory vacation
    6. Family counseling so the spouse is aware of expectations and demands.
    7. Make sure that the founders/early employees get to see their kids, make love to their spouse, help with the kids homework occasionally, get to go on dates.
    8. Make sure that the founders have a life way from the company.

    • Rick

      I don’t like #5 of What can VCs do. Mandatory is about forcing people to do things and there are people who would not need vacation.

    • lee123

      It does not take significantly time to decide on the favorite pick. And will show you what it feels like to have a Tour Pro Swing. Ralph Lauren Shirts By producing shaft and clubhead resistance mens Michael Kors Bags Uk nike free 3. Moreover to improve the added value in the final product, do not ask for it. You will need Ralph Lauren Uk to pick and decide on your battles. And they are or suppose they all indeed sell UGGs in a tightly bunched value range. Polo Ralph Lauren

  • Joe

    Here’s how it really works these people are threatened by VC’s and rich and famous people of the industry. Not because there depressed. Get it straight. Thats why they commit suicide.

    • I would imagine the personal drive of most entrepreneurs greatly drowns out the external pressures of VCs and others. For a lot of driven people, they are their own harshest critic.

      Now, that even assumes that there is any causal link between external forces and depression. From what I understand, the link is tenuous at best. Undergraduate suicides at MIT are (were?) pretty rampant – at least while I was there. The university did a lot to try to solve this problem, but I think a lot of it came down to the fact that a lot of the MIT entering class expected, of themselves, to be best at everything, which is pretty hard to do at MIT.

  • This may be one of the most important commentaries I’ve read here and a brave thing to talk about Brad. My first experience with CEO suicide was in 2008. I was waiting for over an hour for a scheduled meeting with the SBA in Denver. Finally a group of SBA managers came in looking sad and exhausted…a small business company owner had just killed himself that morning, the 3rd that week. He had lost a few contracts and could not pay his $80K line of credit and the bank was threatening him. The SBA said its almost always about entrepreneurs feeling deep shame around failure, that failure or success was perceived to be solely on their shoulders, and 95% of the time their success was defined as purely making a lot of money.

    As the saying goes, “its lonely at the top” and reality can get distorted. I didnt understand this until I was the CEO of a successful 15 yr old engineering firm that started to spiral downward from being stiffed by the USAF for $800K. Until then, it was mostly all fun and excitement as we got bigger and richer each year. I felt successful and happy almost every day, I had no VCs, no debt, and huge revenues. When hell hit, there was no one, virtually no one, who I felt I could talk to or understood the heavy issues I was facing every moment of every day for the next 2 years. I felt alone, often scared and inexperienced. Failure was not an option and my staff, peers, family and bankers let me know that often. Even my long time wealthy friends stopped calling because failure is like a bad perfume, it stinks and may rub off. So you isolate yourself, working harder, longer, and in silence because exposing your fears scares others. And when you put yourself last on the list, depression sets in. If you are like me, I am such an optimist and problem solver that I didnt know I was depressed. Not until one day when half the staff had been laid off and bills mounted so high I thought the best way to stop the pain for myself and others was to check out. I told my mate, and like Amy, he took over the driving for awhile. I had never had that thought before in my life but that day it seemed like the only responsible option. In hindsight, it seemed like it all came down to money. We are shown from every corner of the world that money defines success. But I now think failure can be the best pathway to success. I see success in a hundred different places in my life every day because I lived to see it, and only a small part of it is about money.

    I urge every business owner, young entrepreneur, CEO and leader of any org to find or start a group with similars out there (your leader level peers). Share the ups and downs in a honest and safe environment on a regular basis. You are a rare breed of business person to take on all thats required to build and grow a company. You are not alone and others can help. Lets redefine success as the having the guts and brains to even launch a company and failure as a Harvard-level learning road to being better. And in case no one has mentioned this to you lately…you are NOT your company.

  • Rob B

    Brad – having dealt with this issue with one of my kids I found ‘depression part 2’ from blogger Hyberbole and a Half to the most insightful and helpful description I have ever seen. I will pass it on – thank you.

    • Cool – glad it was helpful.