Techstars just released a 4-part original video series on entrepreneurship and mental health. I’m featured in one of the four short (< 10 minute) videos.
If there was ever a moment in time that challenged our individual and collective mental health, it’s the Covid crisis. When Techstars began working on this project last year, the focus was on increasing awareness of the issues around mental health and entrepreneurship. There was no anticipation of the additional pressure the Covid crisis would put on – well – everyone, everywhere. The timing goal was simply to release it during Mental Health Month 2020.
I’ve spoken regularly since 2013 about my struggles with anxiety and depression. As a result of a depressive episode that I had, I decided that I wanted to try to lower the stigma, especially in entrepreneurship, around mental health issues. I personally no longer separate between physical health and mental health – they are both part of our existence as humans, something everyone struggles with at some level, and something everyone can work on, if they want.
I’m officially DSM-5 300.3: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. If you know me, you know that I’m a counter, arranger, and checker with some washing (mostly hands) tossed in for good measure. My magic number is 3.
Since I became public about this in 2013, I’ve met many entrepreneurs who have opened up to me about their own struggles. In some cases, I’m the first person they’ve ever talked to because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, especially around leadership (e.g. a leader can’t show weakness). Some of the people I’ve developed relationships with around this are much more visible and successful than I am, yet, very few people know that they struggle with mental health issues. While that’s their choice, I’m glad they feel safe talking to me and I hope it’s at least a little bit helpful to them.
My wife Amy Batchelor is front and center in this video. When I listen to her talk about her experience with me around these issues, I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a partner who has supported me from the very beginning. I know how challenging I can be at times, and I don’t think I’d be here, at this point in my life, without Amy.
I also highlight my first business partner Dave Jilk in the video. Dave is still one of my closest friends and probably knows me better than anyone on Planet Earth other than Amy and my brother Daniel. Dave’s support of me during my first depressive episode – when we were partners at Feld Technologies – was profound to me. And his support during my depressive episode in 2013 (which is a story I tell in the video) was incredible.
Many of the organizations I’m involved in are increasing their focus on mental health support. For example, one of the primary initiatives of Energize Colorado is mental health support for business people during the Covid crisis. And, there’s a lot more coming in my world.
Techstars – thanks for making this a priority for entrepreneurs. And to my fellow participants in the video series – Andrea Perdomo and Matthew Helt – thank you for being brave enough to tell your stories. Finally, Tishin Donkersley, thank you for the foresight, motivation, and endless efforts to make this project come to life.
Covid-19. Presidential Primaries. Gyrations in the Stock Market. Global Pandemic. Trisolarians arriving in their droplet to exterminate us.
It’s pretty intense out there right now. Somewhere. But not in my backyard where my dogs roam around.
I was in the hospital recently, attached to those devices they attach you to that monitor everything. I was trying to relax by closing my eyes, breathing deeply and slowly, and meditating. Every 30 seconds or so something beeped. After a few minutes of that, I asked the nurse if he could turn off the beeping. He looked at it and said my HR was going below 60 so that’s why it was beeping. I told him my resting HR is low 50s and could he turn the beeping off. He said he couldn’t turn it off because he needed to be alerted whenever my HR went below 60. I suddenly identified with Kafka.
People conflate worry, stress, and anxiety all the time, but they are different. Worry and stress create anxiety. There are different ways of dealing with each of them, and addressing them individually is better than thinking about them as a big clump of things bundled together. Or, not addressing them at all. But all three get in the way of concentrating on, well, anything.
When I’m worried, I realize that my obsessive worrying has negative value. Instead, I write down what I’m worried about and decide whether I can do something about it. If I can, I do. If I can’t, I don’t and let it go.
When I’m stressed, I focus on understanding what I can and can’t control. I put my energy against what I can control. I let go of what I can’t control. I exercise more and sleep more.
When I’m anxious, I slow things down. I take deep breaths. I sit quietly until the anxiety passes.
I sense an enormous amount of worry, stress, and anxiety around me with many of the people I interact with. I’ve always been a huge absorber of other people’s worry, stress, and anxiety, which is a strength of mine, but at a real cost to me. Figuring out how to continue to be an absorber, without it having as much of a cost to me has been an important part of my last few years. I notice this more as things amp up, and they are pretty amped up right now.
If you are feeling any of this, consider how you are dealing with it and what it is doing to you. Take action on what you can impact and let the rest go.
“Like so many others I just sucked it up, grinded away and punted, hoping for relief down the road. That strategy of denial and repression worked until it didn’t. My founder stress and burnout couldn’t be contained despite my best efforts. In fact, my mental unhealthiness impacted my physical health, by causing debilitating sleep apnea, as diagnosed by UCSF and missed by Stanford (but that is another post). I sold my 2nd company, Crackle, and vowed to leave the high anxiety of being a founder for the relatively easy life of venture, not that it’s actually easy. I was lucky to have exited Crackle before my situation worsened and ultimately found the relief I desperately needed to feel whole again.“
More importantly, he talked about his fear of discussing it with his investors.
“Unsurprisingly, my investors, back then, never once inquired about my mental state and certainly didn’t offer any resources I could tap. In fact if I’d shared my actual state of mind, I would probably have been fired or at the very least encouraged ostensibly to take time off. Those were the times.“
Thankfully, this is changing, in part to leadership by firms like Freestyle. The partners, Josh, David Samuel, and Jenny Lefcourt have announced an initiative initially focused on their portfolio founders in an effort to break down the barriers to better mental health for all in our industry.
I’m fortunate that I have a strong, long-term relationship with a psychologist who works with entrepreneurs. However, he, like many others in the field, is extremely busy so even though he is open to referrals from me, he is limited in who he can take on as a client. Part of the challenge here is the time delay that a referral takes, and Meru Health is an impressive approach to providing rapid response care in a specialized way with an economic model that can work in entrepreneurial contexts.
The Hoffman Institute was new to me, but after spending some time on the website, I went and signed up to attend one of the week-long retreats. While I feel like I’ve explored – in therapy – some of the things they talk about, I know that I’m still struggling with a bunch of this, especially as I shift into the next phase of my life.
As an LP in Freestyle, I’m extremely excited to see their leadership in this area. While they are not the first firm to announce an initiative like this – last year Felicis Ventures gifted Founders 1% Of Every Invested Dollar To Spend On Coaching And Mental Health – I’m hopeful that this is addition momentum in an area that needs a lot more attention, support, and help.
Josh, David, Jenny – thank you!
Over the weekend, we spent time with a friend who works for Ten Percent Happier.
I’ve explored most of the popular meditation apps in the past few years after getting started meditating on a regular basis by using Headspace. I eventually switched to Insight Timer since I usually now just do silent meditation for 20 minutes first thing each morning.
I had never tried Ten Percent Happier, but I felt connected to it because of Ben Rubin, one of the co-founders. We looked seriously at investing in Ben’s prior company Zeo early in the life of Foundry (around the time we invested in Fitbit) and I had several Zeo’s scattered around my world that I used regularly. When I had the headband on, Amy referred to me as “King Brad” which was about the only redeeming thing that happened when I had the headband on (other than getting some data about my sleep.)
On Sunday, I downloaded Ten Percent Happier and gave it a try. I’ve been doing it alongside my 20 minutes of silence with Insight Timer and have been really enjoying. The onboarding is extremely clean and the first teacher – Joseph Goldstein – is spectacular.
I’ve applied beginners’ mind to my Ten Percent Happier use. While I meditate regularly, I’m listening carefully to what Goldstein says. He’s one of the founders of the Insight Meditation movement in the west and his tiny, bite-sized starting points are incredibly poignant. I remember having similar aha moments when I started up with Headspace, so I don’t have a strong opinion as to which is better, but my beginner’s mind has been well-nourished the past few days.
If you are interested in meditation and mindfulness and just want to see what it’s above, give the Ten Percent Happier app a try. It’s got a 7-day free trial to give you a taste to see if it’s for you.
Recently, I read a well-written article in Fast Company by Jon Dishotsky titled We need to be more honest about what tech culture is doing to our mental health.
In it, he had a list of lessons he has learned over the years.
These mental health suggestions are all right on the money. I encourage you to go read the article if this is a topic that interests you.
Insight Timer popped up this message after my daily morning meditation yesterday.
I’ve been meditating on and off for a while. But it’s been an on and off thing, not a daily habit.
In April, after some complex emotional dynamics (how’s that for a euphemism), I decided to start meditating daily. I missed a few days here and there and then in mid-May decided to cut the bullshit with myself and just do it first thing every morning when I woke up.
Last week, both Fred Wilson and Seth Godin blogged about the power of streaks and how they’ve both built daily blogging habits. Fred highlighted the same section of Seth’s post that I’m highlighting below, which is just pure gold.
Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.
Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.
I made a conscious decision many years ago that I wouldn’t blog daily, but regularly, partly in reaction to my desire to go off the grid for chunks of time (digital sabbath, weekends, weeks, or even longer in some cases.) I didn’t want the blog to be a habit that I did daily, but then took vacations from.
I’m the same with running. It’s a deeply developed habit that I love, but I know the importance of rest, so I don’t try to run every day.
But, for me, meditation is different. I’m 90 days into a daily routine and it has definitely become a habit. It’ll be interesting to see if the streak lasts 180 days, or 365 days, or 3653 days.
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Kraus, Sue Heilbronner, and the work they do through MergeLane.
Recently Elizabeth started a platform for the next generation of venture capitalists called Fund81. It includes a podcast, which has both a public section for everyone and a private section for the Fund81 members.
Elizabeth recently interviewed me for Episode 13 where we talked about maintaining mental health in the fast-paced venture capital world while supporting portfolio companies, colleagues, friends, and family wrestling with mental health issues. The public section follows.
Elizabeth and Sue – thanks for everything you and the team at MergeLane do for entrepreneurs and now other VCs.
This first appeared in the Boulder Community Health Foundation Summer 2019 Magazine in an article titled Taking On The Mental Health Stigma.
I started the second week of 2013 in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show. Within two hours of arriving, I was in my hotel room, the shade closed, the door locked, and in bed with a pillow over my head. I couldn’t deal with anything at all. Having been here before, I knew I was in a deep depression.
From all external perspectives, my life was going great. I was healthy, my business (Foundry Group) was successful, I had an excellent marriage to Amy Batchelor, was surrounded by numerous friends, and I got to live in Boulder, Colorado. But I was physiologically exhausted from 2012. I’d run an ultra-marathon in the spring that I never recovered from, had a near-death bike accident, and squeezed a marathon in October when I had no business running one. I was on the road 75% of the time, working constantly, dealing with the explosive growth of several of our investments while struggling through the challenges at others while writing two books. Ending up with a kidney stone in November that required surgery and a month of rest should have been the warning I needed to slow it all down and take care of myself.
I’m fortunate that my wife, business partners, family, and friends are helpful to me when I’m depressed. I’m in a privileged position of having the financial resources to do whatever I need to do. I have a job that provides me a lot of flexibility. And I’m no longer afraid of being depressed or ashamed of being public about my struggles with depression and anxiety.
I had my first major depressive episode in my mid-20s. While I probably had been depressed prior to that, I never really processed it as depression. I was one of those kids who was successful at almost everything I tried, loved by my parents, and comfortable growing up. One day I found myself in the middle of a divorce, being kicked out of a Ph.D. program, and bored of my work at my first company, even though it was successful. I was lucky to have a Ph.D. advisor who was able to recommend a psychiatrist to me. I was quickly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and again lucky to have a psychiatrist who was able to combine CBT and medication to help me overcome OCD while providing a safe space for me to explore my underlying anxiety disorder and the root causes of it.
At the time, I was incredibly ashamed of everything around my depression. I was ashamed that I was depressed. I hated that I took medicine. I was terrified that someone would find out that I was going to a psychiatrist. I was afraid to tell anyone I worked with, other than my business partner, that I was depressed. I thought CEOs and leaders had to be strong and show no weakness.
Again, I was lucky. My business partner Dave was supportive, even when he didn’t really know what to do. My new girlfriend (now my wife) Amy didn’t view me like a broken toy she needed to fix but rather acknowledged that I was going through a difficult time as we began our relationship. I had several friends and family members who showed up for me.
During my 2013 depressive episode, I blogged openly about my struggles and what I did. Since I was no longer ashamed of being depressed, I thought it might be helpful to talk about things. I had a large audience of readers and quickly ended up interviewed by a number of national business publications, including Inc. and Fortune. Several high-profile entrepreneurs had recently committed suicide and mental health was starting to be talked about in entrepreneurial circles, so I became a visible example of a successful entrepreneur who struggled with depression but was willing to discuss it.
The combination of these experiences and my liberation from my shame surrounding depression helped me realize how pernicious the stigma around depression is in our society. I ended up talking with hundreds of entrepreneurs about their own experience with mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and mania. In many cases, I was the first person, including family members, that they had ever discussed their struggles with.
I decided that part of my mission on this planet would be to help destigmatize the issues surrounding mental health. I won’t be done with this until we have achieved parity between prioritizing mental and physical health. Instead of being a stigmatized health issue, we need to talk about and treat mental health as we would any other physical health challenge. Cancer used to be a death sentence; now many cancers are treatable. Smallpox and polio were deeply misunderstood and mistreated; now they are largely eradicated. Diabetes, once a mysterious and crippling disease, is well understood and easily treated in most cases. Destigmatizing mental health issues and removing the barriers to care are critical to addressing and treating mental health diseases.
I’m incredibly moved by the community’s support of the Bolder Community Health initiative to expand critical mental health services. When Amy and I first heard about the effort to raise money for what is now the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion, we immediately committed to getting involved. We are honored to be able to provide funding in support of the medical pavilion and for the establishment of the Anchor Point Mental Health Endowment and I’m thankful that my partners at Foundry Group have also provided a significant gift through our Pledge1% Fund.
Most importantly, I’m proud of everyone in our community who has supported this initiative, both functionally and financially. We are a special community at the forefront of many things in our society. Providing excellent care for people suffering and taking action to destigmatize mental health issues are important steps that we are pursuing in Boulder. Thank you to everyone who is helping us find our voice around this issue, elevate the conversation, and help destigmatize mental health.
I’ve long written about the stigma around entrepreneurship and depression / other “mental health-related issues.” I was delighted to see two articles in the last day about others addressing this.
First, Felicis Ventures is committing 1% on top of every check the firm writes in non-dilutive capital earmarked for “founder development” in coaching and mental health. I love the way Aydin Senkut has characterized what they are doing and why they are doing it.
“Felicis’ bet is that by making such resources available and publicly known, founders won’t feel too proud, or too much pressure to seem successful, to address personal and team issues. Tactical marketing help can only go so far, Senkut says, when founders aren’t telling their investors that they’re unable to sleep from anxiety, or not speaking to their cofounders.”
Next, Mahendra Ramsinghani has a long article in Techcrunch titled Investors are waking up to the emotional struggle of startup founders. In it, he references a bunch of stuff, including work that Jerry Colonna and the team at Reboot have been doing around this issue. He also points to the survey he is doing for his new book titled Depression: A Founders Companion.