Founder mental health
Today is R U OK Day, so I’m asking myself if I’m really ok.
Team member: Ian, are you ok? I feel like you ask everyone else if they’re ok. But I don’t know if they ever ask you back. So, I’m asking.
Me: You know there’s always something bothering me. And you likely know what’s bothering me right now. But I’m ok. Thank you for asking.
I’m grateful that I have this conversation with multiple Avertro team members regularly. There are a few who make it a point ask me how I’m doing. I appreciate you asking.
I always give the “I’m fine” response. It’s the answer I’m supposed to give, like a reflex.
Most of the time, I’m telling the truth. Most of the time.
Am I OK?
Maybe. It depends on which day you’re asking me.
From a business standpoint, we’re doing well. For me personally however, year two of Avertro’s existence was much more difficult, and that’s saying a lot given year one was peak pandemic. The last couple of months have been particularly tough.
We weren’t ever under threat of going out of business like at times in year one. But as a company grows, other challenges emerge. A number of them hit me in the gut and slapped me in the face at the same time much more viscerally this year.
A founder is under constant pressure to put on a brave face. To tell everyone everything is ok. To smile and say how great things are. To consistently project to the world that we’re “winning”. That we’re “killing it”. That we’re a “rocketship”.
As I sit here typing this, I’m not feeling how I thought I would at the start of year three.
The problem I’ve often faced as a founder is we get very little time to savour the positives. When good things happen, I’m mostly relieved instead of being overjoyed. I then tend to move on and start thinking about the next thing I need to worry about.
The fact that a founder’s world moves so fast doesn’t give us opportunities to be present in the moment. I find it extremely challenging to practice mindfulness.
In essence, positive moments are fleeting and only provide temporary relief from the lingering, compounding challenges that I carry around on my shoulders.
But that’s not the only reason.
Taking it personally
Some of you may know from reading my articles or watching some of my presentations that Michael Jordan is a childhood hero of mine. So it feels appropriate to explain with a Michael Jordan meme.
I can’t help but take everything that happens in the company more personally than in all my prior roles.
At no point in my career have I ever cared more about a company and its team. It doesn’t mean my team mates at my prior employers weren’t important. They were: many are good friends of mine.
As a founder, I want the best for our team 100% of the time. The immense pressure weighs heavily upon me because our successes affect people in very real ways, as do our failures.
In a large organisation, we are protected from a full sense of responsibility by bureaucracy and process. Any decisions I made in a large organisation that had the potential to make an impact to people’s lives tended to be a shared one made alongside other leaders.
As a founder, any bad decisions I make are mine to own and be accountable for. If any of those decisions affect someone negatively, that’s 100% on me. Or at least it feels that way.
Am I really OK?
From a professional perspective, the past two years have challenged me more than anything else I’ve ever encountered in my life.
But I’ve grown as a person, and am better for it.
Most of the time, the pressure is manageable for the following reasons:
- We have many things to be proud of, so I must have at least made some good decisions.
- We’re a mission-driven company: everyone on the team is making some sort of sacrifice because we believe we’re making things materially better.
- The team gets me through it. That’s why it’s so important to build a great team. They are the ones I can lean on when I’m feeling terrible.
For the most part, I’m OK. But every single day tests me in new and different ways. My honest answer should really be:
Thank you for helping me get through it (in alphabetical order):
Abdul, Ani, Brad, Farrell, Harshal, Olivia, Priyal, Rajiv, Ryan, Sophia, Syaf, and Zoe.
Ian Yip is the CEO of Avertro, a venture-backed cybersecurity software company. Avertro CyberHQ is a Cyber Management Decision System that helps leaders manage the business of cyber using defensible insights to determine what is essential.