Startup founders believe so strongly that something is wrong in the world that they can will an entirely parallel dimension into being: A world that is different from the world we are in today.
From there, it gets more challenging: Founders often put in incredible amounts of resources into their companies. And for many founders, the line starts to blur — it can be hard to know where the person ends and the company begins.
There hasn’t been a ton of research on the prevalence of mental health issues among founders, but what there is speaks loudly. In fact, some of the characteristics that coincide with mental health ailments could, in fact, be beneficial for entrepreneurs. For example, one study suggests that receptor genes that could indicate ADHD have also been associated with sensation seeking, novelty seeking and entrepreneurship. Another study indicates that hyperthymia (a persistent form of mild mania) that often shows up as part of bipolar spectrum disorders can be beneficial for people in high-pressure jobs.
One company that’s looking into this more deeply is Pilea, which was spun out — and is still supported by — a VC fund that was founded with an unusual thesis: What if we put mental health front and center?
“I experienced the problem firsthand. I was a former artist, founder and solo fund manager,” said Howie Diamond, co-founder and managing partner at Pure Ventures. He experienced burnout and started digging into the problem. “I realized that [mental health problems] were pervasive throughout the entire startup ecosystem. I then substantiated it via research and data, and developed a solution.”
Like all entrepreneurs, the team found a problem that needs to be solved. Multiply that problem with the realization that 65% of startups fail due to people-related issues, and the personality profiles associated with founders, and the pieces of the puzzle started to stack up: This isn’t just a personal problem for the startup founders. This was starting to look like a risk to everyone in the startup ecosystem, not least the investors who have a fiduciary responsibility to look after their investments.
“I realized that all my founders were struggling, and we had this beautiful, cathartic moment, where we realized that we’re all in this together,” Diamond said. “At first, I was connecting them to one-off resources in the mental health world that I was kind of vetting on my own.”
The team realized that helping people one-off wasn’t sustainable and decided to build a comprehensive health and wellness platform. That in-house-built solution eventually became Pilea.