In the past decade, the number of start-up companies in the US has more than doubled. In 2021 over 800,000 new businesses were launched in the UK, the highest number of launches on record. Despite this growth in start-ups, the levels of those reaching success are alarming low with over 90 percent of them failing. Starting a new venture can be exciting, risky and exhausting and founders face huge challenges to get their business idea off the ground, so it is unsurprising that 94 percent of them experience burnout or lack of wellbeing.
Funding – finding investors to financially back a new business is a huge stumbling blog with a mere 0.05 percent of start-ups securing venture capital investment
Strategy – a staggering 56 percent of start-ups fail due to a lack of product-market fit. While established companies have the resources to carry out extensive market research to ensure their new products will gain traction, start-ups don’t have that luxury.
Developing the right team – company culture is not only for established companies. If a start-up fails to employ a group of people who can work together effectively towards the same goals, it can lead to friction, lack of experience and loss of motivation.
Lack of support – the main focus for new founders is to connect with investors, but more general support is just as crucial. Building a new venture is often overwhelming and the need for connections with mentors and building support networks should not be underestimated
Burnout should not be confused with fatigue, everyone gets tired and needs a break, fatigue is usually solved by taking some time out and going on a holiday.
Burnout is much more and in 2019 the World Health Organisation included it as an "occupational phenomenon" in their International Classification of Diseases. The WHO describes burnout as follows:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
Some of the signs of burnout include: feeling tired and drained most of the time; frequent illnesses due to lowered immunity; changes in appetite or sleeping patterns; having feelings of failure and self-doubt; loss of motivation; lack of satisfaction or sense of accomplishment; isolating yourself from others; procrastinating or taking longer to get things done.
“Burnout happens when you avoid being human for too long” - Sahara Rose, co-founder of Dharma Coaching Institute
In start-ups burnout is a serious issue, and over 60 percent of founders report suffering from it. The responsibilities of a founder to keep everyone happy – partners, customers, employees, and investors – in addition to long hours, growing their company, maintaining a reputation in the eyes of the public, and the burden of high expectation, while remaining upbeat and motivated results in stress, exhaustion, fatigue and finally burnout.
The importance of the emotional and mental well-being of founders has been gaining greater awareness and is a topic becoming more openly discussed. Founder well-being is vital to the performance and success of start-ups and failure to take it seriously can have long-lasting repercussions. We take a look at some of the key strategies to help founders maintain their well-being and avoid burnout.
Have a support team - There is a tendency for founders to show their team they have everything under control, even when things are far from it, and this can lead to feelings of loneliness. If it isn’t possible to open up to the people you work with, it is vital to find someone you can. Build a trusted support team with other founders who are at a similar stage where you can share experiences, challenges and concerns honestly.
Disconnect from work - exercise mindfulness, be aware of your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them, this can take the form of meditation, physical exercise, journaling – take time out and fully engage with what you are doing.
Take time off – accept that you need to step back sometimes, it can have a positive impact on attitude and emotional wellbeing, whereas carrying on can lead to a negative impact on your business.
Invest in mentoring, coaching, or therapy – this gives you the opportunity to work out what you want, what your challenges are, how you can change perspective and re-evaluate your priorities
Find investors who will actively engage and give feedback – VCs can help prevent burnout by providing honest and valuable feedback early and by giving more support and guidance beyond just financing, helping to steer founders away from burnout.
The start-up ecosystem has been slow on the uptake to address burnout and the well-being of founders but the need for entrepreneurs to put self-care at the centre of themselves and their team is now being recognised as vital to ensuring the long-term survival and success of start-ups.