3 Common Psychological Struggles of a Startup Founder (And Why They’re the Elephant in the Room)

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Launching a startup is often glamorized as the epitome of success and innovation. Founders are portrayed as fearless visionaries leading their teams to triumph. But let’s cut to the chase: the reality isn’t all sunshine and unicorns.

According to a Shifted survey, 45% of founders rate their mental health as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ right now. That’s a red flag waving in the breeze. And if that’s not enough, 85% report high stress levels, 75% are wrestling with anxiety, and 61% have entertained the idea of packing up and walking away, thus giving up with entrepreneurship.
So, what’s lurking beneath the glossy facade of startup glory? Based on the psychological coaching sessions that we at Laavu Performance deliver daily to founders and business leaders, there are many negative emotions that startup founders grapple with in silence. Let’s peel back the layers and take a peek at three common struggles that startup founders face, but rarely speak up openly.

The Constant Feeling of Inadequacy

1.Founding a startup requires selling a vision, a future that doesn’t yet exist. This pressure can lead to a phenomenon known as impostor syndrome, where founders doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as frauds. Despite their achievements, they may feel unworthy of their position and struggle to internalize their success. The weight of expectations, both internal and external, can be overwhelming, leaving founders questioning whether they are truly capable of leading their venture to success.

Loneliness in Leadership

2. Leading a startup can be an isolating experience. While surrounded by a team, founders often bear the burden of decision-making alone. The pressure from investors, board members, and employees can create a sense of isolation, as founders navigate the challenges of leadership without a clear support system. Ventilation opportunities are scarce, as discussing doubts and insecurities with team members or investors may be perceived as weakness. This loneliness can take a toll on mental well-being, amplifying the stress of startup life.

The Lack of Work-Life Balance

3.Startup founders are no strangers to long hours and unrelenting workloads. With limited resources and a constant need to prioritize, there is always more to be done than time allows. The pressure to deliver results can lead to burnout, as founders struggle to maintain a balance between work and personal life. The fear of failure looms large, driving founders to push themselves to the brink in pursuit of success. Finding ways to manage workload and avoid burnout becomes essential for long-term sustainability.

Behind the Curtain of Success

In the startup world, success is celebrated like a carnival, while struggles are often swept under the rug. The culture of hype and fearless visions makes it taboo to admit vulnerability or inconfidence. But here’s the kicker: masking our struggles only makes them bigger. Sharing our struggles doesn’t diminish our success; it humanizes it. Being vulnerable actually releases mental energy and pressure, which makes us perform even better in the future.

Seeking Support

Here’s the bottom line: startup founders don’t have to go it alone. Recognizing the importance of mental well-being is the first step toward seeking support. Whether it’s coaching, therapy, or a network of peers who get it, there are resources out there to help founders weather the storm. Building a culture of openness and vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a badge of honor. It takes guts to admit when you’re struggling and even more to ask for help. And the sooner you seek support (not when the s*it has already hit the fan),, the more likely success will follow.
In conclusion, the journey of entrepreneurship is fraught with challenges that often go unspoken. By acknowledging and addressing the negative emotions that accompany startup life, founders can cultivate a culture of authenticity and resilience within their organizations and community. Seeking support from coaches, psychologists, and peers is not a sign of weakness, but rather a testament to the strength and courage it takes to lead a startup to success.


Salla Ibrahim

The author is a Co-Founder and Lead Performance Psychologist of Laavu Performance, a coaching company for business leaders and entrepreneurs.