23 June 2022 |

We Should Talk About Founder Mental Health

By Ian Kar

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A great philosopher once said “ Take care of y’all mentals, ‘cause look, we ain’t lasting that long… start taking care of y’all mentals, y’all bodies and y’all chicken for when y’all ready to walk away. You’ll walk away and you’ll be able to do what you want to do.”

It’s a joke, it’s Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch. But the sentiment remains. And while a lot of VC’s love comparing building technology companies to being a professional athlete (perhaps they think it makes them relatable?), there’s not enough discussion around being a founder and mental health. 

The last 3 years building Fintech Today was a bit of a grueling experience for me, mentally. Remember—I went full time on Fintech Today in January 2020, a few weeks before the pandemic started. Before that, I was working 3 jobs—2 consulting gigs to pay the bills and running FTT. I was also applying for some dope roles at places like Square. So needless to say, I had a lot on my plate. 

I also never really took mental health that seriously; I went to a therapist sometimes but mainly about personal life stuff, and I wasn’t very consistent about it. Indian parents aren’t the biggest proponents of things like therapy (at least mine weren’t) so I was a bit apprehensive about it from the start. 

I don’t think many people in my ecosystem realized, or gave a shit. Fintech Today was a very useful network for everyone—people were finding potential hires, potential deals, building their personal brands. I also love helping people and found it very meaningful to help people through this vehicle. But eventually that wore off for me, and my relationship with my own company changed. I wasn’t really paying myself much (I took a huge paycut going full time at Fintech Today, because I don’t think CEO’s of preseed companies should pay themselves much) and had a lot of personal financial pressure. We were turning more and more into a media company instead of doubling down on our community, which I knew was a fundamental mistake but couldn’t articulate clearly why it was the wrong path. My personal life was a jumbled mess and I just flat out wasn’t happy. For me in the early days of being a founder, running Fintech Today felt like a noose around my neck that was slowly tightening by the day.

I started noticing changes in my behavior a lot more—I got a lot more pissed off at people for no reason. I took things way more personally than I did before, often with good reason but sometimes just because. I started cutting out friends and stopped talking to people—a lot of folks close to me started using their relationship to me and Fintech Today for clout, which really pissed me off. 

Fintech Today was also forcibly turning me into a different person. For a long time I said that my dream job was me, by myself, in a room researching and writing about fintech and crypto. People thought it was a joke but I was pretty serious. I love being friendly and gregarious but I keep to myself pretty often—you’re probably surprised to hear that I don’t go out as often as people think. Yet Fintech Today was becoming this sprawling ecosystem that relied a lot on a persona I did not enjoy playing at all. People took my Twitter persona too literally because that’s what people do, and our super popular events didn’t make that easier. I had to pretend *a lot* about myself and the life I lived. It’s fun to play different characters sometimes, it’s not fun to do it 24/7 and people start to really think all you do is throw parties. 

There also weren’t many people I could open up to—a huge issue with other founders I’ve spoken to. If you talk to investors they’ll most likely definitely look at you differently. For guy, talking about mental health and opening up about problems in life isn’t really a major topic of discussion. My parents tried to help but they could only understand a small sliver of what was going on. One of my best friends, Andrew Steel from Activant Capital, suggested I start meeting with an executive coach to help me navigate these issues a bit more, which was a lifesaver for me in hindsight. 

The first year of Fintech Today was one of the hardest in my life for me, mentally. Having a coach made it a lot easier for me to manage being a founder. It helped me develop a more longer term outlook with both FTT and my career. I highly recommend any founder to get an executive coach, and get one that’s referred to you by someone else that they’ve worked with in the past. That was a huge gamechanger for me in life, and with productivity too. 
There are a lot of other mental health related stuff I’m excited to talk about in the future—hopefully gonna try to write a post about this stuff a month. If any other founders are interested in sharing their experiences, with a byline or anonymously, feel free to email me at [email protected].