When founders succeed, startups succeed and we all win
Entrepreneurs and SME founders are often celebrated as UK growth-heroes – where the intrepid entrepreneur risks it all, with a drive to make a difference and the promise of financial reward at the end. Success is championed in magazines, on stages and all over social media, fuelling a glossy, heroic image of entrepreneurship. But behind the gloss lies a very different reality. As demonstrated by the results of this study, startup life is far more complex. The reality is often a lonely rollercoaster filled with exhilarating highs and anxiety-inducing lows.
9/10 entrepreneurs surveyed report signs of mental health strain
Completed by over 270 entrepreneurs, our results clearly show that founders are at risk. Nine out of ten entrepreneurs surveyed report signs of mental health strain. In a comparable study with those in employment, 60% of employees showed signs of poor mental health due to work, costing UK employers up to £42bn a year.
78% of founders say running a business has affected their mental health
In our study, 78% of founders say that running a business has affected their mental health; 71% say it has affected their physical health, and 68% have regular sleep problems. What compounds the problem is the silence. Fuelled by all the positive success stories, and the fear of reputational damage, there is simply no space for vulnerability in the startup ecosystem. Too many think they are the only ones struggling, with 68% of founders showing clear signs of imposter syndrome, and 8 out of 10 left feeling lonely as entrepreneurs. This is undermining personal performance, leading to team conflict and stunting startup growth.
The results provide a stark wake up call to all of us across the startup ecosystem. As founders, venture-builders, investors and influencers, we have the opportunity to unite and shift the dial on this problem. Our ecosystem is filled with brilliant support and education on how to launch and run a business, but not so much on how to be a strong, resilient and effective founder.
Performance and wellbeing are inextricably intertwined – something that the sporting world has understood for a long time – supporting teams with not just physical skills expertise but with coaches and psychologists too. Nor is it new in business – where corporations invest £3.4bn in leadership training and coaching every year. By bringing this thinking to our ecosystem, we can create the skills and environments that enable founders to truly thrive.
We believe that investing in the whole founder is key to delivering sustainable business growth.
Our aim with this report is to fuel the conversation and kick start momentum for an ecosystem shift in the way we support founder development. Some pioneers are already leading the way, many of whom can be found in the following pages. But this is just the start. Armed with the data, let us unify as an ecosystem to ask “What can we do to improve founder wellbeing?” and take action for the good of the whole.