The sudden demise of the 32-year-old Pankhuri Shrivastava left the startup ecosystem in a state of shock and mourning. Shrivastava had earned enough name and fame to be considered 'successful' in society but passed away on December 24 to a sudden cardiac arrest. 'Pankhuri', a Sequoia Capital-backed social community for Indian women to shop, learn and network online through live-streaming, chatting and other micro-courses. Moreover, she was also the founder of a home-rental startup called Grabhouse, later acquired by an online classifieds company called Quickr.
Pankhuri's death has brought the focus back to the toxicity of the startup culture in the country and the world alike. While, on the one hand, startups accelerate the country's economic growth and provide the youth with a plethora of opportunities, they also cause stress and frustration to the entrepreneurs. In the last few years, the startup ecosystem has undergone seismic shifts and has been an integral part of the ebb and flow of dynamic market trends. Startups have addressed evolving conversations like diversity and inclusion, company culture, tech role in the changing society and sexual harassment.
All Is Not Good With Indian Startups
At present, the startup ecosystem is home to 38,815 active startups who are at the forefront of the internet revolution in India. From e-commerce to electric vehicles, startups in India are the torch-bearers of innovation in India. The COVID-induced pandemic has undoubtedly slowed down India's progress in the startup culture, with the country recording the launch of the lowest startups in 2020 in the last 12 years, the State of Indian Startups Ecosystem mentioned. While the country's economic development is measured by the number of Unicorns it hosts and the increasing number of startups, the most ignored factor that could heavily put brakes on such growth is the unrecognized depleting mental health of Indian entrepreneurs.
Since times immemorial, medical research has prioritized physical health over mental health. The lopsided approach towards health is prevalent all across the globe, thus making the concerns even graver. A study by Dr Michael Freeman suggested that traits found in entrepreneurs like creativity, propensity to take risks and extroversion are also the traits associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and bipolar conditions. When looked at from afar, the Indian startup ecosystem looks like a happy zone, which is further exaggerated by the constant media spotlight on the fame of successful entrepreneurs from the country and the world. The celebratory status of the entrepreneurs makes it difficult for them to express their opinions, frustrations and disagreements openly.
Entrepreneurs 50% More Likely To Suffer From Mental Health Conditions
One of the most successful Business tycoons of all time, Elon Musk, once said that starting a business was like chewing on a piece of glass and staring into the abyss. The entire experience is nerve-wracking; things inevitably go wrong, and eventually, the initial optimism also falters. Forbes quoted Dr Freeman and mentioned that entrepreneurs are 50 per cent more like to suffer from a mental health condition than the 'ordinary folk' and twice as vulnerable to suffer from depression. Moreover, for those who have never had any mental illness, the sole experience of starting a business and managing its sales according to uncontrollable factors is tumultuous. It could lead to self-doubt, loneliness and the good old-fashioned burnout.
The 2019 edition of the First Round of State of Startups reports mentioned that only 25 per cent of the entrepreneurs are working with executive coaches to take control of their mental health. Similarly, the percentage of people working with therapists and psychiatrists are low. However, women entrepreneurs are three times more likely to seek help. Nearly 42 per cent of women have reported seeking help, whereas, among men, only 15 per cent have gone the extra mile. Regardless of gender, background and financial circumstances, mental well-being is a must-have factor for every individual.
Those who start new and inexperienced in making businesses that would benefit the people feel that every minute spent not working is a minute wasted. Therefore, the urgency and drive of creating a company from nothing come with a lot of pressure and burden, most often from within. Moreover, the path is different when the entrepreneur chooses to let go of the 'peace of mind' of getting a stipulated salary. The weight of responsibilities and expectations feels heavier when one is constantly standing on the edge.
Amongst the most stressful jobs for an entrepreneur is raising funds, teams and managing them while keeping in mind that their well-being is now the entrepreneur's responsibility. Most people who choose the path of startups are young, in their 20s or early 30s, and find the sudden pressure of managing everything overwhelming. Despite facing problems, most of them don't seek help. The feeling of not having anyone to fall back upon often lowers their motivation and productivity. The drastically changing environment and increasing socioeconomic burden affects the mental well-being of an individual.
The startup work culture follows a toxic habit of chasing newer and better investment rounds, which comes with the urgency to hit the required metrics to stand their ground in the market. The speed creates an environment of intense stress and pressure of meeting deadlines at any cost. While there is no denying that metrics are essential, youngsters tend to give it more importance than themselves, thus putting their mental health in the backseat.
How Can We Improve The Mental Health Of Entrepreneurs?
When a person is in self-doubt, the narratives tend to take control over the positive validations. Therefore, entrepreneurs should actively try to incorporate traditionally provided relaxation habits. For instance, meditation, indulging in a hobby, playing with animals, exercising and getting better at something other than work could be specific options that could be made part of their busy days. Under such competition in every field; however, healthy competition is when competitors celebrate each other's victories instead of putting one another down. Moreover, irrespective of whether they are an entrepreneur or not or have done something to benefit society or not; seeking out help from an expert or finding a productive way to handle stress can improve their mental health.