VENTURE: “Founders Therapy Saved My Life”

By Joey Womack

In January 2011, I, then a full-time entrepreneur since 2003, was extremely frustrated about the ups and downs of running my company, and simply wanted to get those frustrations off my chest. However, with more than 20,000 people in my network, I couldn’t find one person that would give me 30 minutes on the phone. Eventually, I invited 30 entrepreneurs to the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta for drinks and conversation in February. Two people showed up.

But it was the best venting session ever. I felt better, and was able to focus on growing the company.

Fast forward three months, and I was stressed again, this time about running out of money because I didn’t want to charge for efforts to help a nonprofit. A wonderful South Florida life coach felt sorry for me, and gave me a series of free sessions to vent.

I recognized that the lives of company founders, particularly tech startup founders, are really stressful, and they need to get that stress off their chests in the presence of other people that have been/are going through the same thing.

The first Founders’ Therapy took place on January 17, 2012 — providing entrepreneurs an outlet to vent frustrations through small support groups … over drinks.

Mental health is a big deal, and one of the largest segments of our population that is overlooked when it comes to mental health is entrepreneurs. “If I was your investor and you came to me as a CEO and said, ‘I am depressed,’ my reaction to that wouldn’t be to tell you that you’re unqualified to be CEO,” wrote Brad Feld, of TechStars. “It would be to spend time with you and talk about what is going on, and try to figure out how to get you help in the same way that I would react if you came to me and you had broken your arm or leg, and you couldn’t travel for three months. I wouldn’t say that because you had broken your leg you couldn’t be CEO, but let’s talk about how to configure things around your leadership team and around the company so you can be effective.”  

“I think the stigma and shame associated with depression is lower,” he continued, “but people’s reaction to depression, especially in a work context is very challenged.”

Founders’ Therapy was our answer to this problem.

Founders’ Therapy was created to show entrepreneurs that they aren’t alone on their journey and many others share their pain. We’ve discussed being “Ramen Profitable,” or barely paying the bills while everyone thinks you’re doing great; co-founder and business partner drama; embracing risk and failure; and how to deal with non-supportive family, friends, and significant others among other topics. 

At the last Founders’ Therapy session, we assembled a diverse group of entrepreneur heroes and heroines from all walks of life and business stages to discuss and understand what it’s like to balance the demanding nature of business and romantic relationships. 

From operations managers in the restaurant industry whom aspired to be entrepreneurs to budding video production companies and seasoned 12-year business owners in technology, the melting pot of experience provided a vast amount of perspective around business challenges and emotional tolerance (or lack thereof). 

After venting and vetting through a myriad of problems and situations, there were a few solutions that stood out among the consensus including setting good temperament habits and creating mirror moments. 

As a company founder, oftentimes we want someone who has been through the wars, and can feel our pain. “The Hero’s Journey” is relatively unique, and when you cross paths with a fellow warrior, it can be instant magic.

In life, there are times when things get rough, and we want someone to simply listen while we bear our souls. At the end of the conversation, we usually feel a lot better. Like a burden has been lifted off our shoulders. AT

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