A startup is not about crushing it, it’s about not getting crushed

Last week, Jody Sherman, founder and CEO of Ecomom took his own life – it was widely reported in the US business press, especially after it became known that Sherman had committed suicide. Ecomom is an e-commerce where mothers can find anything they need for their babies and small children. Apparently Sherman was having some trouble with the business lately. At least, that’s what Sean Percival implies on his blog.

Percival is the CEO and co-founder a kid’s clothing e-commerce, and he wrote a blog about Sherman’s death titled ‘When it’s not all good, ask for help’:

When I first heard the news of Jody Sherman’s passing my heart sank. The news would later confirm my biggest fear—what I dreaded most. He had taken his own life.

Only a week earlier, a mutual friend had reconnected Jody and I. [It] sounded as though he could use some additional help on the marketing side. I could understand that, knowing the ups and downs of an inventory-based business.

We talked for a good hour before he left. We shared war stories. We had suffered similar wounds running similar businesses—similar victories as well. It was immediately clear we should have been talking much more this past year. In the end, it was also clear we could use each others help, and we had started to outline a few ideas.

Startups and depression is becoming something of a theme, especially after the death of Aaron Swartz. Brad Feld of the Foundry Group recently blogged about his depression and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), which got a lot of reactions from entrepreneurs. The stress, uncertainty and the wild swings between feeling sky high and rock bottom within hours were quoted by a lot of the commenters.

Here’s what Rob Emrich wrote:

I think there is correlation between the type of people who become entrepreneurs and those prone to depression. I also think most entrepreneurs know that the daily ups and downs, and constant uncertainty can easily cause and reinforce a tendency toward depression. Interestingly I think that when approached with the right mindset the process of entrepreneurship is very closely linked to the constant challenge that is necessary to find lasting meaning and happiness in ones life.

Adds Michael Libes:

Anecdotally, looking back at the co-founders of my six startups, depression and especially OCD seen a common theme.

A startup is not about crushing it

Percival himself says that he was “to the edge and back a few times this past year with my business and own depression.” He also urges entrepreneurs everywhere to be open about their mental health issues, fears ind insecurities, and to ask for help if needed. And he added this, which I think is a great summary of startup life:

  • Having a start-up today is not about crushing it. It’s about not getting crushed.
  • We are always on the brink of making it big or losing everything.
  • Your company sits atop a pendulum, and you won’t be able to control how it swings.
  • Every other founder and startup is going through the same challenges you are. You are not alone.

Let me know what you think.

[Sean Percival][photo: John Picken, Flickr]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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