Health, Wellness & Biotech Startups Venture

3 Things VCs Should Do To Protect Founders’ Mental Health

Commentary

By Matt Cohen

Being a startup founder is hard. There’s an enormous amount of pressure, long hours, sleepless nights and myriad unexpected challenges that no human could ever be entirely prepared for.

All of that takes a serious toll on one’s mental health. We see it firsthand as investors and partners to these founders.

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Having built a startup myself, and now being in a position to work with a variety of founders day-in and day-out, there are a few great tips I’ve learned on my journey that often go a long way in preserving, protecting and enriching the mental health of startup founders.

Founders should vet VCs

First, I always recommend that founders conduct reference checks on the VCs they want to work with. There’s no shortage of horror stories about overbearing investors calling founders at 3 a.m. to discuss a high-pressure situation, disrupting board meetings, micromanaging company decisions—the list goes on.

Matt Cohen, founder and managing partner at Ripple Ventures

For this reason, founders should spend some extra time speaking with the portfolio of the VCs they want to get involved with. Maybe those types of high-pressure relationships motivate you, but most of the time they don’t.

Secondly, when I talk with other VCs I always check to see what type of partner they are. Ideally, VCs should be sanity checks to founders. When a difficult managerial situation arises, oftentimes the best thing a VC can do is listen and be a sounding board for ideas.

Founders aren’t always looking for super-efficient answers to their problems; sometimes they just need a safe ear to vent to and that’s exactly the role a good VC can play.

There’s also a distinct lack of empathy for founders out there. Rarely do they have someone within their organization that they can rely on for this kind of support. They need trusted partners that exude strength, decisiveness and leadership, while having enough distance to provide helpful perspective, so going to their company leadership looking for empathy is rarely a tenable solution. This is a great space for VCs to provide value as empathetic listening partners.

Not infrequently, my calls with founders don’t wind up being about operational challenges for their business but instead are times to talk through the mental and emotional stresses that come with building a startup. It’s when you have both these kinds of conversations and in-the-weeds discussions of business matters that strong bonds of trust are forged, and that’s essential for providing mentorship and guidance.

Foster a community for founders

Lastly, the importance of community cannot be stressed enough. Providing founders with a cohort of like-minded people who are experiencing the exact same things can be an invaluable resource for support, knowledge transfer and human connection. Just knowing that there’s someone out there going through exactly the same thing you are is enough to provide the wherewithal needed to solve problems.

VCs should typically act as the hub of the wheel here and build communities through events, gatherings and communication channels, but they should also know when to be a spoke. Personally, I’ve seen the power of this in action through a simple email thread or shared Slack channel where all founders in our Ripple Ventures portfolio can share information, vent and communicate together in a safe and off the record space.

Overall, the job of VCs isn’t just to provide capital—it’s to equip founders with everything they need to be successful. Mental health is a core element of that success, so creating an environment that caters to those dynamics is one of the most valuable things a venture partner can provide.


 Matt Cohen, founder and managing partner at Ripple Ventures, was founding investor of Turnstyle Solutions, which was acquired by Yelp in 2017. He is a frequent contributor to Crunchbase News, having written about why more VCs are becoming startup founders and other topics.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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