“It takes a lot of courage to be back every day knowing there will be something new to deal with again today. But we do it, and most of us hang on by a bare thread in doing so.”
Arpita Ganesh, founder and CEO of lingerie startup Buttercups, is distraught over Indian coffee baron VG Siddhartha’s death under mysterious circumstances earlier this week. “I cannot even imagine the pressures Siddhartha may have faced, compared to how much I have with my small company and its daily challenges,” she says.
A slew of reasons have been floating around as the possible cause of the tragedy, many of which relate to the perils of entrepreneurship—from a business slowdown to mounting debt to tax harassment by authorities. That makes one thing clear: India Inc is a stressful, lonely place for startup founders.
Hence, for whatever little it is worth, Siddhartha’s passing has put the focus on a hitherto little-discussed issue: mental well-being in India’s startup community.
Quartz spoke to a handful of founders about the hardships they face and how they cope. Here are a few edited excerpts:
Arpita Ganesh, founder & CEO, Buttercups:
The topic is very close to my heart having recently been under similar pressures. Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing you will ever do. But our environment doesn’t make it any easier either. From meeting targets to tonnes of government compliances (sic) for submissions to the RBI or IT department (a new one crops up every day) to “government startup funds” that are nearly never handed out, life is one of constant stress. I maintain my sanity by having boxes in my head. Close one and open another. I take 30 minutes a day to close all boxes and take a walk or a swim or do yoga.
You don’t (combat loneliness). You stop fighting it and accept this is what you chose to do. I have been seeing a counselor for four years, on and off. I have become strong enough mentally now to talk myself out of a bad or helpless situation, and move on to solving the problem rather than worrying about it.
Her tip: Please get help. You are not superhuman. And asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you brave. Have a small ecosystem of people (advisors, investors, founders, peers), who you can talk to openly about your challenges and have that talk every once in a while. It helps.
Ankush Gera, co-founder & CEO, Junglee Games:
The only way to maintain sanity in times of stress is to know that it is mostly temporary—most situations resolve with time—and instead of focusing on the problem and letting it create anxiety and stress, why not focus on the solution? Most problems have one. And the ones that don’t, need a different narrative for your monkey brain.
Personally, I’m meticulous about meditating and working out for an hour each when I start my day. When you start your day with a zen head space, then the 18 hours of madness that follows just goes by. And when I work hard, I work really hard. I hardly fully unplug other than a week every year, but I fully unplug that week. The daily meditation, sauna, workouts, and eating clean help a lot.
I don’t hide problems. I share them openly. It’s okay to be an alpha CEO and it’s even more admirable to be a vulnerable human.
His tip: Be vulnerable. Be open. Talk to people. Don’t take any action under pressure or fear. Detach from your ego to the extent you can. Made mistakes? Ask for forgiveness. Practise self-love consciously and subconsciously. Every day. You have one life at least in the current form. Just be grateful for who you are and what you’ve done. Meditate. If you can’t, just sing or dance or do something for a few minutes. Make time and invest in your personal well being every day. There is nothing more important.
Santosh Panda, co-founder & CEO, Explara
Youngsters often get carried away with funding and other stresses. We can start opening up more. I am part of some groups where people talk about issues. When we founded our startups, we were passionate about certain areas and making impact. But if there’s trouble, we need to ensure we can go back to our friends and normalcy, where we can create empathy around entrepreneurship. It cannot boil down to a blame game that makes you question the very essence of your being.
His tip: Sometimes, people have mentors—somebody they worked with, a senior colleague, ex-boss—go and talk to them. Just open up and what you think is working for a business may not be working. Suddenly, one insight may beautifully click. Continue to go out to meet people. Meet other founders over a beer or a coffee. Be aware things are happening in the ecosystem. You’re not the only one struggling.
Achin Bhattacharyya, founder & CEO, Notebook:
Entrepreneurship involves round-the-clock commitment as far as a sense of purpose goes, and rather than trying to fight it, I try to enjoy the challenges it brings in, the journey is indeed eventful as it tests your nerves at every juncture. Also, it really helps if you can build a good team and mentor them continuously so as to be able to effectively delegate responsibilities over a period of time.
Loneliness is a huge challenge as very often you will need to go against the tide based on your entrepreneurial instincts. Maintaining work life balance is very important as at the end of the day we all work to live and not live to work. My family, books, travel, music, and above all, spiritual solitude (help me maintain my mental well-being). I read a lot as I honestly believe in a steady dose of intellectual diet to make life more meaningful and directional. Life is too short to live through every situation and experience yourself and hence reading helps you in having a more broader perspective.
His tip: Take one day at a time and set short-term achievable goals first to get the ball rolling before taking the major plunge. Also, very often, we come under pressure because of social and emotional reasons. Please remember that you should not get affected by the judgement of other people beyond a point. Ultimately, you are only answerable to your conscience.
Sagar Mehta, founder, Vgungho.com:
There is a spectrum of pressures I go through. The most important is the visible growth month-on-month. Having left a decently-paid job to solely focus on my startup is a new feeling. So late gratification is something I teach myself. My wife bears a lot of weight—and the family as well—as I try to do my most ambitious thing at 37.
Loneliness is very different than any other (pressure). I feel I’m the sole person accountable, to affect the lives of so many people. My business partner and team are like my own people. I share trivial to critical issues (with them) candidly. I always consult my wife on critical matters. This helps combat loneliness to a large extent.
His tip: The founder has to be convinced about the reason for his struggle. It should be like the sweet pain while working out or mother’s pain of delivering a baby. If that reason is difficult to maintain, it’s time for tough decisions and a change of course.