I’d like to talk about mine and other entrepreneurs’ mental health by addressing my own story.
I’m not looking for sympathy, I don’t want to reveal my most personal life but I want to help others who’ve failed (shh).
I spoke to an entrepreneur I’m consulting for yesterday. We talked about the realities of founding & running a business. We don’t openly talk about the fear, exhaustion, intensity, doubt & loneliness. The image nails it!
In May 2017, Vulpine, the company I founded, went bust. We were The Next Big(ish) Thing and many thought we’d be massive. We were on way. Then suddenly we weren’t.
Since then I’ve been consulting. I’ve seen founders in tears, burnt out and lost. This is a common but unsaid theme.
I’m fairly emotionally literate. I like the company of people I can talk about the BIG stuff with. But some things seem too taboo.
I still bury things. Some things are too painful or raw. I haven’t been my usual over-sharing self for a while, so I should start talking. It’s scary.
We entrepreneurs tend to be a stoic lot. DOING is our obsession. We’re always on, always trying. We believe that where others give up we go harder. It’s additive & destructive. Nobody can stay at that level without there being damage. There’s also a lot to lose. So you’re stuck.
I define myself as determined & resilient, along with being a father, husband & (I hope) a kind person.
Losing the company seriously affected many people including my family. I lost faith in myself and I started doubting who I was. That and the exhaustion made me breakdown.
I’d made literally every last effort to prevent failure. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t done everything possible. I cling to this.
Despite & because of this, I became very ill. Nobody was surprised. I was running on fumes.
I was a physical wreck but more than that, it was deeply humiliating to me to fail. I Do Not Will Not Fail. Stupid me.
Funny, Americans don’t fear or sneer at failure. Failure is a by product of trying new stuff. It’s inevitable and accepted. “Shame...Anyway, what’s next dude?”
I loved my team. I cared about every supplier, every investor, because they’d had faith in my idea and our company. I was desperate to return that faith. It was my duty.
Despite the frequency that businesses fail, nothing can fully prepare you when it goes wrong. I felt alone.
When the time came to tell people I became a robot. I couldn’t just sit there crying. I had to be professional & a help not a hindrance. I had to do what I could to see them through this. Maybe I could still salvage something. I probably seemed distant, suddenly different. I was.
I carried on. At least if what remained were sold at a good price those affected may be ok. At one point there was so much interest I thought it’d happen. I’d lost it all, but I could still give some kindness & effort. This was my new obsession. I was trying to stay on the tracks.
I was expecting to get knocked. I/we had failed. That was fair.
But lies & gossip are wrong and a legal issue for good reasons. I realise now that it was a just a few men unconnected to Vulpine, and that everyone gets some kind of grief online, some of it rather sick, these days.
I felt we’d lost everything, from my life’s work and dream, the ability to pay the bills, to my sense of who I was.
When you’re that low, when people start saying your a bad person when you thought you were good, and some people believe that, it feels like the end of everything.
There two parts of me that were fighting for supremacy here. One was default mode: ‘Tough, move on, everyone gets haters, we all have shit to deal with. Deal with it. Don’t be weak.”
One was “I’m lost & confused. I’m bereft. I don’t know what’s going on. Help.” The red light 🚨
I’m better now. Older. Wiser. Weirdly, happier.
It really helped that kind people, many strangers to me, in cycling, business, anywhere, reached out and told me losing a business is something they’d experienced & I should be proud of myself for trying. At first I brushed this off, but eventually some stuck.
Mainly I did what I hadn’t been able to do. I realised how much of an absent father I’d been, so I spent time with my kids. I slept. I actually rode my bike. I cooked, cleaned and listened to Adam Buxton podcasts a lot. Thanks Adam. So good to hear creative people being lovely.
Now I’m sad about Vulpine, but that’s to be expected. But it’s an 🐘 in the room.
Facts help: We built a loved brand and product we were proud of. We tried hard, we made mistakes and failed. In clothing cashflow & growth are opposing forces. Greater growth creates greater risk.
Most businesses fail. If it’s so common, how come we never hear about it. Where are all these failed founders? Can I/we help?
We entrepreneurs chose this route in life. We’re not high on the priority list. But compassion shouldn’t be means tested. Pain is universal & dangerous.
When people reached out to me last year, it was because they empathised. All these people had failed too. They’d been there. All these people who were truly successful had lost businesses. It was part of their journey. They’d carried on and made it. This was a revelation to me.
If you’re a founder who’s lost a business, if you’re burnt out or lonely, please do ask for help.
You’re not being a twonk. Entrepreneurs don’t have limitless resources. Don’t believe founder mythology. Your business isn’t everything, though it might seem it.
You will be ok.
Thank you to everyone who helped me and anyone else affected, who took the time to pick up the phone, make tea, send a text or offer anything of their time and knowledge. Every little bit meant something.
Most importantly, because I never got the chance to say it:
Thank you and sorry to everyone involved in or who supported Vulpine. We gave it our very best shot. That wasn’t good enough. I’m gutted for you.
Vulpine continues with great new owners. The very best of luck to you all.
I’m here to help.