Seven ways founders can prioritize mental well-being as they build

Founders are the life force of the startup ecosystem. They give their all, betting on their seemingly “crazy” convictions and executing on abstract ideas that can potentially make our lives and work easier, faster, healthier, and better optimized.

But sometimes they do this to the detriment of their health. Being a founder means being beholden to customers, employees, and investors while balancing personal life. Often founders trade their stable, well-paying jobs to prioritize the restless inquisitivity of their mind. In the quest to answer the question “what if?”, they sometimes sacrifice their mental and physical health, only realizing the effects on their state of mind once they have impacted their ability to function as a leader. We have also seen how the mental pressure on founders can cause distress to those who depend on them for their livelihood and direction.

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Antler

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According to research done by Michael A. Freeman, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at U.C. San Francisco School of Medicine, a staggering 72% of entrepreneurs struggle with mental health challenges. Many founders resort to hiding their mental health struggles out of fear their company stakeholders may perceive it as  “weakness” and could lead to their removal from the company they built from the ground up.

We are proud to be investors who put our founders first in everything we do. Our global community stands alongside our founders—when they are in the trenches building, celebrating a triumph, or tackling a major obstacle—to help them perform at their best and maintain the stamina needed to build a company at scale.

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is to “make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.” The mental wellness sector is currently worth $121 billion—a testament to the importance of long-term solutions that address and destigmatize the complexities surrounding our mental well-being.

With this in mind, seven of our founders in the mental health space shared tips on how they manage their own mental health while building industry-leading companies—and how the Antler global community has supported them on their journey.

Here’s what they had to say.

Vasileios Nikolaou, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer

Company: Luca offers mental health monitoring and prevention for athletes.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental wellbeing as a founder?

Since my depressive episode in my early twenties (more than 10 years now), I am taking my mental health and well-being very seriously. Firstly and most importantly, I never stopped receiving psychotherapy. Many people cut the cord with their therapists once they are out of the spiral but I have decided to do otherwise. This ongoing therapy does not always have a specific form or target but it serves two purposes:

i) Helping me to battle everyday issues and problems that cause me stress and anxiety; and

ii) It acts as a prevention measure against upcoming depressive episodes. Having regular sessions allows my therapist to recognize potential red flags that can be indications of a new potential episode and act on it before things get out of hand. There have been at least two times in the last few years that this has been extremely helpful to me, as without it I would have most likely encountered another depressive episode.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

Antler has been a magical journey from the beginning until now. I first discussed my mental health journey during my first interview, and since then Antler has not only supported but actively encouraged any idea or initiative we took towards creating a mental health product. It might sound trivia, but it is extremely helpful and empowering to have a world scale VC standing on your side on a journey and a purpose that springs from something so personal such as mental health.

Nick Greenhalgh, Co-Founder

Company: Luca offers mental health monitoring and prevention for athletes.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental well-being as a founder?

I’m lucky in that I’ve never experienced a mental health issue per se, but that’s not to say my mental well-being doesn’t ebb and flow. It does and founders possibly experience more fluctuations than most given what they’re doing. For me, prioritizing time for exercise and adequate sleep is hugely important. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have time for either, but bringing my best self to the office always results in my most productive days. I’m also hugely fortunate to have a co-founder relationship where we talk about these things. Our relationship has been an open book from day one and it really helps to share how you’re feeling with somebody who knows exactly what you’re going through.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

Antler has provided us with a support system from day one. Without a cohort of friends and fellow founders, an Antler team to lean on, or a wider portfolio to learn from, I can see how building a startup could be a pretty lonely experience. We’re never left wondering who to go with whatever challenge we’re facing and it’s great that the global community is only going to get bigger and even more helpful as the years tick by.

Sharon Li, Co-Founder

Company: Choys is a holistic well-being subscription platform for organizations and employees.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental well-being as a founder?

I think reflection is a very important element for my own mental well-being because it allows me to reflect on where I was before and where I am today and where I want to be in the future. I also bring this element into our Choys weekly retrospective meeting and I think it's quite beneficial for myself and my team to take some time and reflect on what happened this week and this month and how we can improve together as a team.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

Antler empowers us to enable and empower more and more founders in the community to improve their well-being. We’ve run interactive well-being workshops with other Antler founders in the past to give them tangible tips.

Vanessa Chen, Co-Founder

Company: Choys is a holistic well-being subscription platform for organizations and employees.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental well-being as a founder?

One thing I always do to prioritize my mental health is to take breaks. Sometimes it's easier said than done when you have a million tasks and you always want to do your best for your partners, your team, and your clients. It's important to take that 10 minutes to do a meditation or have some “me” time, make a coffee to recharge so that when I get back to the task I feel more refreshed and more ready.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

We are very grateful for the Antler community for always providing the help whenever we need; from making connections to making some community impact.

Charlotte Fountaine, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

Company: Kalda is the world's first LGBTQIA+ self-therapy and mental well-being app providing sexuality and gender affirming therapy through CBT and mindfulness.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental wellbeing as a founder?

My favorite thing to do for my mental health is get peer support, connect with other people, and I do that at the Kalda mindfulness sessions.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

The Antler global community helped me with my mental health by having the CTO roundtables regularly and brainstorming the solutions to the problems we're having around our tech challenges.

Windy Dhaliana, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Company: Qalboo is an Islamic well-being platform.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental well-being as a founder?

Your day as a founder can easily be filled with nonstop to-dos. As a Muslim, I always make sure to schedule my day around the five daily prayers (Salah). Not only does it give structure to my day, but it also gives me space to take a step back from work and just be present with God, not once but multiple times throughout the day.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

Being a first-time founder, things can feel overwhelming. Having exceptional resources, support, and new connections in the palm of your hand is incredibly helpful. It has saved us a lot of time and headaches in solving business challenges because you can almost always find the answers and help in the community!

Julie Bouissin, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Company: Wellbase, offers an all-in-one solution for employers to unlock world-class wellbeing for their employees.

What is one thing you do regularly to prioritize your mental wellbeing as a founder?

The one thing I do to maintain my mental well-being is actually getting up really early in the morning. And that really helps balance the right and the left side of your brain.

How has Antler’s global community supported your startup?

I participated in a few sessions and workshops that were running back in Europe and it was really helpful to be stimulated and connect with the global community and connect with fellow French and Spanish founders. And that was really enriching to actually see the different business ideas that are being explored on the other side of the world. Ollie (Forsyth) has been a legend to share all resources, ideas, and advice. We’re able to tap into a worldwide network of advisors and mentors and that's a super rich experience and we’re extremely grateful.

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