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How Entrepreneurs Can Manage Their Mental Health

a16z | Frederic Kerrest  | Apr 21, 2022

stress and mental health - How Entrepreneurs Can Manage Their Mental HealthThis is an excerpt from Zero to IPO: Over $1 Trillion of Actionable Advice from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs by Frederic Kerrest, pp. 164-171, (McGraw Hill, April 2022). Kerrest co-founded Okta – an enterprise identity management company – in 2009 and currently serves as its executive vice chairperson and chief operating officer.

Carefully guard family time

I carefully guard my family time. I am home for dinner with my wife and children every night (unless I’m out of town). I put my phone on our foyer table when I arrive home, and it stays there until the kids go to sleep. I don’t take work calls on weekends unless it’s an absolute emergency.  It’s easy to take family for granted and allow yourself to get pulled into never-ending work demands.

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It takes discipline to switch gears and focus on your partner and children. But the work demands will never ever stop. And your family time is both precious and fleeting. So I invest time in the upstream work – hiring really great people, establishing clear goals, and giving the team the autonomy to execute as they see fit. That way, when I come home, I don’t have to worry that the company will collapse if I step away for a few hours.

Staying fit - mentally, emotionally and physically

All founders need to create strategies to stay fit. You don’t want your company to implode simply because you never carved out time to exercise or sleep.

  • Find founder peers at the same stage as you, or slightly ahead. Develop relationships with other entrepreneurs who’ll understand what you’re going through and the problems you need help with. Your friends and family can offer general moral support, but none of them will really get it the way a fellow founder will.

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  • Follow the “oxygen mask” rule. You know the old flight-safety advisory: “Place your mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” You can’t help your company if you’re not able to perform at your best. Create routines to stay physically, emotionally, and mentally fit.
  • Take vacations. You’re going to feel like you can’t. But [just like you might need to pause in order to upgrade a system or process], sometimes you will need to upgrade yourself, even if it means stepping away from the company (which won’t slow down because you’ve built a well-oiled machine that runs well without you, right?) so you can recharge your batteries and get energized for the next leg.

Every business is different - don’t keep up with the Joneses

In competitive auto racing, they teach drivers to “focus on the road, not the wall.” Look at the wall and you’ll crash. To win, you need to keep your eye where you want the car to go. I share the same principle with new founders: Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or how they’re performing. Just focus on your own road, your own race.

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Depression among founders is more common than you think

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