Brex Co-CEO Reports Burnout and Sparks Debate: What About Founder Mental Health?


Leading a startup to success is a great responsibility. Once the challenge of launching a great idea into the market is overcome, founders start to deal with the common setbacks of running a company, usually related to financial management and investor relations.

During the Brazil at Silicon Valley Conference, held April 7-9 in California, the story of one high-impact entrepreneur caught attention. Brex founder and co-CEO Pedro Franceschi shared his experience of facing two burnouts and resorting to medication with the support of therapy.

At 13, Pedro was already performing complex programming tasks and giving interviews to TV shows about his above-average performance in technology. Today, he runs a company valued at over $12 billion alongside Henrique Dubugras, whom he met in his teens.

Thanks to courageous entrepreneurs like Pedro, who shared his adversity in front of a large audience, the subject is becoming less taboo these days. Our colleague and Flourish partner Arjuna Costa, who watched Pedro's presentation at the event, told me how his vulnerability raised the debate and helped raise awareness for other founders and their support networks (which should include investors, board members, consultants, etc.).

Considering the experience of other startup founders, it is possible to see that a successful trajectory does not alleviate the challenges of a stressful and exhausting routine, which could impact mental health.

Nine out of 10 founders say they know another entrepreneur who has faced mental health challenges in their journey, which helps us to see the scale of this phenomenon. The data comes from a recent survey by Endeavor, conducted in collaboration with Flourish, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and ANDE.

Most work more than 50 hours per week, and 57% consider the routine stressful. The biggest external stressors are related to the company's financial situation (60%) and fundraising from investors (36%). These concerns are even greater among women, blacks, browns, and early-stage and young entrepreneurs, as is the case with Pedro.

Consequently, with the venture capital landscape shifting from a "boom" to a more challenging environment, we have seen an increase in pressure on founders and their teams in recent years.

At Flourish, we are passionate about redefining the venture capital culture. We focus on empowering founders and prioritizing their mental health. Our focus goes beyond financial investment, prioritizing the building of strong relationships between investor and founder. This includes showing empathy, building trust, and validating them, especially in times of difficulty.

As investors, understanding the correlation between a founder's well-being and business success is more important than ever. The effort to create a healthy environment for everyone involved has been proven to optimize the performance of companies.

The good news is that the feeling of tranquility increases with experience. It rises from 31% among early-stage entrepreneurs to 52% among those who have been on this journey for more than 10 years. Exercise, regular sleep, and a quality diet are the most common wellness practices among those who have managed to overcome emotional difficulties, and those who do not incorporate these habits into their routine face a higher incidence of symptoms of malaise.

Another lesson we have learned from more experienced entrepreneurs is that relationships with family and friends should be prioritized in the routine. Some founders who suffer from mental health challenges say that their relationships with family members have been impacted throughout the journey.

Emotional intelligence makes the leadership journey healthier and more successful. It is up to the members of this ecosystem, including venture capital funds, to encourage dialogue and the exchange of experiences for the well-being of all. More than that, it encourages founders to open up about their problems and reduce the pressure of expectations. In return, we must support them on the business growth trajectory, contributing to good decision-making and success.

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