Helena Murphy, the founder and directing manager at Raising Partners explores the relationship between fundraising and wellbeing – and why we need to break the stigma attached to talking about mental health within venture capital.
Though our collective understanding of mental health is constantly improving, some sectors still lag behind. In certain circles people are unwilling to discuss this, as though professionalism and conversations around mental health need to be mutually exclusive. This is despite the fact that all studies show our ability to work hard is directly contingent on our wellbeing.
The venture capital and investment space is one such sector. Over here, working until you burn out is encouraged. A good night’s sleep is apparently a sign of weakness.
I started my first business straight after graduating from St. Andrews University, turning my eBay side-hustle into a burgeoning e-commerce platform that sold sustainable fashion brands. I pretty easily raised early stage capital, but just as things started to go well I took my eye off the financial operations of the business. When I went back to my investors, it turned out that raising the next round wouldn’t be quite so straightforward, and that I needed to raise close to £1m to be able to compete online and build out the product. It soon became apparent that my go-to angel investors were not about to part with this kind of capital.
I became trapped, burning through cash at a frightening pace. I had two options: dive head first into raising the £1m, knowing failure was likely, or walk away and wind up the business. I took some questionable advice (not knowing any better as a fresh graduate) and borrowed close to £100k to pay off my suppliers and close the business.
I spent the next year ripping off the plaster and looking hard at the mistakes I had made. It was an incredibly painful time and I even began to lose my hair due to stress-related alopecia. The failed business dominated my life, wellbeing, and health. I visited my GP and started to see a counsellor to plan my next steps. I started just talking about what had happened with friends, family and colleagues, exploring what went wrong and why, and soon got back on track.
As the months passed, and I began to feel like myself again, I started to feel more and more frustrated with the landscape of the investment industry. Why had no one told me how difficult and traumatising fundraising would be? Why was there not more literature and support out there for founders looking to secure capital? I knew I was one of millions to go through this stressful process each year, and yet there was little-to-no discourse surrounding the stresses I endured.
According to the Allison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, two thirds of entrepreneurs in the UK are men, and the Mental Health Foundation and The Priory state that men are significantly less likely to discuss their mental health. By doing simple maths, you can see why this sector is statistically less likely to discuss the psychological harm of fundraising.
There are some obvious ways to improve the situation. We can bring meaningful gender parity to the investment and funding scene. We can prioritise male mental health and bursting the taboo surrounding it.
But we should also challenge the stereotype of ‘the entrepreneur’. We all have a vision of a founder working through the night or asleep at their desk. Why is this more impressive than a composed business leader on top of their work/life balance. We are all guilty of being selective when it comes to revealing what running a business is like. We want the perception to be all TechCrunch articles and rocketship emojis, and that everything is ‘awesome’ all the time. But in reality this is never going to be the case. Admitting running a business is difficult should be a sign of maturity not weakness.
The sooner we debunk this narrative, the sooner those under pressure will realise they are not alone and that help is available. Not only will this help the next generation of founders look after their mental health, but it will also make better businesses. This will boost wellbeing and the economy in equal measure.
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