I was in my early 30s when I experienced what can only be described as burnout.
I hit a wall, both literally and figuratively, that wall was a hospital room in St Vincent’s. By this point I had been running on fumes for the past 3 years as the CEO of a startup that was experiencing rapid growth. To everyone else, I had it all but really I was struggling to deal with the pressure and the workload.
I had never built a business before. I didn’t know how to manage people. I felt as though I was running on a treadmill that kept getting faster and faster. It was terrifying.
Since then, I’ve had a number of management roles within startups in Australia and the US and I have learnt that the hardest part about being a CEO/founder is managing your mindset. The startup environment is very tough. It’s high risk, constantly changing and 90 percent of the time you’re doing things you’ve never done before.
In high pressure environments like these, it’s critical to take care of yourself. You have to find ways to metabolise stress to avoid burnout. This can include: physical exercise, good quality sleep, a type of mindfulness practice, eating for fuel and cultivating self-awareness.
For some reason, society seems to pursue the idea that successful people work 80+ hours a week. This notion is extremely problematic and often harmful. Firstly, working long hours does not mean you’re working harder, it’s an out-dated myth. Secondly, working 80+ hours can indicate a lack of awareness as to where you’re truly dedicating your time. Thirdly, the work you create on 4 hours of sleep is not going to be as good as what you produce on 8 hours sleep. The most successful people I know have a work week that looks more normal than not.
In light of this, last month KPMG High Growth Ventures launched Fitness, Fulfilment & Foresight an Australian-first research report into the health and wellbeing of startup founders & entrepreneurs. It comes as no surprise that the majority of surveyed founders were overworked, stressed and neglecting their mental and physical wellbeing.
We then used the research findings, empirical data and the team’s collective experience to create a 2.5 day program designed to enhance the performance, wellbeing and purpose of venture backed founders. We called it the KPMG Enterprise Founder Program.
Over the two and a half days, I witnessed founders open up about the challenges they’re facing, be vulnerable, connect with each other and realise the health of a founder impacts the health of a startup. They learned the importance of human capital, how to unlock their customer’s true needs, pivoting their product offering as well benefits of meditation, journaling and breathe work.
The feedback we have received has truly moved me. Founders have reached out, saying it was the best thing they’ve done for themselves in a long time and that they’ve learnt the tools they’ve been searching for.
On reflection a one thing is very clear to me:
We must continue to create safe spaces for leaders of all industries and walks of life to open up, show their scars, share experiences, express their concerns, learn from each other and reconnect with their why. We must also encourage founders to prioritize their mental and physical wellbeing to prevent burnout.
It is my mission that through running these programs, we will generate enough data to demonstrate the connection between the health of the founder and the performance of the startup.
None of this would have been possible without the support of the firm, my team, the awesome facilitators- Rachael Neumann, Craig Davis, Michelle Duval, Phaedon Stough, Brad Couper and Scott Draper.
I will forever be in debt to our incredible first cohort, who generously gave us their time and trust- Baraja, AgriWebb, TidyMe, AgriDigital, WORK180, Propeller Aero, DesignCrowd, Prospection and FluroSat.
High Growth Ventures is KPMG’s dedicated startup team helping founders achieve sustained high performance. Learn more about the KPMG Enterprise Founder Program and Startup Founder Research here.