Brad Feld Cofounder of Techstars Talks Depression and Obsession

Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundery Group and cofounder of Techstars, has battled his own demons. In his blog post, FeldThoughts, he addresses the realism of going through the highs and lows while building businesses, and that startup founders could face a similar fate.

The startup life is glamorized not only in the media with the multimillion dollar venture capital raises and billion dollar exits, but also through TV shows like Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, back on the ground, startup founders are grinding it out, lacking sleep, stressing their health, messing up personal relationships, and dealing with the constant new struggles and challenges every day with the ultimate goal and unyielding passion to build their business.

People have this misperception that if you workout and exercise then everything else will be fine. Not true. Brad is an avid long distance runner and still had bouts of depression. Founders need to realize that mental health is part of the game; It’s critical to take care of one’s mind and body. If anything, the mental long game will see a founder  through the joys and challenges that come with building a business.

“Mental health should be viewed no differently than physical health,” said Brad.

During Denver Startup Week, a week-long celebration for entrepreneurs in Denver and powered by Chase for Business, we had a chance to talk with Brad about the importance of mental health, being obsessed about building a business, and offering advice to entrepreneurs.

You’ve seen a ton of startups around the world, what are some common traits of the best teams?

Obsession about the product and the customer. Total, complete, unyielding obsession. This is not just a founder trait, but a team trait. It has to be woven through every part of the business.

What are some of the unexpected struggles founders experience throughout this journey?

The struggle is endless, which I think surprises some founders. Regardless of your level of success, you encounter new struggles regularly.

The business never reaches a stage where things are easy, and the great founders learn how to encounter struggles, challenges, and failure with calmness, thoughtfulness, and equanimity. It took me a long time to really understand this, but today I have the perspective that Something New Is F***** Up In My World Every Day. When you get to this place, there are no unexpected struggles.

20/20 hindsight, what is the biggest thing you wish you knew before you started your first business?

I would have spent more time thinking about how I wanted to live my life in the context of my work. I started my first business at age 21 and got divorced at age 24. While there were many contributing factors, it is clear today (at age 51) that I hadn’t spent any time considering how I wanted the intersection of my life and work to operate.

Can you share your thoughts about the importance of mental health during the startup journey?

The startup journey is incredibly stressful. While founders invest in many aspects of themselves, a surprisingly small number puts real energy into what I like to call their “mental fitness.” As a result, many of the health issues that get categorized as “mental health issues” – depression and anxiety being the most visible, become intertwined with the startup experience.

Founders often ignore these issues, or don’t address them until they become extremely inhibiting. The best founders recognize that mental fitness – and the challenges around mental health – are a part for the journey and invest time and energy in the mental health of themselves and their colleagues.

Can you talk about how common depression is among founders and what they should do when they experience the onset of depression?

It’s much more common than acknowledged. When I was public about my six-month long depressive episode in late 2013 / early 2014, hundreds of entrepreneurs reached out to me privately about their own struggles with depression and other mental health disorders. Many of them had never talked to anyone about this before and felt safe talking to me because I had been public about my own depression. For many of them, having this first conversation with someone they considered safe was a key turning point for them in starting to address their own struggles.

What’s the most important piece of advice you give to anyone starting up?

Going back to the word “obsession”, make sure you are obsessed about what you are working on. Ask yourself the question, “Was I put on this planet to do this work?” If not, keep searching for something to work on that you are obsessed about.

Parting thoughts or advice to early-stage startups already in the thick of building a business?

It’s hard. Every single day. Embrace that part of it.

Read more articles about being a healthy entrepreneur at TechCo

Please. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, please reach out and get help. You matter.

This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by CHASE for BUSINESS. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. CHASE for BUSINESS is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services. Find business news, stories, insights and expert tips all in one place at

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Written by:
Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.
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