Startup founders closing their eyes to their own health

09 December 2019 4 min. read
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Having established that the progress of a startup is critically dependent on the mental and physical well-being of its founder, KPMG Australia’s dedicated startup vertical has checked up on how founders across the country are doing. Most are still trying to find a healthy balance in their lifestyle. 

KPMG High Growth Ventures is KPMG Australia’s dedicated startup team, established to support a burgeoning startup environment across the country. Investments in Australian startups reached record breaking levels this year, and KPMG’s experts set out to find the recipe for success.

In a bid to determine what makes some startups more successful than others, the Big Four accounting and advisory firm put a lens on Australia’s startup scene. The analysis found that the behaviour and well-being of a founder is crucial for how a startup fares in the domestic and international market.

Satisfaction with startup aspects

The mental and physical well-being of a founder is determined by a wide range of factors, ranging from the amount of physical activity that they manage, their work-life balance, their habits and their overall stress levels. 

“A founder’s personal wellbeing, their physical and mental health, informs how they lead – everything from how they communicate, how they hire, to how they foster and build the culture necessary for a startup to succeed,” states KPMG, laying out how founder sentiment can translate to success.

The findings speak to the issue of mental health, an increasingly central issue in the Australian business environment. Recent reports have indicated that mental illness costs the Australian economy as much as 4% of annual gross domestic output, amounting to approximately $60 billion.

Reasons for feeling overwhelmed

The business environment has responded actively. Many larger corporations have initiated targeted efforts to improve mental health in their organisations. One example is fellow Big Four firm PwC, which has recently partnered with a mental health tech company to help keep its employees in a healthy mind frame.

However, KPMG reports that contending with mental illness is particularly challenging for startup founders, who find themselves under constant pressure from all directions, not to mention a lack of experience in dealing with these situations.

Having surveyed 167 founders across the country, the authors stipulate that a lot of work remains to be done for founder wellbeing. For instance, most founders appear to prioritise their firm over their own health. This is exemplified, according to KPMG, by the fact that 40% of founders were satisfied with the progress of their startup, and the same number were satisfied with productivity, but less than 25% were satisfied with their stress and mental wellbeing, and less than 20% with the amount of physical activity that they manage.

Coping mechanisms

The lack of physical activity appears to be taking a major toll on founders. 56% of startup founders indicated that the primary reason for feeling stressed and overwhelmed was that they were not exercising enough. This is backed up by the fact that most said that, if given extra time, they would spend it on physical fitness, even more so than with friends and family. 

What is more worrying is that few appear to be taking action with respect to their mental health. Only 20% of founders said that they had sought advice from a counselor when feeling stressed, while only 30% had ever spent money on mental health. Most prefer to find alternative means to coping with mental illness.

According to KPMG, the poor condition of mental health among founders is a product of wider systemic failures. The firm advocates a collaborative effort from the government, the business environment and the advisory space to support startup founders with every step of their journey.