We Just Move On Because Everyone Says We Should: Addressing Mental Well-being in Africa’s Startup Scene

In the rapidly evolving African startup landscape, the shimmer of success and funding milestones often masks a deeper, more personal battle. The year 2023 proved particularly challenging for many African founders globally, marking a period of intense strain that has continued into the current year. From Lagos to Nairobi, the stress of navigating a complex and demanding business environment took a significant toll on the mental well-being of these entrepreneurial leaders.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, captures the relentless nature of entrepreneurship with his words:

“Running a startup is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends”.

This stark analogy reflects the ongoing challenges and mental toll that many African founders have faced, especially during the tumultuous 2023.

In many African societies, where mental health is often shrouded in stigma, the prevailing “move on” mentality compounds these challenges. Tim Ferriss, author and entrepreneur, remarks on the inherent mood swings tied to driven personalities:

“The fact of the matter is this: if you’re driven, an entrepreneur, a type-A personality, or a hundred other things, mood swings are part of your genetic hardwiring. It’s a blessing and a curse”.

This perspective is vital for founders navigating the lonely path of entrepreneurship, weighed down by relentless pressures and expectations.

The consequences of this ongoing struggle are profound. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, shares his personal experience with depression:

“Depressed Rand is weird… But depressed Rand magnifies the bad 10X and minimises the good”

Beyond the immediate impact on individual founders, their teams, and ventures, the ripple effects extend to their families and the broader startup ecosystem.

Despite these daunting challenges, glimmers of hope and support are emerging globally. However, much remains to be done to create an environment where mental well-being is not just a luxury but a fundamental aspect of the entrepreneurial journey.

This article is a plea for awareness, empathy, and action. It calls on investors, policymakers, and the startup community at large to recognise the mental health crisis facing African founders. As Brad Feld, co-founder of Foundry Group, insightfully notes,

“It’s not a topic the start-up community understands well… Admitting you struggle with depression is like admitting you can’t reach your bootstraps”.

It’s time for a collective effort to change the narrative around mental health in the African startup ecosystem.

As the African startup scene continues to evolve and grow, the mental health of its founders cannot be an afterthought. The narrative needs to shift from focusing on mere survival to embracing holistic well-being. By fostering an ecosystem that supports the individual behind the business, we can pave the way for a more resilient, successful, and humane entrepreneurial journey. It is only through such collective effort and understanding that the true potential of Africa’s vibrant startup scene can be fully realised.

Written by: Sidi Saccoh

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