Soon, Austin realized how difficult it was to find a therapist of color who understood her lived experiences. Inspired by this problem, the earliest concepts for her company, Ethel's Club, were rooted in the idea of providing a place where people could find and speak with therapists of color. “It naturally grew from there, but the idea of wellness is baked into our product,” she says, adding that the forthcoming social club for people of color will have a dedicated wellness room with access to therapists and other experts included as part of the membership.
But even as she built a business model around this idea of accessible wellness, Austin admits that the world of entrepreneurship still presents challenges for her, personally. “There are some days where everything is going horribly wrong,” Austin says, adding that she deals with a lot of anxiety as a founder. “It sucks, but I’ve learned the tools that work best for me.” Such tools, she says, include never working past 10 p.m., triaging her to-do list, and periodically taking time off to do something completely unrelated to her business.
Austin wishes that more business stakeholders, like venture capital firms and accelerator programs, not only invested in the venture, but also in founders’ emotional wellness. Though this is something we have seen more of in recent years (for instance, Alpha Bridge Ventures, an early-stage investment firm, foots the bill for services like acupuncture, massage, therapy, and yoga for its founders), few firms are taking actionable steps to prioritize entrepreneurs’ mental health.
To be sure, investment in founder wellness is still somewhat of a fringe movement in the startup space. But thankfully, there are still plenty of other ways that founders can work to improve their mental health—even if they lack access to these types of resources.
New York City-based career coach Cynthia Pong, JD, of Embrace Change regularly works with women of color entrepreneurs and says mental health is a top concern among her clients. “There is this expectation that if you’re a founder then you have your shit together,” Pong tells Supermaker. “There can be a lot of projecting and performing that has to happen.”
Some of the most common challenges Pong sees across her clientele are imposter syndrome, constant comparison, depression, and anxiety. “If people aren’t careful about managing their stress and doing what they have to in terms of self care, then things can get ugly pretty fast,” Pong says. Indeed, she has found that the immense pressure facing founders—particularly women and people of color—can often lead to a negative feedback loop wherein founders find it difficult to be open about their struggles, which further exacerbates them.