Founder Depression, a Suicide Note and Anonymity — Why Startups Anonymous Exists

Last week we (Startups Anonymous) received an alarming submission from an fellow entrepreneur/founder — it was a suicide note.

For many reasons, we chose not to publish the submission on the site, however here is an excerpt: “I am about to make my company a co-beneficiary of my life insurance. And, I will take my own life after that. I want to make it work for my investors and my company. I am done with this life. I am sorry.”

My name is Dana Severson, cofounder of Startups Anonymous. In light of this recent submission, last week’s tragic news, and all of the recent debate on anonymous messaging, I want to discuss an important topic in the startup community (hell, in any community) — mental illness and the impact of anonymity.

I’m no stranger to mental illness, in fact, I am someone that suffers from it. Anxiety to be exact. However, until recently, I had never told anyone outside of my immediate family and friends (at least openly). If you’ve been following the stories on this site or the series on Pando, you’ve probably read my story.

Like many others that suffer from anxiety and/or depression, I’ve hid my disease for far too long. While there are literally hundreds of millions of people that suffer from the same disease, it still carries a stigma that debilitates ones willingness to speak openly. There is a certain level of shame and embarrassment that comes along with mental illness. Sadly, we still live in a world where mental flaws are unacceptable.

And social hasn’t made it any easier.

Thanks to Facebook (mostly), keeping up the Joneses has taken a whole new meaning. Not only do we have to have the biggest house, best toys, and the most expensive car, we now have to have the perfect spouse, cutest kids and picture-perfect weekend. And, God forbid we don’t make a fucking Pinterest-worthy dinner.

Could you imagine a picture of an anxtiety-ridden agoraphobic, with a selfie on the couch?

For the past seven years (or however long Facebook as been relevant), we’ve had to live the up-and-to-the-right series A version of our lives, even though most of us are still in pre-beta and struggling to maintain profitability.

I think there are a lot of people who are burnt out as shit and ready to take off their skinny jeans and put on some sweatpants.

Enter anonymous messaging. And, I’ll speak for myself when I say, thank eff’n God.

You wanna know why anonymous messaging is the trend-du-jour right now?

Anonymity is the perfect solution at the perfect time, after seven or so years, to finally BE YOURSELF. To say what you really want to say. To be who you really are and to act how you wanted to act. There are no paparazzi friends tagging your imperfect moments and nobody posting your fails on YouTube.

But, as quickly as that, anonymity was abused. It was used by bullies to target the weak. It was used as an indulgence as TMZ uses celebrities for entertainment.

That’s not the point of anonymity, not at all. It should be used as support. It should be used as a vehicle for true reflection and realism. In a world that makes if difficult to be yourself, anonymity should serve as a welcome relief.

Thanks to anonymity, our fellow founder was able to confess that darkest secret online. Not only that, but that person was able to get help. While we didn’t publish the post, we did act upon it. We responded personally and contacted the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and 911.

Fortunately, our fellow entrepreneur left an email address (which was optional), so we were able to act upon it. After a few back and forth emails, we can confirm that this entrepreneur is alive and getting the support needed.

I wonder though, without anonymity, what would have happened?


  • I’m glad you are here- glad you created this forum and glad you acted when you were contacted.

    Many of us here struggle profoundly and in silence.

    The flip side of the roller coaster to success is the very deep lows. Blowing millions of dollars, being publicly humiliated, letting down our friends and families are just part of it.

    I once asked my accelerator to bring in coach for stress management because I found it hard to cope. I think that it is time for the many people who are pushing entrepreneurs to also begin supporting them.

    • Most are in it for the money. This is why it’s so draining to them.My startup is fun and exciting. Flip a switch and get out.

      • my start up wasn’t “fun” but we are tackling a really complicated and important space, we all felt like we were part of something important but it was really hard. Why would you be such a troll and say “flip a switch and get out” on a thread like this? It seems very trollish- I hope you are banned.

          • We did solve the problem- I didn’t say we failed, I said we were stressed. This thread is about the scary downside of the industry- with someone who was suicidal, and your genius suggestion is to “flip a switch” That is not an opinion- it is just down right ignorant and rude.

  • Being an entrepreneur means creating what others cannot build or simply cannot even see. It means taking the arrows in the back while navigating blind alleys until you perfect something new… it also requires doing all of this while walking on a tightrope held on one side by the hope of ‘smart’ money, convinced the idea, your brilliance and courage will deliver ROI and held on the other by the amazing personnel who have not only put their trust in you… but also the trust of their families, spouses, significant others as they give their precious time and their brilliance to get them to an exit so that everybody keeping score can check one box in the win column. By its nature it is shocking to the system, both mentally and physically. In the beginning, middle and end, during the extreme low moments you question whether or not you’re a fraud because everyone says what you’re doing cannot be done (otherwise it would already exist), then the extreme highs of smelling success around the corner, and realizing a ‘team player’ is simply waiting for the cash. Sometimes it seems we simply live to die another day. Being an entrepreneur is unlike anything I’ve ever known… so, in a very long winded way… I want to thank you for being being decent human beings to someone who momentarily felt they had had enough… as they too will undoubtedly come back to fight again.

    • 1)There should be a reply tab directly underneath your post. I feel like i’m not replying to your post.But the ones beneath it..

      2) Craigslist has been anonymous for years.It’s nothing new.

    • From Urban dictionary:

      The action of giving an article, post or video on an internet forum or website a positive rating, such as a “thumbs up”.

      The concept is great. The functionality ? Not so good. The thumbs up goes to the concept .Thumbs down goes to not knowing if i’m replying to the original poster or not. There’s no reply tab !!! The pages are clunky and bloated and too much loads up .. It needs to be more light weight. I sometimes won’t visit the site because i’m not in the mood to wait. It’s even worse on Android. Isn’t there a site that can check load times of a website ? Please someone chime in here and agree ? Or is it just me ? I love the concept though. Just needs some tweaking.That’s all.

  • I’m glad that this forum exists… reading through your lines I can see myself in it but by I would never call it “mental illness” ….. What I believe it is “mental exhaustion” .. How can we blame a muscle for not functioning well after it have had ran for 100 miles? The path for startups and entrepreneurship is like running for marathons… There are nights that I can’t sleep and I’m constantly thinking… I find myself down most the time… and I know it’s because of lack of training, lack of knowledge on the marathon of “entrepreneurship” … if only there was a training calender for us as well… So please don’t call it Illness…

  • I’m glad that this forum exists… reading through your lines I can see myself in it but by I would never call it “mental illness” ….. What I believe it is “mental exhaustion” .. How can we blame a muscle for not functioning well after it have had ran for 100 miles? The path for startups and entrepreneurship is like running for marathons… There are nights that I can’t sleep and I’m constantly thinking… I find myself down most the time… and I know it’s because of lack of training, lack of knowledge on the marathon of “entrepreneurship” … if only there was a training calender for us as well… So please don’t call it Illness…

  • I’ve been a regular contributor here since the first posts. We’ve been producing something special here.

    It’s interesting how we learn more about each other than we do those in our physical reality. I learn more about your personal identities than I do most people I interact with. Our anonymity here is superficial.

  • I’m very humbled by your post and the assorted responses. Humbled by the bravery to reach deeply for your authenticity. Humbled by the tenacity to be steady with your vulnerability. Humbled by your aspiration to do something very human, that is, to create, and then to ride with all the human emotions that accompany such daring pursuits.

    Deep bow!

  • I once heard this quote which came to mind after reading these posts, “Anxiety is a dread of one’s own daring.”

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