Jan 22, 2020

VC firm addresses the mental health of founders

Illustration of a psychologist's couch in an open suitcase.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Most venture capitalists aim to be "value-add" for their founders, providing advice and services beyond their primary role as financiers.

Why it matters: Freestyle Capital today is pushing this trend into mental health treatment.

  • The San Francisco-based firm will begin by offering two programs to all of its portfolio founders, free of charge.
  • One is a three-month digital program for treating depression, anxiety and burnout ⁠— provided by Freestyle portfolio company Meru Health.
  • The other is a one-week, intensive on-site program offered by a nonprofit called The Hoffman Institute.

What they're saying: Freestyle partner Josh Felser, who previously co-founded companies, tells Axios that he's publicly announcing the initiative in order to persuade other venture firms to follow suit:

"Founders say that they often don't have the money for therapy or have the time. And even if they had both, they wouldn't know where to go. I do think there's a growing realization that it's OK for a founder to get help, but the only two therapists I know are fully booked, so when founders do ask, I can't even recommend someone. ... So we did research to find two catalytic change options that address the time factor and we're taking care of the cost factor."

The big picture: This is different from executive "coaching" (which also is underutilized, as we discussed in the context of Away).

  • Instead, it's a recognition that while founders are in positions of power, many of them also are under exceptional stress that can metastasize into everything from physical ailments to poor decision-making — things that can put an entire company, and its employees, at risk.

The bottom line: This is one of those times when being a "copycat investor" would be celebrated, not criticized.

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