Psychology, Entrepreneurship and Herd Instinct

One of my psychotherapy clients—he was an entrepreneur—I was sitting with him one day. He then raised his third round. He came to see me after suffering a series of panic attacks and severe anxiety. When he didn’t suffer from anxiety, he felt a void in his chest. All of it right after he closed the round. Business was great. Everyone—even him—assumed he would relax once done.

He is not the only one. I work with another founder. She raised “just” one round. It was a long time ago. She doesn’t know what stress-free living is. Her runway is getting shorter. She’s stressed out about it to the point of panic. For her, looking beyond the point of investors ditching her is just darkness. Even if it’s just a possibility. She would be left crumbled. People would think she’s a failure. Her career would deteriorate. She wouldn’t be able to look herself in the mirror for the rest of her life. This is her perception—which is her reality.

Many founders I saw in therapy told me that being an entrepreneur frees you. That’s why they did it. It can. Until you get investors. Or employees. Or debt. Or just start doing real business with real clients. Fundraising does not alleviate the stress levels. It causes them. “Before” is usually less stressful than “after”.

I met a lot of propaganda victims—the instillment of the delusion that startups are a trend and that fundraise is the next best thing. Some still think life starts only after you fundraise.

“What everyone is doing is the right thing to do, because at the end of the day, why else would everyone be doing it.” A flock, a herd chasing cash. Chasing accelerators, pitching events, tech journalists, influencers, angels.

Some founders get too blinded by the spotlight to see beyond the first round. Some pitch conference judges only go for flashy gadgets with no market potential.

This creates an illusion that building a business is about winning pitches, raising funding and networking. It’s as though it’s about the perception of business rather than real business. The startup industry is often putting this perception up purposefully. You can’t blame it for that—it lives off hyped founders. But, just like with eating junk food, you are still the one who decides to eat it.

Maybe it’s about social inclusion. Maybe if you don’t chase the same pile of money as everyone and if you don’t apply to the same pitches as everyone, you will not consider yourself a founder. You are not one of them then. What if you are missing out on something?

Maybe it’s the scarcity effect. There’s only so much money out there to fund new flashy ideas. It’s like gold. Who would not want to get their hands on gold? If you finally manage, I guess it feels like you made it big time. Psychologically, going where there is less money to get your hands on, feels as though it’s worth more in the end. A perception of superior validation? You made it where others are only trying.

It’s the industry of lottery. It’s not in reality, but that’s the delusion it portrays. The perception that building a unicorn is a numbers game—“One in so many becomes a unicorn. What if…” That’s when you don’t see building a business is something you need to make happen. It’s not a pure subject of chance. Like gambling.

When something is a delusion, it crashes down regardless of whether you make it or not. I have seen founders make it and then crash head on into misery. Then they stop and look at all the luggage they were carrying and all the skeletons they hid.

Be kind to yourself. Put yourself first. Don’t be harder with yourself than other people. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.