June 23, 2022
In his book, Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind, Andy Dunn, co-founder and former CEO of Bonobos, talks about his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, examines the challenges it brought and how it fueled his entrepreneurial spirit.
On the plus side, Mr. Dunn writes in the book that his “controlled hypomania” helped him put in long work days and generate “kinetic positive energy” to inspire his employees, recruits, and innovation. He writes: “Everything works, everything makes sense, life has a purpose. colors appear lighter; gratitude flows. This is where creativity and productivity thrive.”
Mr. Dunn hit rock bottom about a year before selling bonobos to Walmart in 2017 when he spent a week in a psychiatric ward and was charged with assault for hitting his wife-to-be and kicking her mother.
The book deals with the fate of Tony Hsiehwho died a few months after stepping down as CEO of Zappos of injuries in a house fire following a drug spree.
Mr. Dunn told CNBC, “He was a hero to me. And then he had obviously suffered privately. I think that’s part of the typical entrepreneur archetype, someone who has that – a brilliant, charismatic spirit. And it’s expected, right? You have to show up with it every day, and that’s inhumane to expect from someone.”
A UC Berkeley to learn found that 72 percent of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues, compared to 48 percent of non-entrepreneurs. Of the entrepreneurs they studied, 30 percent had a history of depression, 29 percent had ADHD, 12 percent had substance abuse problems, and 11 percent reported suffering from bipolar disorder.
For decades there has been a broad push to destigmatize mental illness and Mr. Dunn is trying to stimulate discussion in business circles. He writes in the book: “Let’s not celebrate ‘crazy’ nor stigmatize it. Let’s just deal with mental illness — openly, transparently, medically, chemically, in the mirror and in living rooms and conference rooms, boardrooms and family rooms and bedrooms and, yes, rooms with trained therapists and psychiatrists — and for the good of all, let’s stop to pretend it’s not there.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that the same properties that make someone suitable for entrepreneurship, make that person vulnerable to mental health crises? What advice would you give to entrepreneurs struggling with the ups and downs of a retail startup?
“Whether entrepreneur or employee, the struggle is real and real help is not as available as it should be.”