Do mental illness and retail entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand?
In his book, “Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind,” Bonobos co-founder and former CEO Andy Dunn opens up about his bipolar disorder diagnosis, exploring the inherent challenges as well as how it fueled his entrepreneurial spirit.
On the positive side, Mr. Dunn writes in the book that his “controlled hypomania” helped him work long days and generate “kinetic positive energy” to inspire his staff, recruits and innovation. He writes, “Everything is clicking, everything is making sense, life has purpose. Colors seem brighter; gratitude flows. This is the zone where creativity and productivity flourish.”
Mr. Dunn hit a low point about a year before Bonobos’ 2017 sale to Walmart when he spent a week in a psychiatric ward and faced assault charges for hitting his future wife and kicking her mother.
The book brings up the fate of Tony Hsieh, who died a few months after stepping down as Zappos’ CEO from injuries in a house fire following a drug spiral.
Mr. Dunn told CNBC, “He was a hero to me. And then, obviously, he had been privately suffering. I think that’s a part of the typical entrepreneur archetype, someone who’s got that — a brilliant, charismatic spirit. And it’s expected, right? You got to show up with that every day, and that’s inhuman to expect out of anyone.”
A UC Berkeley study 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 issues and 11 percent reported having bipolar disorder.
There has been a broad push for decades to destigmatize mental illness and Mr. Dunn is seeking to elevate the discussion in business circles. He writes in the book, “Let’s not celebrate ‘crazy,’ and let’s not stigmatize it, either. 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 let’s, for everyone’s sake, stop pretending that it’s not here.”
- ‘Losing my mind’: Bonobos founder who helped transform Walmart opens up about mental health struggles – CNBC
- A Former CEO Comes to Terms With His Bipolar Disorder – The Wall Street Journal
- Bonobos cofounder Andy Dunn says having bipolar disorder presented challenges during his time as CEO but also helped him be his ‘entrepreneurial best’ – Business Insider
- I built Bonobos into a major brand — while secretly harboring a mental illness that nearly cost me everything – Business Insider
- Bonobos cofounder Andy Dunn reveals his bipolar disorder – Fast Company
- Are Entrepreneurs “Touched with Fire”? – University of California Berkeley
- WSJ+ Live: How the Zappos CEO Put Culture Ahead of His Mental Health – The Wall Street Journal
- SkysTheLimit.org Amplifies Entrepreneurs’ Mental Health For Men’s Health Awareness Month – SkysTheLimit.org
- 5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health – Entrepreneur
- Are Successful People More Neurotic? – Forbes
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does it make sense that the same traits that make someone well-suited to entrepreneurship make that person vulnerable to mental health crises? What advice would you have for entrepreneurs struggling to cope with the ups and downs of a retail start-up?