The Startup Curse: Burnout

Leon is not the only one who began at a startup with a lot of enthusiasm, only to fall into a deep hole. His diagnosis: Burnout.

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Credit: Getty Images

It’s two o’clock in the morning in Zurich. Leon is frightened and stares at his computer screen. He is afraid that he missed an important message or call. He is exhausted and at the end of his rope. He never imagined this would be the life of a startup boss. He had hoped to spend less time at work and more time with his family. But now he works every day until late into the night , seven days a week. He is hardly at home any more. And if he does make it home, he works there, too. As he looks back on this period of his life, he can hardly believe it was possible to work this much.

This completely contradicts the rosy image perpetuated in the founder scene. This image of startups is a lot of hype, even if the founders are creative, even if they can change the world and break through established structures of the working world.


«These people want their work to be meaningful. They want to influence something, use their talents, be valued. And, of course, they want to make a quicker career with their hard work than they could ever have done in a classic company,» says Leon.

Leon explains: «They don’t work like employees in a normal office job, to put it bluntly; founders know very well why they work. They get the chance to realize their own ideas and often invest a lot of equity in the startup. Their motivation is naturally very high».


High ideals, lofty goals and personal investments are huge drivers to work massive amounts of overtime. That would be something very positive in and of itself. It becomes problematic if these high expectations are not met. Especially in start-ups, where a lot is still unstable in the initial stages and founders put themselves under extreme time and money pressure, these expectations can quickly fail to be met.

Leon had largely ignored the warnings of his family and friends, he ever allowed himself a break, and never took the time to look forward to his success.

It took about one year for Leon to realize that things couldn’t go on like this: «I didn’t have a vacation this year.» Leon is convinced that his experiences also apply to many others, but talking about burnouts in the founding scene is still a taboo. He should have realized that this lifestyle is unhealthy a lot sooner than he did. Now that he has, he has reduced his workload to 50 percent. He spends his free time as much as possible with his family.


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