The Steep Psychological Price of Starting Your Own Company
August 28, 2013 Editor 0Too High?
“Fake it until you make it” might sound like a manageable way to approach your entrepreneurial efforts, but it’s also worth considering this man-riding-a-lion analogy from EnSite Solutions CEO Toby Thomas: “People look at him and think, ‘This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!’ And the man riding a lion is thinking, ‘How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?’” This quote is only one of the candid and deeply felt points relayed by the entrepreneurs interviewed for this piece on the anxiety, depression, and stress that often go hand-in-hand with building a start-up (95% of which don’t meet their projections). The good news is that people are slowly talking publicly about their bouts with depression and the factors that lead to it. Vulnerability, says former entrepreneur and psychiatrist Michael A. Freeman, might actually be a positive trait for leaders to have. He also suggests that redefining failure, keeping close human connections, and separating net worth from self-worth can go a long way in easing a mind amidst the chaos and competition of building a company from scratch.
Under Armour, a $2 billion company known for its tight-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing, is run by Kevin Plank, a man who legendarily took a simple idea — making workout clothes more comfortable — and built it into an empire. And now Plank, with his innovative foresight and devotion to the city of Baltimore, is making his biggest bet yet. In this glowing yet skeptical-in-all-the-right-places article, Jason Fagone introduces readers to the SpeedForm, a shoe made in a bra factory that just might be Under Armour’s best chance at chipping away Nike’s 40% hold on the athletic shoe market. Plank says the shoe is cheap enough to be made in the U.S. — and could bring 25,000 jobs to Baltimore. But he’s not just trying to save his city while simultaneously beating Nike. By joining the Head Health Initiative (a joint technology venture between the NFL and GE that focuses on detecting and preventing brain injuries), Plank is also not-so-subtly getting his foot in the league’s door — one that’s propped open by Nike (of course), which currently holds the contract to make NFL uniforms. But measuring heart rates with clothing is one thing; preventing brain damage is another. As Fagone claims, “innovation probably can’t do anything to protect the shy sack of mayonnaise that is the human brain if the human it belongs to is hitting another human with the force of 15 to 20 Gs.” This all begs the question: when you have both the best of intentions and the desire to cut into a market, where’s the line between doing good and losing track of its feasibility?
In the up-or-out world of Big-Four accounting firms, turnover among junior auditors is a fact of life. No one expects these people to be happy, and if senior management pays any attention to them, they tend to worry only about making sure the few obvious stars aren’t among the disgruntled masses thinking of leaving. But a new study by Australian School of Business accounting professor Gary Monroe and colleagues suggests that these firms might want to take a closer look at life at the bottom of their organizations. The researchers asked 76 young auditors in Malaysia, most of whom worked for one or another of the four major accountancies, to rate their job satisfaction and then asked them to weigh in on a tricky inventory valuation. The unhappy juniors consistently rated the value of the inventory higher than their happier counterparts. Why? The researchers chalk it up to an unconscious desire to please the client in an effort to open up future employment opportunities — a mind-set that, the researchers argue, exposes their employers to significant risk from both inaccurate work and the appearance (if not the fact) of a conflict of interest. —Andrea Ovans
With DVR and iPhones (not to mention regular trips to the fridge for a beverage) keeping us nice and occupied, it’s no secret that advertisers are scrambling to figure out how to keep TV viewers engaged. And because sporting events are more likely to keep viewers engaged during the entirety of a few hours, the financial stakes for companies and networks are astronomically high: Verizon, for example, spent $345.5 million in 2011 on ads, and companies are increasingly wondering whether parting with so much cash for broadcast is actually worth it. MediaScience, also called Ad Lab, is a research facility in Texas that is trying to answer these questions by paying people to watch sports in their building — “resembling living rooms and giving off the scent of fresh linen” — while tracking “which viewing angle of a goal or touchdown makes hearts beat fastest.” It’s unclear as to whether televised sports will wind up being tested “as rigorously as the sort of consumer goods you can buy in a supermarket,” but one of Ad Lab’s initial findings — that viewers found an ESPN news ticker helpful, not distracting, during commercial breaks — probably gave the advertisers a brief yet needed sigh of relief.
“Papers, Please” is a video game about bureaucracy. Seriously. Jesse Singal goes into detail about the bizarre and sort of brilliant idea behind the dystopian game created by Lucas Pope. As a player, you have a seemingly simple objective: working a border crossing checkpoint to make sure “among other concerns, that the issuing country and city match, that the photo matches the person you’re looking at, and that their documents aren’t expired.” Yeah, it may not sound all that fun (or different from your daily slog), but Singal explains that it’s compelling because it allows you to carefully think through the everyday decisions we’re all required to make under the cloud of time, money, and influence. In the game, you have some power but work for a state that has much more, and you’re charged with balancing these pressures. On the one hand, you need to do your job efficiently in order to feed your family; on the other, you might be morally inclined to let a scared asylum pass through the border without proper documentation (something that will cost you). “It’s a wonderful example of how video games can be used to help shed light on complicated human social structures,” Singal explains. Wonderful, terrifying, and, for some, too close to home. And now I know what I’ll be doing all weekend.
Editor’s Note: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that 95% of start-ups fail.
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