Build Without Burnout: How to Overcome Startup Founder Burnout


To learn how to overcome startup founder burnout, click here to watch Kari Sulenes’ webinar.

According to a recent report, half of all entrepreneurs experience feelings of burnout. 

In one survey, 63% of business owners reported that they’ve dealt with or are currently dealing with burnout. The survey showed that a variety of emotional factors negatively impact entrepreneurs and accelerate burnout, including financial concerns (22%), work-life balance (15%), and day-to-day stress (15%).

As an executive coach, therapist, and partner at Alpha Bridge Ventures Kari Sulenes knows these statistics well. She’s dedicated her career to addressing startup founder burnout and the stigma some feel around mental health in the workplace.

“People know what burnout is. You can Google it,” Kari says. “But addressing it is harder. Burnout gets sustained through shame and not sharing the challenges you’re facing.” 

In a webinar for Founders Network on July 26, Kari shared strategies for overcoming startup founder burnout. In the interactive session, attendees were able to:

  • Learn why managing your psychology is crucial as a founder and leader
  • Build resilience-bolstering rapport with your peers
  • Learn the signs of burnout and how to mitigate them
  • Explore commitments you might make to prevent burnout in yourself and your teams
  • Gain access to resources to support your burnout-proofing journey

Academic Interest

Kari is a trained therapist whose doctorate is in clinical psychology and organizational behavior. Her research focused on the ways in which organizations can become places of healing rather than hurt.

“I’ve always been looking at the way that health and well-being expresses itself in organizations and the ways in which systems actually often don’t support people in their health and well-being,” Kari says. “Often work is a source of stress. There are a lot of reports that say stress is the most dangerous thing we’re exposed to–more deadly than cigarettes. It’s scary. There are studies that show your manager has a higher impact on your health than your doctor.”

Startup Founder Burnout

Based on her interest, Kari led a qualitative research study to uncover the needs and desires of founders as part of a VC-sponsored founder development program at AlphaBridge Ventures. 

“I started working with organizations on creating systems of healing rather than systems of hurt.  And about six years ago, I was introduced to a venture capital firm, AlphaBridge Ventures, that started investing directly in the well-being of their founders. They said, ‘we’re going to invest in our founders and bet on the companies rather than the other way around.’  And as I interviewed founders, I thought that I was going to hear, ‘I need help with fundraising. But every person I interviewed had a burnout story. And ultimately, what led to the failure of companies was burnout.”  

Kari’s work with founders led her to develop Pilea, a three-pronged development program focusing on early and mid-stage founders to increase their effectiveness as leaders through physical wellness, emotional intelligence, and leadership and business excellence. 

Strategies for Success

Due to their size and nature, Kari says startups offer a unique and ideal environment for addressing burnout effectively. In order to do so, she says startups must normalize conversations about mental health within the company culture. She emphasizes the importance of openly sharing personal experiences with mental health, using person-centered language to create a safe space for others to share their struggles, and making it a regular and accepted topic in team meetings and casual interactions.

“Working with a startup is like working with a jet ski versus a cruise liner,” Kari says. “ We can start to address this in a big corporation, but turning that boat around is really hard. In a startup, creating a system of healing is actually quite easy.” 

To learn how to overcome startup founder burnout, click here to watch Kari Sulenes’ webinar.

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