This week Kip (YC W16) launched their Investor Pledge for Mental Health–a public commitment to take an active role in promoting mental health. Erin Frey of Kip and Ben Huh of YC shared their thoughts on therapy with us.
Transcript: Ben Huh
Ben Huh is the founder and former CEO of the Cheezburger Network and also co-founder of the news app Circa. Now Ben works at Y Combinator on special projects.
Q : Why did you start going to therapy and what prompted you?
Ben : I first started going to therapy about 4 or 5 years ago when I was going through a lot of stress at work. It was actually prompted by one of my board members who really believes in making sure that your mind is in a great place so that it allows you to be highly performant. He suggested that I go see Jerry Colonna who is a well-known CEO Coach out of New York. So when I was in New York I would see him and that’s how my entrepreneurial therapy started.
Q : Too many people wait until a crisis before they go to therapy. How do you feel about using therapy as a preventative tool to maintain your mental well-being?
Ben : I think there’s a lot of confusion about therapy and too many people wait until there’s a crisis. If you were a runner and you felt like there was something wrong with your ankle when you’re running, would you wait until it’s flaming until you went to see a doctor? You wouldn’t. For whatever reason, there’s a stigma to therapy and so people wait until it’s gotten really bad, until they can’t handle it anymore. I think that actually causes bigger problems down the road. I also don’t think therapy is about recovering from something negative. I think it can be used to actually keep yourself in a really optimal state which is what I think entrepreneurial therapy and CEO Coaching should really be about.
Q : How does therapy help you function better as a founder? Can you share a couple specific examples of the way that it works?
Ben : One of the things I’m doing right now through Kip is I’m actually seeing a personal therapist which is a first time use of therapy for me, I’ve always used CEO Coaching which is a slightly different framework. In CEO Coaching, I’m trying to figure out what is preventing me from making the difficult decisions. What is preventing me from seeing the perspective that I need to see to keep the company moving forward and so those techniques are about understand my relationship with employees and my executives, understanding the stresses in my life. But on the personal side I’m using it to understand my responses and my emotional reactions to certain topics. I’m trying to examine what behaviours are indicative of me running away from a problem or running away from something that’s uncomfortable and another is the behaviours that drive me towards doing something constructive like: I want to read, I want to write something and what triggers that behaviour and how do I keep supporting that.
So one of the mantras that I hear from Jerry and my former CEO Coach, Khaled Halloum, was “This being so, so what?” Jerry says this so often that I feel like he should get it tattooed somewhere on him. The mentality is, what is the reality of the situation and what are you gonna do about it? If you put it in those terms it feels like something we’ve always heard before but what he’s saying is, this is the situation you have to deal with, there’s nothing else you can do to change that situation, so what are you going to do? It removes some of the pain and stress, emotion and euphoria out of the situation that you’re in. It makes you focus on a very calm and differential level which makes you go “Okay, this is our situation, what are the options available? I am not going to react emotionally to this. I’m going to understand my emotion and see how to use it in a better way”
Q : What is your advice to founders who are thinking of therapy either for managing stress, anxiety or depression, or as a way to build their leadership abilities?
Ben : I think if you’re using therapy to manage depression, I think there’s an assumption of honesty that people need to make about their current state because if you’re in denial and your therapist doesn’t know it, they can’t help you. If you’re trying to hide it, they might be able to figure out if there’s something wrong but you’re actually not investing the right amount of honesty and effort in the process. It’s like going to your coding team and saying “I want this feature build or I want a higher performance of this on our service” when that’s not what you really want. So why the hell would you tell them that?
A therapist here is like a service provider, so you want to maximise your time and their time. If you’re not willing to make that commitment, it’s very difficult to get what you need out of it. Some great therapists are able to tease out something that you may not be aware of, that’s part of the process. So if you’re using it to manage depression I think you need to be clear that you have depression. If you have it, say it. If you’re just sad, say it. There’s no stigma with this. This is private so have those moments of honest conversation so they can help you. On the performance side of things, I think it’s very helpful to know what your personal motivations are, even if it’s in the context of work. If you’re running a start up and your desire is “I just want to make a ton of money,” fine. That’s your desire, let’s be honest about that. If that’s not what you want to do and money makes you uncomfortable, that’s actually something to talk about as well.
Q : Founders are often afraid to spend money on coaching or therapy. What would your advice be to them?
Ben : A lot of entrepreneurs hesitate about spending money on therapy or CEO Coaching and things like that because they feel like it’s a personal expense. My response to them is, you can be a better person mentally and emotionally because you’re able to spend the time being coached on it. I think a couple hundred bucks a week, every two weeks or a month is nothing compared the amount of effort you can save and the amount of ROI you’re gonna get from that. So I think that as an investor, as a board member, I recommend that people spend that money and actually spend time with a therapist or CEO Coach because I know the ROI is great.
Transcript: Erin Frey
Erin Frey is the co-founder and CEO of Kip (YC W16), a startup that connects people to high quality therapists and helps them track whether therapy is working.
Q : Why did you start going to therapy and what prompted you?
Erin : I started going to therapy a couple months ago when I realized that stress and anxiety were affecting my ability to do good work. I began to wake up already anxious, thinking through the list of things to get done that day. I was thinking less clearly and making worse decisions, definitely slower decisions. I also noticed that I would get more agitated at work. My co-founder and I were getting into more arguments than we used to. And I really noticed this growing lack of confidence. Situations that normally wouldn’t bother me started to rattle me, for example, an interview like this one. Right now, it feels a little stressful to be on camera but I’m channelling that anxiety in a positive way. If this was taking place six weeks ago, I don’t know if I’d be able to do the interview at all. At the end of the day, I noticed that all of these things were preventing me from bringing my best self to work. When you’re running a start up, every day matters. You can have a bad day or two but you can’t afford a bad week, let alone three bad weeks in a row. Also, I recognized the irony that I was running a therapy start up. Tons of founders use Kip to manage their ups and downs, the stresses and uncertainties of running a start-up, and yet I wasn’t taking care of myself. So I took my own advice, used Kip, and booked a therapist.
Q : I know many founders go to therapy and many more are curious about how it works. Can you explain?
Erin : A lot of founders I know are curious about how therapy actually works and if it works.
I like to explain therapy as a scientifically proven process that changes the way your brain works for the better. This is what therapy was like for me and what we do at Kip. At first you meet with a therapist and figure out a goal to work on together. You might not know what that goal is and that’s fine. Your therapist will figure out what to work on with you in the session. For me, I came in ready to go. I wanted to fix my confidence because that was clearly a problem that I was having, or so I thought. My therapist quickly realized that the main issue wasn’t confidence; it was that stress and anxiety that were overwhelming me and my true, confident self wasn’t able to shine through.
After you have the first session, you’ll continue going to the therapist once a week, maybe once every other week. In sessions, you will start to learn how your brain works. You learn about your thought patterns, how you navigate emotions, and look at the behaviours that you’re doing every day and which ones are helping you and which ones are hurting you. Your therapist will work with you and figure out how to navigate your emotions better, build better behaviors, and relate to your thoughts better to live the life you want. They’ll teach you the tools and you’ll build skills to do that.
Here’s a good example of a skill that therapy can teach founders. Founders often deal with fear of failure and a lot of negative emotions around failure. Say you’re driving up Sand Hill Road and you’re about to pitch your startup to an investor. In the back of your mind, you might start to think, “Oh, I’m going to fail this pitch. I’m going to botch the presentation and they’re never going to invest.” You can learn with your therapist a way to stop those thoughts before they start making you feel bad. You’ll examine them, asking yourself questions such as, “Is there evidence for these thoughts?” Well, let’s look at the evidence! You’ve practiced your pitch 100 times. This investor and you had a great conversation just last week. Finally, you’re running an amazing start up. There really is no evidence for you to think you’re going to fail. Your therapist will then go further and ask you to think, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? So what if you fail?”
All that happens is that you don’t get an investment from this one investor and then you’ll just go and find another investor. It’s not the end of the world. I think a therapist is very powerful, especially for founders, in teaching you new frameworks and ways to look at your thoughts differently, so that you can think more effectively.
Q : How did therapy improve how you work as a founder? Can you share specific examples?
Erin : Therapy helped me immediately in two ways. One, I felt this huge sense of relief. I had a relief in knowing there was someone there to talk to when things got bad. Someone I could talk to about problems that I didn’t want to tell my co-founder or I didn’t really know how to explain to my family or friends. I can’t overestimate how important that is, to have the safe space. I also felt relief in knowing that I was on the path toward getting better. I felt so bad six weeks ago. I was so desperate to get better and get back to working and being my normal kick-ass self. Trusting in the process and knowing that I was doing something that would eventually get me to that place in life made me feel better.
Later on, as we reduced my anxiety and stress, I noticed that I was thinking so much better and instead of looking at problems as these behemoths that I would never be able to tackle, as things that I was setup to fail, I started looking at them again as challenges–as these fun, exciting problems that I was going to solve. That’s the same mindset that I had when we started Kip. Those have been the most important benefits I’ve gotten from therapy so far. I’m sure that as I continue to go to therapy, that list will grow.
Q : When should someone think about going to therapy?
Erin : I’m biased–I think everyone should have a therapist. Of course, if you’re feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or are in a bad mood that’s not going away, absolutely go see a therapist. I wish I had started going to therapy way earlier, months ago and maybe when we started Kip. I say that because stress, anxiety, and depression are all predictable patterns in founders. You’re dealing with overwhelming amounts of uncertainty and overwhelming amounts of pressure and stress that people have put on you but also that you have put on yourself. The faster you can go and find someone to help you navigate that, the better off you’ll be.
I hope that one day we will look at mental health and we will see a therapist in the same way as we see other care providers. If we go to the dentist twice a year to get a cleaning, or we go to the doctor for a physical once a year, then why are we not investing in our minds and going to a therapist once in a while to make sure our brains are working at their best? As a founder your most important asset, your most important muscle, is your brain. You should be investing in yourself and making sure that it’s working really well. That is going to make you a better founder, a better person, and a better leader in the long run.