on suicide and entrepreneurship

Because entreneurship is so misunderstood and suicide is such a sensitive subject I felt the need for a few disclaimers when I did this blog post on Governor Rick Perry’s business tax increases in Texas. I was very careful with my wording to be as respectful as possible, yet be honest about the visceral reaction I had when I read about the tragedy in Austin. I will let that post stand for itself and add nothing further.

Yet in the process of writing that post I did a bunch of research on entrepreneurship and suicide and those notes turned into this post. It is not particularly well organized. Sorry, they were just notes so here goes…

First – I don’t agree with suicide. And nobody can make the case for murder. But we have all heard the stories about business men jumping out of windows after the crash of 1929. And more recently the son who had the courage to testify against his father the crook took his own life. So you can’t argue it’s just the “guilty capitalists” who lose.

And there is apparently a correlation between entrepreneurship and suicide as well. You have to be crazy to start a business to begin with (only partially kidding) so this isn’t surprising. The book For Entrepreneurs Who Considered Suicide When Business Got Tough! tells a story to prevent business owners from making that mistake.

The anchorwoman says, “like many of the three million entrepreneurs who have committed suicide, John Dough was depressed by failed business alliances and naysayers who criticized him for quitting his corporate job to pursue his dream.”

This article on the collateral damage of economic recessions clarifies the statistics.

Unknown to many, people who commits suicide in the wake of economic recessions and financial crises are not individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses.  They are commonly middle-aged men on the verge of debt and bankruptcy.

Add to that most entrepreneurs are men. And (sadly) men are four times more likely to commit suicide. This was news to me as I thought the stereotype was of a young woman. From wikipedia on the epidemiology of suicide regarding gender.

In the United States, males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females.

And then lets throw in race and add another bit of trivia I was unaware of:

In 2003, in the United States, whites were nearly 2.5 times more likely to kill themselves than were blacks or Hispanics.

Oh that’s just great. Sheesh, nobody mentioned THAT when we were in college being told that white males had it easy. e.g. “The Pinto is a great economical car that you can afford and we should mention IT HAS A HIGHER LIKELIHOOD OF BLOWING UP!”

And the correlation between failed businesses and suicide isn’t specific to the United States. In fact apparently we do a better job of accepting failure than other countries like Japan. From this post called “Japan: To Fix Your Economy, Honor Your Failed Entrepreneurs” by Vivek Wadhwa

In any country, innovation and economic growth come from startup ventures.  But most Japanese don’t want to take the risk of starting a business.  Indeed, the social stigma and financial repercussion of failure are so great that the founders of failed businesses become social outcasts; no one will work with them again or fund them; and all too often they end up committing suicide.

Entrepreneurs are crazy enough to think that “sure, 90+ percent of start-ups fail, but I’ll be in that minority that makes it!”

As a young man I remember talking to a friend and my point was “if you are considering suicide, why not just up and go on an adventure? If you are working the fishing boats in Alaska you are alive and enjoying life, right? If things are so bad, just leave?” That logic worked for me in my formative years. As I have gotten older I have learned to be more sympathetic on a very complex subject. This recent post by Jenny really highlights the correlation between mental illness and suicide. You can watch the coming out video here.

Money problems are common for entrepreneurs. We are like that. If we have a nest egg we risk it again and keep attacking. This isn’t rational, I get that. But the country need us. We create jobs. We create the economic growth that generates the wealth that pays the taxes so we can educate the kids. If you want public sector employees you need private sector jobs to pay for them.

Entrepreneurs are risk takers. I don’t know why. Me? Well, 13 years ago I had two investors lined up for 10k each (sounds funny in hind sight) and one client doing 1200/month. The client fired me, he was also one of the investors so I lost one investor. Ethically I had to tell the other investor and they backed out. Three young kids at home, the youngest 2 years old, my spouse was not working and I had 7k. And I quit to start a company. That’s not “business minded entrepreneurship.” That is just PLAIN STUPID. I have NO idea what I was thinking or why my wife put up with it. She got a job and it eventually worked out. Miraculously I am still married. My point is that just isn’t rational behavior. It isn’t. And I am the one that did it. Why? I really don’t know. And I was 100% positive that I would be successful. And for the record, “I” did NOT do it, but with a TON of help from family and friends and the Houston community WE did do it. We are still here and proud to serve our clients. THANK YOU!

See what I did there? I told the creation story (all true) and the success story (where we are now) but I left off the part about being screwed over by a former business partner, losing a best friend, finding a trusted employee stealing from you and having to fire them. I left off being sued because a water pipe broke in our building and we flooded another suite (no fault of ours, but we got sued anyway). I left off the part about former sales-people stealing leads for billion dollar companies and feeding them to their friends for a kick back. I left off the part about the second mortgages. I left off the part about almost going out of business in 2001. I left off the part about oil companies and financial companies stealing employees right after you get them trained. I left off the heart wrenching loss you feel when you lose a major client. I left all of that off that last paragraph.

I left all of that off because that is what mother culture tells you. If you listen to the stories it goes “Jeff Bezos rode across the country, wrote a business plan while his wife drove, and is now worth billions.” – I don’t know Jeff but I bet if you KNEW Jeff he would tell you it wasn’t that easy. I may not know Jeff, but I bet he worked his ass off and has earned everything he has. (side note- I have met him several times and he was very nice and gracious every time.)

So if you are an entrepreneur reading this, realize a few things. You are different. Not better nor worse than other people. But different. The biggest audience that has to accept it when you fail, as we mostly do, is you. Let it go. Just let it go. You didn’t care when everyone told you that you couldn’t start a business so please don’t care what they think now. If you accept it, it will be OK. Accept the failure and embrace the lessons you learned. Get help and get back on the bike. The rest of the country and the planet needs you to go back to risk taking and creating jobs! Seriously – we need you.

OK, now quit with the negative thinking and go make some jobs. Yes. You. You may be feeling down but I’m pretty darn sure you aren’t out of ideas for great products. Go. Go invent something amazing. Go!