The first question Jeff Hyman asks his clients is always, “What keeps you up at night?”
These clients are startup founders, many of whom feel isolated by their position at the head of a company, and worry, deeply, about failure.
Hyman, a five-time entrepreneur, has launched a new venture called “Startup Therapist” in which he acts as an advisor to founders on things they just can’t go to others about — though he’s quick to point out that he’s not a licensed therapist.
“If you’re starting a company, it’s difficult to talk to staff,” Hyman says. “Your staff expects you to be strong. And it’s difficult to talk to your board. They don’t want to hear it.” You could also talk to your family and friends, of course, but they don’t necessarily understand your business.
That leaves few options for founders to lean on when they have problems. And there will always be problems, Hyman says.
Hyman aims to be a counselor without an agenda — besides the success of your company (and presumably your continued business). His main lane is the “human” problems of running a startup, something he says most founders are woefully inept at.
“It could be a team of two unpaid summer interns or 1,000 people. For many, they are leading people for the first time,” Hyman says.
He remembers a time when he had built one of his first companies to $US15 million in revenue when he was 26 years old. “I didn’t know anything,” he says. “It just was very isolating. I raised a ton of money and had 100 employees and I’d never managed before.”
One of the people Hyman turned to at the time was prominent venture capitalist, Brad Feld. Feld was the first investor in Hyman’s first company. “He’s a rare bird in the venture community because he is very emotionally intelligent,” Hyman says of Feld. “And he has wrestled with depression and been very public with that.”
According to a recent study, depression affects 30% of entrepreneurs. Hyman sees depression as a huge issue in startups, though because he’s not a licensed therapist, he wouldn’t seek to counsel someone regarding their clinical depression. What he hopes to do is lessen the feeling of isolation that founders often experience.
The product that Hyman provides with the “Startup Therapist” is called “office hours.” He meets with entrepreneurs once a week, for an hour, by Skype video conference. In between sessions they also have unlimited access to him via email.
The service is $US1,497 per month, and is currently in beta.
Nick Cromydas, founder and CEO of Hunt Club, is one of Hyman’s beta clients. “I started two companies that failed,” he told Business Insider, though his current one is growing and profitable. “How do I build this to be a successful and sustainable business?” That was the initial question he came to Hyman with.
Cromydas says Hyman has helped him understand what to focus on and prioritise. There are always going to be problems to deal with. “It’s great to have someone who has done what you are trying to do and knows all the emotions that come with it,” Cromydas says. It’s about telling you what is a real fear, something you should work on, and what is irrational from a business perspective.
Hyman sees his main competition as executive coaches, but he says they often lack actual experience as a CEO or founder and are expensive — in fairness, Hyman is expensive as well. But he says in his market research, he’s found that 80% of founders said they didn’t have an alternative, that they’d figure it out by themselves.
Hyman’s theory is that they shouldn’t go at it alone, and Cromydas agrees. “You hear founders say they are crushing it,” Cromydas says. “And then they are out of business in three to four weeks.”
What Hyman provides is a place where founders don’t have to project this facade of strength in an attempt to live up to the legends of people like Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a place where they can admit what they are struggling with to someone who has no dog in the fight, and get advice from someone who has been there before.
The question is now whether people will be willing to pay $US1,497 per month for that service.
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