The Merantix Founders Community
Founding a company is challenging, not only from a business perspective but also for the founders personally. As a founder, you experience a lot of stress and uncertainty. Most of the time, you are on your own with problems you have never encountered. In the early stages, you have to do several tasks you are entirely clueless about since you cannot possibly be an expert on everything. Therefore, you are constantly out of your comfort zone.
On top of that, you take financial risks, not only for yourself but also employees and investors, entrusting you with their money. Of course, this struggle is, to some extent, part of being a founder. Often, people who manage this kind of pressure grow fast during the early stages of their company and come out of the process not only as better business people but also with more robust personalities.
A community for all aspects of founding
Approaching this problem at Merantix, we recognise that we can not take away the uncertainty and the stress from the founder's journey, but there is a lot that we can do to help our founders manage it. That is why we emphasise a strong founders' community that helps overcome the operational and mental struggles of building a company. Different formats, like our weekly Founders' Lunch, the monthly Founders' Forum and our bi-annual Founders' Retreat, build the backbone around which a community emerges.
Of course, operational problems are not entirely separable from personal issues. Often there is a clear reciprocity ruling between what seems to be "just work" and what seems to be "just personal". While founding, it is impossible to separate personal life from work. If it is your company you are building, it gets personal. Business problems, therefore, become emotional problems and vice versa. Likewise, all the formats we offer our founders address operational and personal issues simultaneously, even if they focus more on one or the other.
No one is born a perfect founder. Successful founders instead grow into their roles during the journey. The relevant question for us at Merantix is whether we can create an environment that accelerates this growth. We think the answer to this question is a clear "Yes!". People will always learn and develop faster in a conducive setting. We thus created a working environment for our founders, which entails quick help if they need it, short feedback cycles and a strong community of founders they can rely on.
Besides being in close contact with the Merantix team, it is essential for us that our founders have a strong connection with each other and a network they can lean on. That is why our founders meet each other every week at the Founders' Lunch. This lunch is an informal round where we order some food, and the founders can exchange their thoughts on whatever issue is bothering them. People share their experiences with hiring, selling and other business-related topics, and everyone gets an overview of what the others are currently working on. That way, we ensure that the largest possible number of brains is working on a given problem.
To take the exchange from the Founders' Lunch to the next level, we organise the Founders' Forum once a month. This small conference is a more formal and structured meeting. Usually, we focus on a topic that has come up repeatedly during the Founders' Lunch, either a tough nut to crack or something with which every founder has to deal. In the past, we often had topics such as hiring, fundraising or sales that are vital for every startup's success. The concrete format we choose differs from problem to problem. For example, one founder may open up with a small presentation based on their experience, followed by an extensive discussion. Sometimes, if we have a specific topic we want to discuss, we start with a silent meeting during which everyone quietly types their thoughts in a large document. Afterwards, we review everything and draw a synthesis before moving on to the next topic. Through the forum, our founders get a better perspective of the problems they are dealing with and a better connection to the other founders who are often working on the same problems. This sense of not being left alone with a problem is a crucial part of the community we are trying to create.
Of course, we do not want our founders to remain solely in the Merantix bubble. To avoid any echo chamber effects, we regularly host expert talks, inviting external experts from our network to conduct intimate sessions with our founders. We invite highly accomplished people in a particular part of building a company, such as team development, hiring or marketing. The experts give a short lecture on their respective topics, followed by a long discussion. Learnings out of these sessions get captured for our internal knowledge management.
The operational challenge of founding a company is significant. But we should not underestimate the mental struggle that comes along with the journey. No wonder most founders feel overwhelmed, stressed or even depressed. Recently, the phenomenon of Founder Depression has been getting more attention. A study by Freeman et al. found that most entrepreneurs (72%) report mental health concerns. These results indicate that the ability to sustainably handle the pressure of founding a company is something we need to address to build successful companies and increase the well-being of founders.
However, seeing the reported mental health struggles as a mere consequence of founding a startup seems to miss a crucial part of the picture. Indeed, people with traits associated with certain mental conditions seem to be more inclined to start a company and be more successful. As Freeman et al. point out, 49% of founders report having one or more lifetime mental health conditions such as depression, ADHD, substance use condition or bipolar diagnosis. The study suggests that several traits that typically come with the above mental conditions are mission-critical for starting a company and might be why these people feel disproportionately driven into founder positions. Among these traits are creativity, innovativeness, achievement motivation, risk propensity, and the desire to work in high-pressure environments. In addition, Freeman et al. refer to a growing body of research suggesting that these conditions contribute to founders' success.
At Merantix, we are eager to create an environment in which everyone can reach their potential and develop as a person. For this reason, we developed different ways of helping our founders navigate their journey. We often organize external coaches who work with them over a long period. Depending on the case, this can be another business professional from the same field, a mental health coach or even a spiritual Guru. The idea of founder coaching is mainly to help reflect on problems. You face thousands of challenges, and more often than not, you already know the solution. But you need someone who has seen a lot of similar situations to talk you through it and help you structure your thoughts. That way, you often get a better perspective. Usually, founders discuss a mixture of personal and “How should you manage the situation if you decide that you need to lay a person off?”, “How do you communicate this to the employee?”and “How do you speak about it to the rest of your team?” Although these questions are all related to business, they could not be more personal.
Since business and personal life are so much entangled, it is important for a founder to effectively deal with stress in their personal life. What if you have a family problem? How does it affect your work? When do you decide you need a break? It helps if you have someone with an outside perspective who is not judging you and has no expectations of you to talk through these kinds of questions. Founding a company is like putting your life into a pressure cooker. Everything gets thrown together under high pressure and much heat. You do not only risk ingredients getting overcooked, but everything might end up in an explosion.
Moreover, two times a year, we organise our Founders' Retreats. At these retreats, we gather all our funders in a lovely location and spend three days with each other. The main goal here is to spend undisturbed time together and work on us as persons. At past retreats, for instance, we had sessions with coaches who taught us techniques around the topic of mental performance and how to decide which activities give you energy and which activities cost you energy and how to incorporate this into your life. Other examples include us learning how to coach other people or how to give the right kind of feedback. Overall, these retreats aim at developing our founders into the strong leaders they need to be to bring their companies to success. Furthermore, the people on these retreats develop a unique bond of trust.
To get back to the beginning of the article, it is clear that we cannot build successful companies without going through mental hardship and solving tough problems. Nevertheless, we create companies and we do so because we are confident that the struggle is worth it. For these reasons, it is not only our aim to build great companies but also to build a community of founders that supports each other in business and personal life, no matter what. We, therefore, see it as our mission to provide the best operational and personal assistance possible and foster the growth of this community that our founders and we highly value.