When it’s not all good, ask for help

When I first heard the news of Jody Sherman’s passing my heart sank. The news would later confirm my biggest fear—what I dreaded most. He had taken his own life.

Only a week earlier, a mutual friend had reconnected Jody and I. We had met once before and I had sat on a panel with him another time. We had done some co-marketing between our companies, but nothing major. Now it sounded as though he could use some additional help on the marketing side. I could understand that, knowing the ups and downs of an inventory-based business.

I didn’t know Jody terribly well but admired him greatly. I was glad to help him. He needed to meet early that Sunday, and my local coffee shop wasn’t yet open. So we met at my office around the corner. We talked for a good hour before he left to drive that long road back to Las Vegas. We shared war stories. We had suffered similar wounds running similar businesses—similar victories as well. It was immediately clear we should have been talking much more this past year. In the end, it was also clear we could use each others help, and we had started to outline a few ideas.

As we walked to our respective cars, we laughed and joked about various things. He told me about all the exciting things happening in Vegas and his future plans. He drove off in the opposite direction, and I felt as though I had just gained a new friend and ally. I was excited about that and went home immediately to gush to my wife about our meeting. Even though Jody was a fairly candid person, I unfortunately didn’t know just how much help he must have really needed. And now I’m struggling with a great number of questions in that regard. I know I can’t change the past, but this tragedy has truly consumed me. I hope that now (and with your support) we can begin an open dialogue about suicide and the pressures founders face. It’s time.

To the other founders out there, please know this if nothing else:

  • Having a start-up today is not about crushing it. It’s about not getting crushed.
  • We are always on the brink of making it big or losing everything.
  • Your company sits atop a pendulum, and you won’t be able to control how it swings.
  • Every other founder and startup is going through the same challenges you are. You are not alone.

So please, founders, I beg of you. When it feels as though there’s no hope left, please ask for help. Ask for it directly and without shame. Talk to your family, investors, lawyers, mentors, friends, or even enemies. Just talk to someone. Talk openly; be candid and unafraid to reveal your struggles. I know that sometimes you just want to run face first into a wall before asking for help. Stop it. I know that sometimes you literally want to go into a fetal position and hide from the world. Please don’t.

I was to the edge and back a few times this past year with my business and own depression. I was not afraid to talk about that with colleagues, friends, family, and now publicly. I was lucky to have a support network that took me through the darkest times. I understand that not everyone has this though. So in honor of Jody, I want to make myself available. If you’re about to lose it, please contact me. If you just need to talk about your business, investor problems, love life, or anything, please contact me.*

As I was and have been overwhelmed with requests I encourage folks in serious trouble to seek professional help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. In some cases I’m not able to get back to you in a timely manor although you’re always welcome to contact me if you just need to vent and get something off your chest.



** Updated years later (2021)

So many years since this post and it still gets a few views and every now and then I get an email. Much has changed since then and I feel the topics covered here are more openly discussed. As far as me, and perhaps as a by-product of this whole experience I moved to Norway to get a better quality of life. I wrote a few books about that experience working with and living with Norwegians. I no longer work myself crazy or have much stress when I do work. Life is good.


3 responses to “When it’s not all good, ask for help”

  1. I have started 3 companies since the mid 90s. I read this, about the ups and downs, and just found myself nodding and agreeing with what you wrote.

    It’s a tough subject, because every founder feels like they have to constantly appear completely upbeat and sell the idea that they have no problems at all. It’s a tough, tough environment, and it wasn’t until my 3rd (and current) company that I learned to let go and talk to people when times were challenging. Thanks for writing this, if it helps even 1 person avoid unspeakable tragedy, it’s all worth it.

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