Starting and running any new venture can be as exciting as it is stressful.
Successful entrepreneurs must continuously develop new skills and as their business grows so does the level of responsibility. Research increasingly points towards growing mental health challenges in the start-up space and in this episode, serial entrepreneur John Peebles shares his insight, scars and experience.
As importantly, John talks about what can be done to help not only entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurial teams. Tune into this strength of feeling episode and discover how John has introduced innovative ways to tackle mental health issues within start-up teams and learn about the impact his initiative is having.
Learn more about the special guest
John Peebles is the CEO of Administrate, a SaaS training management platform, and one of Scotland’s fastest growing tech companies. Headquartered in Edinburgh with offices in Dublin, Bozeman, and Beirut, Administrate is learning infrastructure used by large enterprises to define, deliver, and track their training operations. Hundreds of companies, thousands of users, and millions of learners access Administrate every day.
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A bit of podcast author background...
UK-based Peter Harrington set up his first business following graduation in York in 1989. He has since started and grown several companies in various sectors including research, marketing, design, print, educational software and consultancy. Over the last 30+ years, Peter has employed over 1,000 people and experienced many highs and a few lows including burglaries, floods, fire and of course the most recent pandemic.
As well as being the CEO with the SimVenture team, Peter is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at London South Bank University.
Big thanks to LSE Generate, the SimVenture Team and Seajam Moths for supporting the Startup Survival Podcast.
Find Guest details and all Reference Sources
The full podcast series together with additional materials, guest details and hyperlinks to all episode reference sources is available on Peter Harrington's Blog 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Entrepreneurship'.
Startup Survival Podcast
Series 3 – Episode 6 - Transcript
Speaker 1 (00:12):
Greetings, how are you? Well, I'm absolutely delighted. You can be here on the Startup Survival Podcast with me, your host, Peter Harrington. Now let me get straight to the point about this episode. Mental health has become one of, if not the most important of topics in the startup world yet the subject still remains a bit of a taboo. We openly talk about a visit to the dentist or the doctor, and some even sense pride and a badge of honor when bumps, scrapes, and breaks, send us to A and E, but have a problem with mental health in the UK, at least. Well, that is a subject not for sharing yet. The scars or rather open wounds of mental health in the startup sector are laid bare by the data. For example, research in 2021 by university college Barclay over in the us showed 72% of sampled entrepreneurs self-reported mental health concerns. The study also found entrepreneurs were more likely to report a lifetime history of depression, ADHD, substance use, and bipolar diagnosis. Let's be honest, let's speak Frank. We simply can't ignore what's happening. So this is my plan for this podcast to confront the problem. My special guest, John Peebles will in just a moment, be sharing his thoughts and experience with mental health in the startup world. John will be talking openly about how the stresses and strains of startup affected him personally. And perhaps most importantly will be sharing how his company Administrate is taking a highly enterprising and entrepreneurial approach to tackling mental health.
Speaker 1 (02:10):
Before I bring John into the virtual meeting space, let's reflect for a moment on Elena Hoge and some of the pearls of wisdom she put forward in the previous episode, all about happiness, as well as sharing the value of the simple act of going for a walk each week. Elena reminded me of a famous quote from an entrepreneur. You may have heard about Steve Jobs said he and apple existed at the intersection of liberal arts and technology. Well, Elena and her company, Yaldi Games exist at the intersection of nature and gaming. Elena also highlighted that entrepreneurial happiness is all about combining our passion with our work, knowing where our intersection lies, helps us to find opportunities. And when we work with, and for people that matter to us, we also put ourselves in a better place to find happiness. And many years ago, my parents kindly shared the notion that happiness is simply about the quality of relationships we have with other people, how true being kind and being there for others is so important, not just in our personal, but also our working lives.
Speaker 1 (03:26):
And John Peebles is here for us now and ready to share what I know will be fascinating. And in many ways, groundbreaking thoughts on tackling mental health. John is the CEO of Administrate, a SAR training management platform. And one of Scotland's fastest growing tech companies headquartered in Edinburgh with offices around the world. Administrate is learning infrastructure used by large enterprises to define, deliver, and track their training operations. Now, since mental health is such automotive subject, expect some strong language from the get-go. So here we go, John peoples delighted. You can join me on the Startup Survival Podcast.
Speaker 2 (04:12):
Thanks so much for having me, Peter. It's a pleasure to be here.
Speaker 1 (04:16):
Well, it's a pleasure for me too, John, John, I, I, I know you have both passion and pedigree when it comes to building and growing companies, but a few years ago you found yourself collapsed on a stairwell outside your flat, I believe what was happening to you back then?
Speaker 2 (04:33):
Yeah. So maybe rewind back to 2015. I think it was November of that year. And I had been really struggling for I'd say six to nine months throughout that year. It was a combination of personal stress. I separated from my wife and also work stress Administrate at that time was growing very, very quickly. We had gone from something like 12 folks to about 35 in the span of about six months. And at the same time, we had released a new version of our software that we were really excited about. Unfortunately, the release was how should we put it a total disaster? And so we were sitting there working overtime, trying to get bugs, fixed and deal with customers. And I sent an apology email and all this stuff, and we were raising money as well because we needed additional capital to keep the business moving forward.
Speaker 2 (05:35):
And it just wasn't going well and kind of at the same time, because we were growing so quickly and because we were signing up new contracts and from the outside, it looked like we were living the startup dream. There was this steady stream of press that we hadn't really been pushing. We didn't have a PR firm engaged or anything like that, but you know, you're, you're fighting these battles at home. You're fighting these battles at work and you're trying to raise money. And meanwhile, there's this stream of great press coming out that, you know, really isn't true. And you know, your team knows isn't really true. And this is, you know, common for startups. A lot of times they look a lot better on the outside and they are actually running on the inside, but all of that kind of conspired to the fact that I just, we, we went to a presentation for investors as I started doing the, the presentation room of about 50 people.
Speaker 2 (06:34):
It just, I was like, this room is getting very, very warm and, and I'm feeling hot, and I was wearing a suit, which I almost never do. So, I, I first started to blame it on that, but then I started to get this pinching sensation in my neck. And my, my vision started to kind of constrict a little bit and, you know, I was thinking to myself, oh my gosh, like, you know, I'm going to pass out in front of these people that were asking for money. And, you know, I think like a lot of people when you're going through stressful times, you know, I kept telling myself lights at the end of the tunnel. You know, I I'll, I'll have, I'll have moved out in a couple of weeks from, from my spouse and, and that, that will make things better. And then we'll close this funding round and that will make things better. And then I'll, I'll take a couple weeks and go on a holiday and that would be better. I just gotta push through. Right. And so somehow, I made it through the, the meeting. I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but I remember one of our teammates did say, you know, you look like and, and, you know, go home and get some sleep. And so, I walked a kind of 10 minute walk back to my flat, and as I entered the, the doorway in the hallway, I just collapsed. I never had anything happen like that before. I felt like I was in major physical distress. I really, I couldn't get up. I was, you know, I don't even really remember everything that happened. And I remember thinking at the time, well, at least the funding round will be taken care of because they've got key man insurance on me.
Speaker 2 (08:03):
And there'll be a few million for the company and not everybody, not everything will, you know, be terrible. And that was gonna be my dying thought. I think <laugh>, and you know, I'm, I'm laughing about it now, but at the time it was pretty scary. And I, I think I kind of got to the point where I could get back up and, and somehow made it up the stairs and into, into my flat. And but it, it was one of those episodes where you, you get reminded that we're human and there's this wonderful sci-fi short story that I, that I love thinking about where these cyborg aliens come and they're observing the earth and they, they say to each other, they're made of meat, you know, and that's the title of the story. And, you know, we're made of meat, we're human and our bodies and our minds are, and you can only push yourself so far. And it was kind of at that point where I've always prided myself on being able to push, push, push, push to the limit. But I was definitely reminded that I have limits and I'm not invincible. And, you know, that's, that's where that's where I, I found myself.
Speaker 1 (09:14):
Now you want to talk to me about mental health and the importance of looking after ourselves was that collapse a turning point in your life, John,
Speaker 2 (09:23):
You know, I'm not sure, but I think you could definitely say that it was the beginning of a period of introspection, which, I mean, seems ridiculous now. But at the time I was about 35 years old, I didn't know what personality type I was. I did not learn that I was actually an introvert until about six months to a year after that. And, and that's a pretty important thing to understand actually when in, in terms of taking care of yourself and, and I had never really thought about, are there things that I need to do to take care of myself? Because I think part of it is when you're young, you know, you can, you can battle through a lot of stuff. Physically. I'd always been in great health. I think that in, in many ways, my life I'd lived a charmed life, you know, I had a great childhood and so forth.
Speaker 2 (10:19):
And so, you, you could definitely say that it, at that point, it was the time where I started to realize there's a lot, I don't know about there's a lot that I'm not sure about, and I need to learn some things about myself, and I need to take care of myself a little bit here. Otherwise, this could be a thing that maybe even gonna collapse again, or who knows, maybe there's actual health problems here. So yeah, bit of a Rambly answer, but I think that, you know, it, it's, it's easy for folks that work a lot or have busy lives or get on this treadmill early, which I certainly did in my twenties to, to just wait until they get a wake up call. And I don't think waiting for a wake up call is the best the best course of action in most, in most situations.
Speaker 1 (11:15):
And thinking about your own experience, would you say you are a startup statistical outlier or are problems with mental health in the entrepreneurial industry? Pretty common.
Speaker 2 (11:25):
Yeah, so I I'm, I'm confident that my experience is much, much more common than anyone would think. And I'm confident of that because of the data and the research that I've done around this any mental health professional will be able to just inundate you with depressing statistic after depressing statistic about how prevalent these types of issues are in society. But I'm also confident about it because the more it's like when you've been divorced, right. Once you've been divorced, you start picking up clues about people's relationships that you wouldn't have picked up beforehand even maybe before they're aware of it, right? And it's like, it's same way when you, you start picking up clues that folks are struggling mentally or could be struggling mentally. And in, you know, Edinburg is a very tight knit startup scene, and there's a lot of founders running around here and it's really great, but I've started to, to pick up clues with other CEOs and other leaders and other folks involved in startups. And through my own personal experience, I've just been able to share what I went through. And then, you know, you, you find that many, many other founders and folks involved in startups have been through similar situations and not always maybe have come through it as well as I did cuz I was lucky and I got some help.
Speaker 1 (12:57):
And, and from your experience, what proportion of startup struggle with mental health issues?
Speaker 2 (13:03):
Oh, I, I'd say it's every startup, right? I think, okay. Maybe the, and not every founder necessarily, but I think that the vast majority of founder, 80, 90% of founders or leadership will have experienced some significant mental health issues. And, you know, we, we say this thing, mental health and it sounds scary and honours and whatever, but, you know, it's, it could be as simple as just being stressed to the point where your relationships are suffering at home, or you're not focused on the things that you like to do or you withdraw, right. There's a lot of different ways that this manifests and I'm certainly not an expert, but I can tell you that every CEO I have ever met, including some of the most successful CEOs in certainly in the UK, but also the us I'm talking CEO of Sky Scanner CEO of Zoom met both of those guys, talked through things and they have all said over and over again, that they've all experienced These WFIO moments, right. Which is stands for we're fucked, it's over. And, and that's astonishing when you think about it, you know, Sky Scanner, one of the largest tech exits in, you know, the last 10 years in the UK Zoom, certainly an amazing fairytale of a startup success story. And both of those CEOs have said, yeah, we have had at least a half dozen of these situations. We've certainly had them at Administrate. In fact, I have never met a CEO of a startup who didn't have a WFIO moment that they could, or, or several that they could relay. And when you're faced with that kind of existential point, it's going to prey on your mental health. I don't care who you are. And so, I would say that, you know, if anything, I would be very surprised to meet somebody who said that they hadn't struggled with mental health issues on the startup journey,
Speaker 1 (15:00):
John's thoughts and the statistics in this podcast highlight how prevalent mental health is in the startup world. And on March the 15th, 2022, the BBC reported the NHS. That’s the UK’s national health service received a record 4.3 million referrals for mental healthcare in the previous year. And that's a jump of over half a million people year on year. I think it's fair to say COVID is at the source of this increase. The virus has directly impacted our ability to meet and socialize with others. Now, if you are a regular listener to this show, you'll know, this is the bit where I introduce a book to accompany the podcast, but no single text could ever do justice to the huge issue of mental health. So instead of a book, I'll be talking about the value to all entrepreneurs of having a mentor or better still mentors. Mentors are people we can talk to trust and who listen to us.
Speaker 1 (16:03):
Mentors are people who offer advice that we value. And the good news for startups is the fact mentors typically work for free because they have often worn the shoes with which we are struggling to find comfort. As I'll be sharing later, there is no one size fits all type of mentor, but any mentor you do find is unlikely to be knocking on your door. You have to go looking, you have to go asking the key message I'll be sharing as we work through this episode is the value of having at least one person in your working life with who you can talk to and share thoughts with. This is someone you can share your startup, highs, and lows, and of course receive objective advice and invaluable perspective more on mentors later. But for now, let's get back to my guest, John Peebles, John for startups, particularly in the early years, what are the drivers that cause stress and affect mental health?
Speaker 2 (17:09):
I think it's important to understand that, well, a funny thing about me is that I'm an accidental entrepreneur, so I didn't ever want to start a startup. And I wanted to graduate with a computer science degree and get a nice high paying job and you know, settle down and just program every hour of every day. Cuz that's what I loved. Instead, I couldn't find a job because we were in the middle of the.com bust and everything was being off-shored. And there was this west wing episode, even about how there will never be programmer jobs anymore in the Western world. And that's what everybody thought. And so I had to start my own company in that way and that was a consulting company. So those are pretty, they're, they're a lot easier to manage because you accept a job, you know, you're gonna get paid and so forth.
Speaker 2 (18:04):
And it's kind of a straightforward business to run. After that, I, I was involved in my first startup as the CTO and COO. And it's different particularly when you're trying to get a business off the ground and you're raising money and you're basically trying to shoot the gap right, until you can get revenue in and hopefully become profitable one day or at least start growing. And I think that what I've learned is now that I've been involved with the ministry is that I hate the early-stage stuff. Everybody's got their favourite stage, right. Something I've learned, but I hate the early-stage stuff. And the reason that I hate it is there's just so many variables that can go wrong that are unknowns. And it's like flying a plane in a horrific storm with no instruments. And you're not even sure which airport you're gonna land at and you don't even know how much gas you have left in the tank. And I think that's, that's a, that's a situation that is foreign to, to a lot of people. It's very difficult to replicate that feeling. And it's not until you start a business that you kind of see these problems just coming from all angles. And, and it's, it's difficult. It's much more difficult than people understand. And you know, we like to joke that there's probably probably should be a DSM diagnosis for folks that start startups or, or like starting startups, similar to maybe folks who, you know, like running Ironman competitions. There's just something wrong with us. And I, and I think that the problem is, is that a lot of times people's the, the way that people learn about startups is through movies like the social network or they'll watch a romcom and they'll be some super rich successful entrepreneur running a business out of their amazing flat in New York city. And that's just not how it is. Right. And so, I think what happens is people get, get interested in this and they, they start a company and, and they're off to the races and it just becomes much, much harder than they would've thought. And, and that can be very jarring.
Speaker 1 (20:18):
Yeah. Point well made John the dangers of our perceptions being add odds with reality. If I may, I'd like to move the questions on and consider the taboo surrounding mental health. Why do you think the taboo is so strong in the startup world?
Speaker 2 (20:35):
I think a big reason why the taboo around mental health in startups is even probably more pronounced than the very real taboos that we have in the rest of society is because startups in many ways are a confidence game. They're a confidence game in terms of you as a leader or as a founder or as a leader within a startup, you need to project this era of, we know where we're going and we know what we have to do. And here's the, the, the next steps in order to get there. And if you don't do that, then your team gets spooked. They could go find other jobs; your investors aren't going to potentially invest as much. And so, the whole thing is kind of set or your customers aren't gonna buy from you, right? Because you're trying to get your first or second customer. And so, you're projecting this air of confidence and you need to do that.
Speaker 2 (21:30):
And you know, that there's nothing wrong with that per se. But whenever you start thinking to yourself, Hmm, there could be a chink in the armour, or I'm not feeling so great about these things, or I'm not sure, or this is scary. It's almost like, I think folks, founders in particular leaders are worried that they start pulling the thread on the confidence game and the whole garment unravels. And, and it's just been my experience that a, it's a very lonely job being in leadership or being a, being a founder. And there's not a lot of times that you can talk with somebody who understands what you've gone through, and you know, this is tough for, for any relationships, you know, you come home and, and it's, it's tough being in a relationship with somebody who's in a startup because you know, your, your partner will come home.
Speaker 2 (22:21):
And how was your day? Oh, I, I think we, we had this huge problem. It's, it's all, we're dead. Right. And you'll say, oh, you'll figure it out. Right. And you know, the partner will be like, well, how do you know this is a real problem? And it's like, the thing is your partner's right. You're being a jerk. You know, they, they will figure it out. But the, the reason that a lot of times you get that reaction when you're talking with somebody who's a founder or CEO is because they, they don't know anyone who's been through that. And so, it's very difficult for them to articulate what they're feeling. And I think that's where as founders or folks that are in leadership of startups, talking to other leaders in a safe way, that's non-judgmental. And just listening to the struggles that people are going through is, is really important because then you'll find that CEO to CEO or senior leader to senior leader, you'll get the respect and they'll get the comfort of you saying, look, you're gonna work it out because you usually do. And the worst thing that can happen is you go bust because 95% of most startups do anyway, and then you you'll do another one. Right. And just kind of reframing things a little bit, I think is really important.
Speaker 1 (23:46):
John, as I alluded to earlier, another reason why I'm delighted you are on this show is because your company Administrate is doing some pioneering work with respect to mental health in the startup world. Before I ask you to share what you're doing, can you bring us up to speed with where the company where Administrate is now?
Speaker 2 (24:05):
So today Administrate has about a hundred folks scattered kind of all over the world. We are headquartered in Edinburgh here in Scotland, which is where I'm based. We've had an office in the middle east for the last four or five years out in Beirut in Lebanon. We have had an office in the us in Bozeman, Montana for a number of years. And we just opened up during the pandemic, a new operation in Dublin. So, we've got four offices, but there's folks scattered kind of all over the world as well with remote working. So, we've, we've always had remote working and we've always had these different offices. Our main market is targeted at the United States. So, when you look at the posture of the company, we've got folks from tons and tons of different backgrounds including even some muts like myself, where I'm an American with an American accent, but I grew up in China, but I've lived in Scotland for 10 years and now British. And, you know, you have all these different perspectives and, and cultures. And so, and it's one of the, the things that I love best about working at Administrate, but it also means that when you have this global configuration and you have the, the number of people that we do at the company today, that at any given time, there are a number of people struggling with some pretty scary, sometimes evil, sometimes very, very disturbing stuff. And it could be things that are happening in personal lives, or it could be like what happened in 2020 in Beirut, where there was a massive explosion, one of the largest explosions that that was non-nuclear ever in history destroyed most of our office. Thankfully we were working from home from there. And that type of incident is disturbing to say the least, and these things happen when you're operating around the world.
Speaker 2 (26:01):
So I think in terms of, you know, company size and so forth, we're at the size now where things are happening, <laugh> we, we can't avoid this stuff. And sometimes it's under our control and, and often it's not. And in that, if this stuff is happening to your team and these things are, are happening around the world they're a lot of startups for example, or have operations out of Ukraine or, or Russia right now, these things weigh on people and, and can impact your business. And I think as, as a leader of any business, understanding that this is something that you can help your team navigate through, that you can invest in for not a lot of money and get huge returns is really important and just makes if we're being very, very mercenary about it just makes great business sense. So it, I I'm, I'm really passionate about this idea that you need to need to invest in your workforce on, on many different levels
Speaker 1 (27:07):
Uhhuh, and you have, and you have a very specific and enterprising mental health support initiative running an Administrate. Can you say a bit more about what's happening?
Speaker 2 (27:17):
Yeah. And maybe before I talk about that I'll back up one step and explain kind of the, the framework that we use to approach this. And that is, I've got this dream, right. And this is super cheesy. And when I talk about this our British team sometimes just goes, God, that is so American, right. But it's this dream of building the ultimate human organization. Right. Which is unfortunately hashtag uhoh. But we, this is the dream, right. And you know, you wanna, we wanna build this city on a hill or this startup on a hill and, and what does it mean to be the ultimate human organ organization? And that, that it's, it's squishy and it's hard to define sometimes, but at the more we've engaged with it, the more things like this have popped out. And so one of the things that happened was after I collapsed in the stairwell, I needed help.
Speaker 2 (28:15):
And I, I realized that, but it's like, where, where do you go? You know, you just Google mental, mental health therapist. And I knew myself, and I knew that there's huge inertia with people that are trying to do something that they don't really want to do, or they're afraid of doing, or they're unsure about doing. And I had a a way out, which is I asked my assistant at the time, I just said, look, I haven't shared this with anybody else really, but I've just separated from my spouse. Things are not going well at home. You know, things are not going well here at work. I need you to find me someone and make sure that I go to this person. And if that, if she hadn't been there to, to help with this, I don't think that I, I know I would've put it off for months.
Speaker 2 (29:03):
And so, she, she got after it and she actually went through a few different therapists and interviewed a bunch and found one that specialized in the type of therapy that I think you know, is, is, is really important. It's the human givens, right? You need, need certain needs as, as any human being. And anyway, went to, to a session or two, it really started to help. And then I thought to myself, well, this is significantly enhanced. My personal performance. That's good for the company. There's probably other people that are going through stuff like this within our team. And it doesn't really cost that much, you know, a few thousand pounds a month. And so, we started thinking about how can we provide this to our team and, and cut out that friction because not everybody has an assistant and not everybody has somebody that will make them go. And so, we basically figured out this, this system where it's completely anonymous, we don't know who goes to the therapist. We only know that there are certain slots that are booked. The bookings are made directly with the therapist, the meeting room, where you would go was very close by within our office building, but not within side of our offices. So, you wouldn't be embarrassed to go to that room or that, you know, people didn't know that there was in the, the appointments are staggered. So, you're not gonna bump into your colleague if you, if you were both walking down the hall, for example, and we just rolled it out and said, we have added this therapist to the team. This is the reason why I remember I put up a picture of me getting married. And I said, this has happened. You know, and it was very difficult.
Speaker 2 (30:55):
And I, I was, you know, that was not, the easiest all hands presentation to give. But I, I said, this happened to me. And I went to this individual and they're licensed therapist and they really, really helped. And now we're gonna make this service available to anyone who wants it on our team. And here's how you book an appointment and so forth. And I think what we found was that there were some folks that, that took this up right away, but there was still a huge stigma within the team. And so, we then had to work on solving that problem.
Speaker 1 (31:29):
So how did you do that?
Speaker 2 (31:31):
Yeah. And, so we, we approached this in a couple different ways where I would mention it usually every few weeks and say, we've got this therapist and so forth. We brought the therapist and her name's Dorothy, and she's amazing. We brought Dorothy in and said, you know, she, she gave a kind of an intro session for about 10 minutes for the, for the whole company and explain what it is and what it isn't and so forth. But I was still frustrated because even after doing this for about a year or so, you would find out that there was a team member that was struggling with something, and they would wait all the way to the very end and then explode. And you'd be like, well, have you thought about going and booking an appointment with Dorothy? No, I haven't. Well, I I've been, it helps.
Speaker 2 (32:25):
There's a lot of people talk to anyone else who's been, it helps. And then they would go, and then a, a few weeks later, a month later, invariably, they'd come back and say, I went, and it helped. And so, it was kind of like, how do we short circuit this? And I, I think, you know, culturally, we saw also a lot of variation, Americans were much more comfortable going to a therapist. You know, Celtic countries are very much not comfortable with this at all. And the middle east was probably somewhere in between, but what we ended up doing was now it's part of our onboarding. And so, when you get hired to Administrate, you have a whole bunch of things to do. Well. One of them is you have to have a welcome session one hour with Dorothy, and it's just about explaining, here's what it is and now you've been right.
Speaker 2 (33:18):
And now, you know what it is, and your life is probably fine or whatever, when you get hired or you're not in a kind of an emergency scenario, but then when those things happen or those situations crop up, then you we've removed some of that friction inertia. And I, I think that has made a big difference. And so, I'm really pleased with that. And now we can say, you know, the whole company has been, and so you're part of a team and you're part of a club that's all been. And, and, and that's been really, really successful. I think
Speaker 1 (33:48):
And to clarify therapy at administrators completely free.
Speaker 2 (33:52):
Yeah. Completely free. And you know, it, people, sometimes I, I mention this to, to other, you know, we, we talk about it and other seals will say, well, how much does this cost? And, you know, we're talking a few thousand pounds a month. I, if you could pay or invest a few thousand pounds in your workforce and get outsize returns and get people back to work quicker and, you know, have their home lives be better. And their work product improve. I think any of us would do that. But I think some, somehow people in, in their minds just think, oh, this is tens of thousands of pounds. It's not, it's extremely reasonable, extremely affordable, incredible investment that any business can make
Speaker 1 (34:35):
Uhhuh. And I imagine, especially with COVID sessions have moved online.
Speaker 2 (34:40):
Yeah. I mean, so we prefer, it's always best, I think, to, to do it in person, however, we're a global company and, you know, not everybody can, can turn up, we're looking to, to solve that problem, particularly in the us for our team there, but with COVID with things had to move virtual and, and, and move to Zoom. We also saw a, a large uptick in people taking up sessions. And I, that made me really happy because there was no escaping the fact that that was a difficult time in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people. And so, to see that our team was recognizing that they were going through a tough time and then doing things to, to help themselves was, was really neat. And, and actually during COVID one of the things that we also started doing, which I think has, has been really great is we told our, our team that they, that they can gift sessions to folks because sometimes our team members were just fine, but things were happening, you know, somebody's parents died, and somebody's son was having an issue and so forth.
Speaker 2 (35:55):
And so, you know, now we have our team basically mindful of the fact that they can give sessions to their F friends or family, people, they meet on the street, whatever it is. And that's been really neat to see that too. And, and we kind of say, you know, look you, you may save a life one day. If you can just give a session, it doesn't have to be this long-term thing necessarily. But we've found that that's been a really positive update to, to this.
Speaker 1 (36:26):
Implicit in what you are saying, John is the fact that the service you are providing is for the whole entrepreneurial team. This isn't something just for the entrepreneurial leaders.
Speaker 2 (36:37):
That's right. And I think it's really important to understand too, sometimes founders and CEOs get together and we're like, oh, you know, nobody understands. And you know, we're on this, we're in this lonely island of responsibility and, you know, this is difficult cross to bear and all this stuff. Right. And that's all true. However, one thing that I have learned over the last 10 years is that it does not matter what level you're at within an organization. It does not matter what job you're doing. You are going to experience the same stressors and the same anxiety at times about your job. It just because my budget is millions and millions of dollars, and you're trying to ship a new feature on time, you know, for your, for your team. It, it does not, it does not change the physiological reaction or the, the mental stress load. And, and I think that that's really important to understand when as leaders, our, our teammates and our colleagues and our teams are they really care and they're working really, really hard. And just because somebody's not quite hitting the mark or, you know, we're falling behind or whatever it does not mean that people don't want to do an outstanding job. And particularly in a startup, a lot of times you can't do an outstanding job for a whole bunch of different reasons. Some of them you wanna solve because that's the goal, but it just means that there are gonna be folks that are struggling, that, you know, that are afraid that have things happening at work. And that's just the work side of the coin that they go home and something terrible happens there or, or affects them or, or whatnot. And, you know, I think, I think that we just, we just don't know what people are going through. People are really good at hiding things, and I am too, you know, but kind of cutting through that and making sure that, that you're looking out for the whole team and the business as a whole is, is super important.
Speaker 1 (38:47):
And John, just finally, on this section, can I ask about what feedback you have had with regards to the initiative and assuming you have had feedback, are you able to sense or measure the difference being made?
Speaker 2 (39:02):
Yeah, so, because it's anonymous, we don't keep stats on, you know, so, and so went we don't, we don't have anything like that. We do know how many sessions that our team goes to, and we know how many sessions were given away in any given year. And I'm really proud of that stat. It's something we roll out at the end of every year, and we update the company and it it's one of those things that I'm genuinely very, very proud of that we accomplish every year in terms of feedback. We, I, I think it's been really interesting because you just get feedback all the time. Unsolicited from folks who have been a lot of times, it's something happened, and I didn't want to go, or I was afraid of going. And then I went, and it made it feel better. Or this, this particular session with the therapist was incredible.
Speaker 2 (40:01):
And, and life changing for me, the, the, the range and the amount of folks that have provided positive feedback around this is, is pretty incredible. I don't think anyone has ever gone to a session and felt like it was a waste of time. Not everybody needs to go all the time. Not everybody goes regularly, but it's just been, it's been really interesting to think. What if we hadn't been doing this over the last few years, what, where would we be then? What would our retention look like? What would we have missed key things because people were, were not at their best, you know, the, the, the line is very fine in, in startups between success and failure. And because of the amount of positive feedback, it kind of haunts you a little bit to think what if we hadn't been doing this.
Speaker 1 (40:57):
I'll be talking with John again in a moment, but for now, let me get back to the subject of mentors. I mentioned earlier, a mentor is someone who looks out for us, someone who asks how we are doing what life is like in the business. And they, they really want to know because without that information, they can't offer any meaningful advice or support contrary to popular belief. There are many different types of mentors and in a completely separate podcast series, I presented for the London school of economics. I spoke with mentor expert, Amanda Dickens about this issue. And Amanda revealed eight different types of mentors and had names for each. These names included iconic, practical identity, reverse co-pilot champion, anchor, and critically the mentor who is simply our friend. Now Amanda's message is that startups can have multiple mentors. And they, they come in all shapes and sizes, but perform slightly different roles.
Speaker 1 (41:58):
Some champion, our cause others are people who inspire. And then there's the friend mentor. Someone who come up me is always there. Someone you can talk to and share what's happening in your business without fear of being judged or breaking confidence. And now back in 2020, I remember listening to the broadcaster, Roman Kemp talk about his battle with depression. And now he had sadly lost a very good friend who chose to take his own life. But amidst that wretched news. Roman also offered some very pragmatic advice, which has stayed with me. And he said, when we ask others how they are, we typically get an automated, oh, I'm fine response. So Roman recommended that when looking out for the people close to us, we must ask how they are a second time. So, people know, we really want to know the truth about their welfare. This simple act of friendship has the potential to make a huge difference. Now, I am no mental health expert, but I do know John peoples has a little more to share with us. So, so back to him, John, looking towards the conclusion of this podcast, but looking forward with hope, what is your message to startups and entrepreneurial teams? These are the teams who may be worried about what the future holds or are suffering right now. What can people do to help improve their mental health?
Speaker 2 (43:34):
My thoughts around startups and mental health, and how do we get ahead of this before it becomes a problem kind of revolve maybe in two spheres. The first is one of the things that I see a lot with startups, particularly early-stage startups. And particularly first time founders is this tendency to compare themselves against something they read in tech crunch or something they just saw on Twitter or something that they heard about at the latest networking thing that they've been to that is really, really dangerous because there is always gonna be somewhere out someone out there in the world who has raised more money than you, who has a higher growth rate than you, who has a better VC than you, who has a product that has been adopted more than you. And with the kind of flattened global startup scene, if you will, where everybody's talking about things on Twitter, and you know, this confidence game that I mentioned earlier is being played globally on a global stage.
Speaker 2 (44:39):
And it can be very, very easy and seductive to get drawn into this idea that we need to be doing better and more and harder and faster. And, you know, you can always improve. You can always look at your business and, and tweak it and make improvements, but, but really comparison is the thief of joy. And that's something that is hard for me because I'm very competitive. I think it's hard for a lot of founders and folks who work in startups, but it understanding that principle I think is, is really, really important because every startup has their own journey. Every startup has a gap year that was told to me actually, by a funder that I was talking to a few years ago. And it's not always this fairy tale ride that everybody thinks. And as if you can give yourself the freedom to understand that, that then sets you up for potentially avoiding a huge, a huge amount of problems, where, where you're constantly feeling worn down or, or beaten down because you're comparing yourself to others.
Speaker 2 (45:48):
So that's kind of thing. Number one, I think thing, number two that I think about is just, just being vulnerable enough as a leader to talk about the fact that you're worried about X or you're scared about Y or you're concerned about Z, or we need to really, really focus on thing. Number one, over here that does a few things that basically focuses your organization. It also helps people identify with the fact that, Hey, my leaders are vulnerable and, and they're people just like me. And also, it helps really teams engage with these problems. And, and I think the transparency that basically sharing and being vulnerable with your team can the, the value that that transparency can provide is it, it can be hard to cut through all the noise in a startup, but if you say, look, I'm worried about this, or I'm, I'm, I'm concerned about that.
Speaker 2 (46:53):
Then it really helps focus a group and you'll you'll solve problems better, quicker, faster, normalizing the idea that people are struggling with stuff in life or at work is very important as well. So, one of the things we do at Administrate is at the start of every meeting, we'll basically go around and everybody says, what colour they are today, green, yellow, or red, right? And if you're red, we stop and we ask, and the person can share or not what's going on. And we see if we can solve that issue, but at least, even if we can't solve the issue, we'll know that that person is under stress or emotional duress. And if they're a little snappy or whatever, people, people just know, and it can change the dynamic a lot in these meetings when you know, what, what people are kind of struggling with.
Speaker 2 (47:45):
So, I think, I think in terms of going forward, I've been so encouraged by the fact that, you know, I don't know why I thought this, but I thought, well, we're gonna start talking about this. And everybody will just ignore us or it won't resonate. And I've been really, really encouraged in Edinburgh, in particular talking about this with other CEOs. Other CEOs have been quick to incorporate this into their own companies. It was really, really touching for me personally, when about a year or two ago, we wrote a blog post on a mental health awareness and Chris McCann, who is the CEO of what was then snap 40 now, current health, which just got acquired for 400 million, about three, four months ago. He shared how he had needed to, to talk to a therapist. And you know, that was something that I suggested to him.
Speaker 2 (48:47):
And then he rolled that out at his company. And I mean easily, one of the, the biggest startup successes in the last, you know, five, 10 years in at least in healthcare tech, in, in the UK. And here's a guy being vulnerable and open with his team and then, and then rolling and being receptive to, to trying something out. And that was really, that was really touching for me. And, you know, I, it's been neat to see other founders go to a session, come out of it, rejuvenated and excited. And, you know, the, these companies sometimes take 10 to 15 years and we've gotta make it for the long haul. And we've gotta understand that. And if we are not understanding that we're setting ourselves up for failure.
Speaker 1 (49:31):
Comparison is the thief of joy. Wow. Such a powerful and compelling line. John, everything you have just shared has been so incisive and generous. And what you've said also reminds me about the importance of managing expectations, a key issue from the previous episode about happiness. Now I have no idea where time has gone, John, and I've found myself on at least two occasions forgetting about the next question, because I'm so tuned into what you're saying is it's, this has been really great, but sadly, we have arrived at the station called last question as with all guests, John, that I meet on the show, I must ask if you have a book, a resource or a top tip that you'd like to share with listeners that will help them with the management of their, their mental health.
Speaker 2 (50:20):
It, it's a great question, and I probably should have prepared a list of resources before on this, on this. But what I've found is that, you know, I'm not a mental health expert by, by any means, and there's all kinds of different therapies. And there are folks that really know a lot more than I do. I think for me, my biggest suggestion to folks is just, just experience a session with a therapist once get over that initial inertia. And that will really help you at some point in your life. I think the other suggestion that I would make is try to spend a little time thinking about yourself, take a personality test. There's a bunch of them. There's all, you know, people have opinions for and against all of them, but try to just start understanding yourself a little bit. What, what makes me tick believe it or not.
Speaker 2 (51:19):
I think a lot of people don't do this and I think that that can, can impact their relationships and how they approach things. It's funny. Most people that know me would bet the farm that I'm an extrovert because I love telling stories and I love public speaking. And I love going to parties and hanging out with folks and, you know, it's, it's all of that stuff, but I'm not. And it, we joke about this, or I joke about this because every year we, we have our big customer conference and all of our customers fly in from all over the world. And it's two days of just amazing content. And we go on a pub crawl and restaurants and food and all this stuff. And at the end of it, I'm always like, this is my annual reminder that I'm not an extrovert, right. I am just exhausted, right.
Speaker 2 (52:11):
Complete. I just need to go and spend a day alone in my flat, in the dark, you know, and, and just knowing that can help with, with tackling life. And so, you know, people are really good at Googling stuff and finding resources and so forth. I, I think there's a lot of great books out there. Maybe I'll send over a list to you after this. We can put up, but I just think that, that spending a little time knowing yourself and getting that initial session out of the way with a therapist is so important. And life's gonna throw you some curve balls, and then, then you'll be a little bit better prepared when that happens.
Speaker 1 (52:51):
Listening to that, John. I'm so glad you didn't prepare an answer, but as I mentioned, we have to prepare for our departure and to do that. Let me thank you for being such a kind generous and inspirational guest here on the Startup Survival Podcast.
Speaker 2 (53:09):
Well, thanks so much for having me. It was, it was fun to chat and hopefully it makes a difference. And you know, people like yourself that are getting the word out there about what it's really like in a startup are doing good work. So always happy to help very much appreciate your time.
Speaker 1 (53:30):
John Peebles, an entrepreneur in far more ways than one. He doesn't have to do what he is doing. He doesn't have to spend time away from his busy working life sharing what they do at Administrate, but he does. And for that, we are all the richer. And if you've enjoyed listening to John and you know, someone in your network who you think could add value as a mentor to your working life, don't wait for them to approach you. They may say no, but they may also be flattered that you consider them important and valuable enough to act as a mentor for you. Now, in the next episode, we journey to a different place altogether. I'm going to be joined by highly enterprising and energetic, who will be talking to me about the emotional subject of empathy and sharing his entrepreneurial and sustainable work with local communities.
Speaker 1 (54:28):
Derek Utley is both a deep thinker and inspiration to hundreds, if not thousands of people. And Derek has this uncanny ability to bring individuals together and work with them as a volunteer in so many different environments. Now, since I'm taking a bit of an Easter break, that episode, episode seven in this series will be published on Thursday, the 21st of April, but back to the present, because I must bring this sixth episode to a close. First of all, thank you, Duncan for all your production and Silla for all your editorial support. And I must add with a grateful nod Cilla who suggested John Peebles be a guest on this show. And of course, thank you to our special guest, John for giving his time and putting the spotlight on mental health in the startup world and what can be done by all of us to tackle the issue. And before we close, don't forget your podcast. Feedback is not just welcomed. It's needed, share what you really like and let me know what needs to be improved and whatever your listening channel of preference. Please, please remember to rate, review, and subscribe until next time. My name's Peter Harrington, and this has been your Simventure sponsored Startup Survival Podcast. Go well, stay safe. And thank you.