Monzo founder mental health struggles: UK tech founders share personal tips for coping with stress during pandemic
Last week the UK tech world was brimming with the news of Monzo founder, Tom Blomfield’s announcement to leave the challenger bank amid increasing pressure on his mental wellbeing. “I don’t think I was any different, so I was really struggling,” Blomfield said reportedly.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused exceptionally challenging and worrying times for each and every one of us. Where does that leave our tech entrepreneurs? UKTN decided to ask ‘one question’ to some of the most significant founders in the UK tech ecosystem: What are the most effective techniques they were following to manage stress during these COVID-times and what would they suggest to other founders?
Rebekah Brown, founder, Mpowder: Be creative with virtual interactions
The dynamic Rebekah Brown, CEO and founder, Mpowder the new e-commerce brand providing nutritional powders for women experiencing the menopause, says, “As a founder who launched their business during the pandemic, the heightened hyper vigilance and anxiety that we’ve all been feeling, was layered on top of startup pressure from the get-go. The most powerful habit we’ve introduced as a team, is a weekly ‘Wonder Walk’. It is the one meeting that is mandatory.”
She reveals, “The principle is simple. We dial into an audio conference, put on our coats, stick in our headphones, make a thermos and walk our local streets whilst sharing the wins and challenges of the week. Being made to leave our desks at a set time, regardless of deadlines (or weather) always makes things better. Besides the fact it is always good to talk to people you love, the reason for that increased happiness vibe lies in the science of movement. The act of moving moves us.”
Kane Harrison, founder, Wombat: Believe in perseverance
Wombat, which is the UK’s first thematic & curated fractional investment app was founded in 2017 by Australian-born Kane Harrison, who is also the CEO of the startup. He says, “I’ve treated the mental strain of the pandemic by focusing on the balance between my personal and work life. I walk my dog twice a day and keep in touch with family and friends through FaceTime over the weekends.”
Harrison adds, “I also made sure to continue meeting with my network when it was perceived that outside investment would be stripped back when we were fundraising last year.” Wombat is still in the early days of development and has raised a total investment of £600K.
He suggests fellow founders in the industry follow perseverance, face the issues, manage goals and be with the team at a time of extremely rational decisions for the business.
Dag Larsson, co-founder, Doccla: Challenge yourself!
Doccla is a London-based healthtech startup specialising in virtual wards and it has been undoubtedly an exhausting time for them, but they’re proud of what they’re doing.
Dag Larsson, CEO and co-founder of Doccla says, “COVID-19 has been incredibly trying, and stress levels have never been higher. It’s taken a toll on me as I am doing less exercise, eating worse and working more than ever before. The pandemic has accelerated the demand for our services by five years. A greater workload means that my role as husband and father is being somewhat compromised. Even with all this stress, I consider myself lucky, as I’m not being choked out without being able to say goodbye to my loved ones. So really, I’m in no position to complain.”
One of his effective formulas, which he points to, is a “boring one” to reduce alcohol and exercise regularly. “With some success, I have tried to challenge myself with 30 days yoga and meditation apps,” adds Larsson.
Ritam Gandhi, founder, Studio Graphene: Switch off from work
Software and app developer Studio Graphene build apps, websites and IoT software for brands including Coca-Cola, Mars, Nesta, and Huckletree. Ritam Gandhi, founder and director, tech developer Studio Graphene says, “The nature of being a founder is, there’s always a fire to put out. But this reality has been compounded by the many stresses and unprecedented changes brought on by the pandemic.
Gandhi believes that finding ways to manage stress along the way is the key to successfully navigating uncharted waters. But of course, that’s easier said than done. “A habit that I have built throughout 2020 has been setting a distinction between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to work around the clock, but I realised soon that working at all hours just because you can often do more harm than good. It leads to unnecessary anxiety and even resentment.”
He also emphasises on “Communicating openly about any concerns that you may have is extremely valuable.” Further he suggests straying away from making definitive plans for the future. “No one can confidently predict what will happen a week from now, let alone months into the future. Giving yourself the necessary breathing space to take things as they come is perhaps the greatest way of avoiding anxiety and disappointment when things aren’t going exactly to plan.”
Chloe Macintosh, founder, Kama: A 13-minute sound bath
Exploring the sextech space with a new and innovative sexual wellness app, Chloe Macintosh, CEO and founder, Kama says, “It has been particularly difficult to see how hard the past few months have been for my team, all of whom are young and from overseas, who have been locked-down in London unable to see family and friends. It’s not easy to know how best to support them.”
“Luckily we are in the business of understanding how to take care of your body and mind. I feel better by shaking out the stress three times a day. I also fit in 2x 10-minute workouts and always fit in some sky gazing when the sun goes down – a game-changer that helps to relax your eyes’ ciliary muscle after staring at screens all day. I finish the day with a 13-minute sound bath.”
Richard Latham, founder, Wellmind Health: Support wellbeing
Richard Latham, founder and CEO of Wellmind Health, the UK-founded provider of clinically proven digital healthcare programmes says, “The reduction of face-to-face contact and the resulting shift to remote working has led to unprecedented interest in mental health apps among health professionals, companies and individuals – and more fintech leaders are turning to them.
At a very basic level, simply maintaining social contact with colleagues via phone or video calls helps provide them with the opportunity to share their feelings if they are struggling. It alleviates isolation and reminds people that they are not alone, and support tools are there if they need them. Whatever options you choose to pursue, prioritising and working to improve and maintain your own as well as your teams’ mental health is a pivotal part of supporting wellbeing.”
Fiona Roach Canning, co-founder, Pollinate: Embrace and move on
The women in fintech, Fiona Roach Canning, co-founder and Chief Product & Marketing Officer at Pollinate says, “When we first entered lockdown, I was sent a cartoon of a woman with multiple arms, representing the number of jobs that fell disproportionately to women during lockdown. Childcare, housework and generally adjusting to a life without your usual support network, whilst still holding down a job.”
Pollinate, which hopes to transform merchant acquiring for small and medium-sized businesses closed its funding round on £70 million during the pandemic. Canning says, “Adjusting to remote working in the first four weeks was hard and for me and the most important thing was to continue to believe in myself. Life is a journey and we have to embrace the twists and turns and that a life path and career path are never linear. It has never been more important to remember that, especially now during the pandemic. I made sure that the Pollinate team did not ignore their downtime and all managed to take a break when they needed it, as well as trying to maintain a sense of normality.”
Barney Wragg, co-founder, Karakuri: Breaks are refreshing
Based out of London, Karakuri is a robotics startup that unveiled the world’s first automated canteen to make personalised meals and closed a £6.3 million investment during the pandemic. Barney Wragg, CEO and co-founder of Karakuri says, “Before pandemic, I saw my co-founder struggle with mental health and was acutely aware of how far-reaching the impact of one person’s struggles can have on our small team. When COVID-19 hit, I made sure that not only I take care of myself but also that of our growing team.”
Emerged from the Founders Factory venture studio, Karakuri was co-founded by former ARM employees, Barney Wragg and Simon Watt alongside Brent Hoberman. Wragg emphasises, “Video calls can’t replace real meetings, so we put extra focus on team communication,” and “it’s important for people to get away from their work and refresh.”
Jeff Lynn, Founder, Seedrs: Family time is the best cure
Speaking about his tecniques to cope with pandemic stress, Jeff Lynn, Chairman and Founder of Seedrs, the leading investment platform from UK says, “The best thing I did was convert my morning commute into time spent playing with my daughter and having breakfast with her. Suddenly I was able to sleep until 7, have some family time, and still be at my desk by 8 — which has been a nice way to start the day. Likewise, taking a proper break for lunch with my wife most days has been an important part. I’d love to say I also became a devoted runner, learned a new hobby along the way — that certainly didn’t happen, and I’ve still had plenty of stress, but the added time with family has been a big help.”