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Startup success at risk due to founder wellbeing: KPMG Report

A report by KPMG High Growth Ventures – Fitness, Fulfilment and Foresight – has shown that startup founders are putting their business performance at risk due to a lack of prioritisation over their health and wellbeing.

This is despite recognising that their personal performance directly impacts their startup. 

  • Only 1 in 5 founders is satisfied with their mental wellbeing and stress levels
  • Lack of exercise is a top concern, while 70% spend nothing on improving mental wellbeing

Surveying 167 founders and 35 Venture Capital (VC firm representatives, including experts in the health and wellbeing space itself who happen to be founders themselves, the report found that although 40% of founders were satisfied with their startup progress, only 22% were satisfied with their stress and mental wellness. Just 20% saw a counsellor or therapist in the past year, and 70% spent nothing on their mental health.

Amanda Price, Head of High Growth Ventures, KPMG Australia, commented: “A founder’s mental and physical wellbeing is critical to the overall success of any new venture. If we are to help more startups succeed we need to ensure that we encourage founders to acknowledge the connection between their health and the performance of their startup. Only by helping more founders achieves sustained high performance can we help Australia’s startup eco-system to truly thrive on the global stage.”

“If Australia is to truly enable innovation and build the next generation of tech businesses, we need to help more founders unlock high performance within themselves and their teams. This research reveals the strains being placed on founders when it comes to the pressures of success and demonstrates how founders deprioritise their physical health and mental wellbeing as time and stress pressures increase,” she added.

Key findings at a glance:

  • 40 percent are satisfied with startup progress
  • 22 percent are satisfied with stress and mental wellness
  • 19 percent are satisfied with physical activity
  • 70 percent spend nothing on mental health
  • 19 percent take no annual leave
  • 61 percent take no sick leave

A lack of physical activity was reported as the biggest cause of dissatisfaction for founders, and more than half (56 percent) said this this lack of exercise was the main reason they felt overwhelmed. Most (56 percent) reported doing less than two hours of physical activity per week, with close to a third (29 percent) doing less than an hour. And given an “extra hour from a genie”, founders would prefer to spend this on physical exercise (32 percent) than with friends and family (26 percent).

Top reasons for feeling overwhelmed  
Not exercising enough 56%
Too busy with work 53%
Not enough time to recover/switch off 47%
Not getting enough sleep 45%
Not enough time with family and friends 38%
Feeling you don’t have the expertise required/feeling out of your depth 33%
Not able to manage your time effectively 30%
Other family/personal commitments 22%
Other 12%


What would you use an additional hour from a genie for?  
Physical fitness 56%
Spending time with family and friends 53%
Learning Work 47%
Spending time alone 45%
Mindfulness 38%
Mental fitness (for e.g. brain training apps) 33%


Funding increases stress on founders

The research also looked at the different pressures faced by founders in relation to their stage of growth – and specifically their current level of funding. On a number of metrics, founders faced increased pressure following raising capital. Over half (51 percent) of funded founders rated the stressfulness of their past week between 8 and 10 out of ten, compared to just 34 percent of pre-funded founders. On average, founders who had raised funding also reported working longer hours, averaging 65 hours per week compared to 60 hours for non-funded founders.

The report also revealed that while most investors are ready and willing to offer support, founders are not currently accessing it. Over a third (35 percent) of VCs reported that they currently offer support, such as professional development coaching and counselling, to the founders of startups they have invested in. However, while 67 percent of founders said they would be willing to accept support from VCs, only 12 percent of VCs who offer support reported founders taking advantage of these services.

“The data shows that funding, rather than alleviating stress, actually increases founder pressure and workload. Our research also revealed a concerning disconnect between founders and investors when it comes to support for founder wellbeing. VCs overwhelmingly support founder wellbeing, but while founders say they are willing to accept support, they seem hesitant to ask for help. We hope this report can help create awareness across all sections of the Australian startup community, and especially founders, about the need for a stronger focus on wellbeing so we can encourage and help more founders achieve sustained high performance,” said Amanda Price.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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