Startups Anonymous: How Anonymity Can Save a Founder's Life

By Startups Anonymous , written on August 20, 2014

From The News Desk

[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and  answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]

Last week Startups Anonymous received an alarming submission from an fellow entrepreneur/founder — it was a suicide note.

For many reasons, we chose not to publish the submission on our site, however here is an excerpt: “I am about to make my company a co-beneficiary of my life insurance. And, I will take my own life after that. I want to make it work for my investors and my company. I am done with this life. I am sorry.”

My name is Dana Severson, cofounder of Startups Anonymous. In light of this recent submission, last week’s tragic news, and all of the recent debate on anonymous messaging, I’m choosing to take a break from founder submissions to discuss an important topic in the startup community (hell, in any community) — mental illness and the impact of anonymity.

I’m no stranger to mental illness, in fact, I am someone that suffers from it. Anxiety to be exact. However, until recently, I had never told anyone outside of my immediate family and friends (at least openly). If you’ve been following this series on Pando though, you’ve probably read my story.

Like many others that suffer from anxiety and/or depression, I’ve hid my disease for far too long. While there are literally hundreds of millions of people that suffer from the same disease, it still carries a stigma that debilitates ones willingness to speak openly. There is a certain level of shame and embarrassment that comes along with mental illness. Sadly, we still live in a world where mental flaws are unacceptable.

And social hasn’t made it any easier.

Thanks to Facebook (mostly), keeping up the Joneses has taken a whole new meaning. Not only do we have to have the biggest house, best toys, and the most expensive car, we now have to have the perfect spouse, cutest kids and picture-perfect weekend. And, God forbid we don’t make a fucking Pinterest-worthy dinner.

Could you imagine a picture of an anxtiety-ridden agoraphobic, with a selfie on the couch?

For the past seven years (or however long Facebook as been relevant), we’ve had to live the up-and-to-the-right series A version of our lives, even though most of us are still in pre-beta and struggling to maintain profitability.

I think there are a lot of people who are burnt out as shit and ready to take off their skinny jeans and put on some sweatpants.

Enter anonymous messaging. And, I’ll speak for myself when I say, thank eff’n God.

You wanna know why anonymous messaging is the trend-du-jour right now?

Anonymity is the perfect solution at the perfect time, after seven or so years, to finally BE YOURSELF. To say what you really want to say. To be who you really are and to act how you wanted to act. There are no paparazzi friends tagging your imperfect moments and nobody posting your fails on YouTube.

But, as quickly as that, anonymity was abused. It was used by bullies to target the weak. It was used as an indulgence as TMZ uses celebrities for entertainment.

That’s not the point of anonymity, not at all. It should be used as support. It should be used as a vehicle for true reflection and realism. In a world that makes if difficult to be yourself, anonymity should serve as a welcome relief.

Thanks to anonymity, our fellow founder was able to confess that darkest secret online. Not only that, but that person was able to get help. While we didn’t publish the post, we did act upon it. We responded personally and contacted the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and 911.

Fortunately, our fellow entrepreneur left an email address (which was optional), so we were able to act upon it. After a few back and forth emails, we can confirm that this entrepreneur is alive and getting the support needed.

I wonder though, without anonymity, what would have happened?

[illustration by Brad Jonas]