In over a decade of working with hundreds of businesses and founders of all backgrounds, education levels, life experiences, ages, business sizes, ideologies and philosophies, the one common thread among all them is that of human frailty.
You probably didn’t see that coming. Most publications broadcast founders’ joy and happiness with such exuberance you would think it is being shot out of a cannon.
The reality, like most things in life, is much more complicated, and far from this idyllic picture. That reality is filled with optimism, disappointment, confusion, failure, success, disloyalty and exhaustion — often in the same week.
I have seen businesses and founders climb incredible highs, fall into the depths of the business abyss, work their way through it all, and sometimes, sadly, fail. The business landscape, and particularly the startup world, is littered with good intentions, lost investor money and missed opportunities. This is not unique to tech startups either, as it applies to any early-stage business, whether it be in retail, services or technology.
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What I have noticed is a change in the last few years across the business landscape, and that change is relating to honesty. Perhaps it is a maturity of the Australian startup landscape that founders are putting their hands up and saying with confidence: ‘I need help. I need to talk. I need your counsel.’
Five years ago, it was far and few between. Honest conversations about the day-to-day struggles and mental and emotional toll were rarely discussed. Masked by unnecessary bravado, social media photo opportunities and the need to be constantly positive, few ventured out of that PR bubble to seek an honest conversation about their mental health.
Then, like a changing of seasons, a quiet startup revolution began to emerge.
The revolution was the need to seek private counsel, to articulate concerns, anxiety, fears and emotions few wanted to admit they carried, but of course, most of us know to exist. Being on the frontline of that revolution as a trusted advisor to many startups, my time and meetings turned from the strategic, financial and tax to meetings discussing personal struggles.
These meetings are largely about listening and giving founders a safe space to voice concerns without judgment. For many founders, the mere existence of a safe outlet where someone will listen addresses many of their issues. My view has always been that listening addresses 50% of most problems.
Accountants are often in the rare position of sharing in the most confidential aspects of a founder’s personal life. We are often aware of intimate details before the founder’s life partners are. We are privy to the highs and lows, and often the first to hear the good and the bad news.
Over the years, I have termed this responsibility as that of a ‘casual therapist’. Financial advisors are obviously not trained as counsellors or psychologists, but for many, we represent a reliable outlet. A trusted sanity check with the bonus of a cone of silence and complete confidentiality.
I have had clients compare me to a rabbi or priest in a confessional setting. It is a privilege to be trusted at that level. I wear it as a badge of honour.
My feelings were validated recently after watching a French film set in Paris, where a woman walks into a building to see a psychiatrist for the first time, but accidentally walks into the wrong office and sits down in front of a tax accountant instead. Both unaware of the error, the woman talks for a solid hour about her concerns about family and finances, and then thanks the tax advisor, saying she will be back again next week. The tax advisor, realising she had walked into the wrong office, immediately goes to the psychiatrist next door and informs him. After listening to the tale, the psychiatrist said to the tax advisor: ‘You know, our professions are actually very similar — it is all about what people disclose and what they hide.’
Your trusted advisor is there for you. Talk to them and don’t be afraid to disclose. Know that your accountant is not just there for financial advice. They are a trusted partner in your journey. Book a time for a chat.