Start-up Blues

startup blues 1301j

I drew this cartoon because a recent story in the news made me sad:

A lively and popular figure of the start-up scene, Jody Sherman commited suicide.

I didn’t know the guy, but we had mutual friends, like Jason Calacanis and Tony Hsieh.

Jason summed it up well: “And it seems like folks are not ready to talk about that issue just yet. Which I can understand.”

This is the second startup suicide in a month, after poor ol’ Aaron Swartz. We are genetically programmed to have our our tiny brains fried by the suicide of somebody we care about; writing about it well is impossibe at the best of times. But here are some of my own meagre, insufficient thoughts:

1. My deepest condolences to Jody’s family, esecialy his wife and children. The sorrow must be horrible, simply horrible. I am so sorry, truly.

2. Once we’ve made our millions, retired and gotten old and decrepit, hey, then DEATH is not so scary an idea, but when one is still in one’s prime… Most of us doing the start-up thing are still in our prime, so natually DEATH is amazingly strange and alien to us.

3. The start-up life, for all the time we spend glorifying it, is a very tough road. Again, Jason says it well:

Perhaps we owe it to these three amazing humans to examine if the pressures of being a founder, the pressure of our community’s relentless pursuit of greatness, in some way contributed to their deaths?

I’ve always believed that being a founder is an unhealthy pursuit at times, and few have disagreed — certainly not those who have done it. Read any biography of a successful founder and you’ll find collateral damage around — and certainly in — those individuals.

Startups are a full-contact sport. This is a good time for all of us to pause and think about why we’re doing this. And the impact it’s having on us and the people around us.

4. Me and my friends in the sart-up scene aren’t spring chickens anymore, for the most part. We’re the old guard now. And as Karma catches up with us and the hard choices we made, our deaths are going to start getting a lot more common.

5. As I’m fond of saying, anything worth doing will cost you your life, eventually. Best make sure it’s worth it, make sure it’s something your deepest self actually wants.

6. Yes, your deepest self, not just your glib, sexy, bullshit self.

7. This is it. Fight like hell. Godbless.


  1. Hugh, I love your articles. You speak from the heart! That bit about ‘anything worth doing will cost you your life’ sounds scary but its encouraging to see what people like you have achieved. Thank you

  2. Thanks so much for this. I’ve been planning to reach out to you about how one of your recent drawings fits in with something I am working on. This one too is related to something else I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

  3. Thanks so much for this poignant post.

    Your work, which I’ve discovered only recently, have come to mean very much to me.