A startup is a baby, in a very real sense. And while some become insanely successful, lifting their founders to Zuckerberg or Musk status, others fail, and their "parents" pay a staggering price that can leave them depressed, unbalanced, and even suicidal.
That may be the case of one Montreal-based founder who recently messaged me on LinkedIn.
His startup was going broke, and he was planning to donate his kidney for exposure, hopefully leading to a $500,000 funding round. I have changed his name to protect his privacy:
"After a few months of exhausting his options and the traditional funding sources, Donald had decided to take a radical approach to save his company -- offering to donate his kidney," his email, written by a publicist, said. "To save his company, Donald is looking for a $500,000 investment in return for 20% of the company. If he does not receive even a part of the money by August 20, 2017, he will donate his kidney to someone in need. His hope is that the exposure will help him find the right investors."
I've obscured the identifying portions of the message:
I've been on the leadership team of a venture-backed startup. It's a tough ride. The highs are high, but the lows are low, and the harsh reality of startup life is that for most startups, there are more lows than highs. Whether 90% of startups fail or "only" 60%, most fail. And even the successes are mostly 1.5X or 2X or 3X returns on investment ... low enough to count as failure by venture capitalists' measuring rods.
That's tough, and it makes people do things that don't seem sane to normal people.
Sometimes, those things can be OK in small doses, like working 90 hours in a week to get a new version out, or not taking a salary for months to get your company off the ground.
But donating a body part to generate buzz in hopes of closing a funding deal?
That's fairly mentally sick.
And, it's unlikely to work.
I could be wrong about this, but I know 10 or 15 venture capitalists, and I'm pretty sure they would view something like this as a sign of extreme stress and mental overload ... and not as a signal to invest.
I have responded to "Donald" and asked him to reconsider. And, ideally, seek some help.