March 11, 2024

49% of founders say they’re considering quitting their startup this year

Startup founders tell Sifted they're “overworked”, “exhausted” and “broken”

Amy Lewin

5 min read

Startup founders are “overworked”, “exhausted” and “broken” — and dozens of them are considering leaving their businesses in the next year. 

The past 12 months have been quite brutal on VC-backed tech companies. Valuations have fallen, investors have been reluctant to part with their capital, layoffs have swept the industry and there’s been more scrutiny of the bottom line than most founders have ever experienced. 

That’s left its toll, a recent survey of 156 founders conducted by Sifted has found. Two-thirds of respondent founders are male, with the remaining third identifying as female. Just under a third are solo founders. 


45% of founders told us they thought their mental health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ at the moment. 85% said they’d experienced high stress in the past year, while 75% said they’d had anxiety in the same period.

61% said they’d considered leaving their company, while 49% said they were considering doing so in the coming year. 

“I cannot sustain this rhythm anymore,” one founder told us. “Solving problems seems the only purpose in my life and while doing it my mental and physical health is deteriorating.”  

“My personal life suffering and cost of living/startup wages are not enough to support my family,” said another, while a third told us “the fundraising environment has nearly broken both me and the business.”

Capital constraints

Fundraising was the most common challenge founders said they were facing, followed by work-life balance and trying to reach profitability.

“The market is not good,” said one founder. “I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

Respondents almost all ran early-stage companies: 19% of their startups are bootstrapped, 17% are at pre-seed, 36% at seed and 24% at Series A. Most (86%) had raised in the past two years.

Several founders raised “financial security” as a key reason for considering leaving their company and taking a “more stable job”. 

‘People’ issues — such as customer retention, layoffs and hiring — were listed as the least challenging aspects of founders' lives at the moment. 

Work-life imbalance

57% of founders said they’d started exercising less over the past year, compared to the previous year, while 42% said they’d started eating less healthily. 

62% said they’d been on holiday less than they usually would, while 64% said they’d started spending less time with friends and family. 


“You never completely stop working, even on weekends or vacations,” said one founder.

“I almost lost my marriage and family,” said another.

“I have become more anxious, depressed, worried and antisocial; lost contact with some of my friends; and have a constant bad conscience towards my family as a result of the work taking up so much of my time,” said a third.

A fourth added: “The last time I switched my mobile off was my honeymoon in 2021. That was also the last time I was able to take a vacation. I honestly have no idea how my spouse has the patience to wait for me to take a break.”

Tired out

55% of founders told us they’d suffered from insomnia in the past year, while 53% said they’d experienced burnout.

“I have been at extremely high levels of stress pretty much non-stop and I am tired and exhausted most of the time,” said one. 

39% said they’d experienced depression, while almost all founders (85%) said they’d had high stress.

Some said it just wasn’t “fun anymore” and they wanted a “simpler, easier life”. 

“I’m not sure I can muster the energy to keep going,” said another.

Talking helps

Just under a fifth of respondents said they are very open about their mental health, while a similar number said they were on the other end of the spectrum and not very open about it. 

65% of founders said they turn to their partner or spouse for support. 54% rely on friends and family, while 41% lean on a coach or therapist. (28% of respondents told us they regularly see a coach, and 18% regularly see a therapist.) 

Just 38% said they turn to their cofounder when times get tough. And only 13% said they looked to their investors for a shoulder to cry on.

Investor pressure

More than half of the founders we surveyed said they get no support whatsoever from their investors when it comes to their mental health. Only six respondents said they get ‘a lot’ of support from investors regarding their wellbeing. 

Some founders said “board pressure” was leading them to consider leaving their businesses. 

Others said they just didn’t think their investors really cared about them or what they were building. 

“The realisation that my vision doesn't actually matter to them was hard to accept,” said one founder. 

“We are taught as founders — be visionary, focus on purpose and the objectives etc. etc. but your investors will be unforgiving and ruthless… I thought to myself, these people who back me, who told me they believe in me and my vision, were waiting for the opportunity to capitalise on any weakness — that is what it felt like… They present themselves as allies, backers, support, as “founder friendly” but that was not the case for me. Maybe I was naïve to think otherwise. We don’t need another mentoring session, webinar or workshop. We need funding.”

Cofounder conflict

Dozens of founders said they were thinking about leaving, or had recently left, due to founder conflict. 

“I’m sick of arguing with my cofounder over the future,” said one, while another said they “feel a lot of mismatch with my cofounder in cultural and organisational matters.”.

A third founder said they’d recently been ousted by their cofounders and the board.

“Trying to rein in a visionary cofounder on his spend has hurt our relationship,” said another.

A break

And for those founders seriously considering throwing in the towel, what would they do next?

Take a break, said 39%. Find a job, said 30%. Start a new company, said 28%. 

Others were tempted to write a book, take up consulting or pick up board positions. 

Or — perhaps our favourite answer: “Go to a paradise beach and make sandwiches.”

Amy Lewin

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast , and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. Follow her on X and LinkedIn