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Founder stress risks holding back Australia’s startup economy

Founder stress risks holding back startup economy

With long hours, high stress and low pay the norm for most Australia startup leaders, new findings from KPMG Australia reveals a link between founder wellbeing and business performance.


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The first-of-kind research by KPMG Australia’s High Growth Ventures, supported by venture capital firms including Blackbird Ventures, AirTree Ventures, Square Peg Capital, Reinventure and Right Click Capital, polled founders of 70 Australian venture-backed startups. It found that, on average, startup founders work 64 hours a week, with 40 percent working seven days a week. Two-thirds of founders (66 percent) are very or extremely stressed, and 57 percent said that their stress has a large impact on the ability of their startup to succeed. A significant majority of founders (70 percent) draw less salary than in their previous role, and some reported that personal financial worries were affecting their family relationships.

Amanda Price, Head of KPMG Australia High Growth Ventures commented: “Founders play a key role in driving innovation, taking massive risks, both personal and financial, to solve industry problems and build global businesses – yet there is very little data around the mental and physical toll of leading a startup. A founder’s individual performance is one of the critical factors to the success or failure of their business. Our research aims to shine a light on some of the unspoken challenges founders face, and to help highlight the link between founder wellbeing and business performance.”

Other findings of the research include:

  • The top three barriers to success for startup founders were ability to hire the right people (66 percent), ability to close sales (57 percent) and access to funding (53 percent).
  • 53 percent of founders work during time off.
  • 58 percent of founders relax for less than an hour a day.
  • 23 percent of founders haven’t taken three consecutive days off for over a year.
  • 72 percent of founders take their mobile to bed.

Fit for startup success?

When it came to health and fitness, and the relationship it has with business success, founders view a decline in physical activity as adversely impacting their business. 88 percent of founders acknowledged that their physical wellbeing had a direct impact on their startup. Yet only 26 percent of founders reported being able to devote more than four hours per week to physical activity. Unsurprisingly, 43 percent are unhappy with their level of fitness.

Leading a high-growth venture also affects family relationships. The overwhelming majority of startup founders feel they are not spending enough quality time with the people they care about. Only a third feel they spend sufficient time with their spouse, and only 22 percent say they spend enough time with their children.

“While the Australian startup ecosystem offers a lot of support and understanding for founders, much is of this is one dimensional, focusing on the mechanics of starting and building a business. If we want more Australian startups to transition into global businesses, we need to help more founders become world class leaders. This means taking a more holistic approach, and participating in programs focused as much on the mental and physical well-being of the founder as on the performance of the startup,” said Amanda Price.

Amanda explained that the research findings were so stark they drove her to create a new program aimed at enabling unlocking sustainable high performance for the founders of Australian scaleups.

“The KPMG Founder Program launches later this year and has been designed to enhance both personal and business performance. It will be led by a team of facilitators ranging from athletes to serial entrepreneurs, and focuses not only on the health of the startup, but on the wellbeing of the founder as a whole,” she said.

For further information

Ash Pritchard
+61 411 020 680

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