Matt Berriman, CEO of high-flying adtech startup Unlockd, has announced he is stepping down as chief of the company to look after his mental health.
In an open letter posted to Medium today, Berriman wrote that he is “extremely proud” of the company’s success so far, “it has not been an easy journey” and it has required him to “pour blood, sweat, and tears (and all of my money) into the business”.
He wrote, “Throughout the journey I began to experience symptoms, which I attributed for far too long to stress, lack of sleep and the startup rollercoaster. What I did not know at the time was I was fighting a battle with bipolar disorder.
“Bipolar is an illness that has an over indexed relationship with high functioning business leaders, artists, sportspeople, and musicians. Over the last 15 months, despite continuous and multi-faceted treatments I’m still struggling to return to my optimal holistic health, and as a result I now need to put a larger commitment in place to concurrently prioritise my health with my commitment to Unlockd.”
According to Beyondblue, bipolar disorder affects two percent of the population. The organisation states people with bipolar disorder experience extreme highs and lows; in a high, or manic, state, people may behave in an over-excited or reckless way, while the symptoms of a low or depressed state are the same as those for people experiencing depression.
In stepping down from the CEO job, Berriman will move into the role of executive director; here he said he will focus on the overall strategic direction of the business, corporate development, and major shareholder relations.
“This will allow me to continue influencing the growth and future of the business, whilst also giving me the required space to make my health a priority,” he wrote.
Taking over as CEO on a day to day basis will be Jane Martino; most recently chief operating officer at Unlockd, Berriman said the CEO role is one “she has effectively been playing for some time now behind the scenes”.
“The success of the business is significantly attributable to her operational control, and in addition to the qualities she exhibits as a person leave me in total confidence and faith of her succeeding me as CEO,” he wrote.
Raising almost $31 million in a Series B round last May to push its expansion into Asia, the Australian Financial Review reported last month that based on its December revenue figures, which were up 56 percent on 2016, Unlockd would an annual recurring revenue of $20.6 million.
Acknowledging his news would “evoke various reactions”, Berriman said the decision to make his journey public came in the hopes of taking a step forward in creating greater awareness of mental illness.
“Hopefully in some incremental way it helps the community better understand that mental illness — which affects one in five people — doesn’t discriminate, whether you are a professional sportsperson, high flying executive, small business owner, employee working 9–5 at the local butcher, or a parent at home with the kids…and nor does it debilitate someone’s ability to achieve their goals.”
As Berriman points out, he is not alone in dealing with a mental illness. Looking at the business sphere, a 2015 study found 49 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness, with around a third dealing with two or more.
Looking to encourage open discussion around this issue in the Australian startup community, Fishburners last November held a talk on mental health, with AirTree Ventures’ Daniel Petre, Taryn Williams of The Right Fit, and a representative from Beyondblue among those speaking.
Image: Matt Berriman.