Max's Story: How Counseling Can Help You Thrive as a Founder

As a startup founder and CEO, Max Blumenthal’s days are packed with meetings and work. He works long hours and thrives on building a venture-scale business from scratch.

But between meetings with investors, his co-founders, and a startup accelerator program in Boston, Max takes time to meet with a counselor.

He’s not depressed. He doesn’t feel anxious. He doesn’t have mental health issues. But he is an entrepreneur, and carries all the burdens and challenges that come with it.

He sought out a counselor the sake of personal and professional development, striving for peak performance as he builds out a team and businesses.

In all this, Max took the time to step out of the office and share with us how he made the choice to find a therapist. We hope you enjoy Max’s honest perspective on proactively seeking counseling, creating introspective time for building better balance and the productive life that he wants.

Finding a counselor when everything is going well

Max, what led you to find a counselor?

I used to think counseling or therapy was for more serious cases, like depression or if you can’t handle the stress of something. I thought you had to specifically be struggling to be happy in everyday life.

That wasn’t me.

I was firing on all cylinders. There are certainly some challenges starting a company. The roller coaster of emotions that everyone says founders go through is real.

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One of my strengths is that I don’t really get stressed. On this one personality test, I scored 0 out of a 100 for propensity to become stressed. I can handle the roller coaster. I didn’t think I had the time or need for therapy. I was accomplishing more than I ever dreamed I could, so I was in a good spot.

I met the Sophia team through Techstars. We talked about mental health in the open. It was something I hadn’t thought about before, it made me aware of it in a more normalized way.

As part of the roller coaster of starting a company, there are ups and downs. Sometimes they come within ten minutes of each other. You’re up, then you’re down.

Founding a company is a unique experience that everyone from friends, family, and even people that I’d just met want to hear about. Even when everything in the company was going well, I could still be on a low emotionally. It was difficult to talk about how well everything was going in those times. There was nobody in my life that was a true third party that I could share my struggles with. I guarantee you that every founder has the same problem.

I’ve always known I was an entrepreneur. I enjoy taking on responsibility and trust, and I struggle to work hard unless it is something I'm passionate about.

It’s extremely rewarding and I wouldn’t choose to live any other way. You learn pretty quickly whether or not entrepreneurship is the right road for you.

How did you used to think about counseling?

I went to therapy when I was in 6th grade, but I didn’t want to be there. I believe the process only works when you want it to. I remember sitting in the room, silent. I had nothing that I wanted to talk about.

In general when I pictured counseling, I pictured something laying down on the couch and the person listening has a notebook, while someone pours their heart out to them. But in my experience now, it’s more of a regular conversation. It’s a time to be introspective to learn about yourself.

How is working with a counselor different than talking with a friend or your mom?

It helps to have that person in my life who is a truly third party, for the sake of listening.

My mom worries and my friends only want to hear about the highs. Therapy isn’t for everyone. But you don’t have to be unhappy or in a tough place. It’s a time to gather your thoughts without worrying about saying the wrong thing.

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Besides Sophia sessions, what else do you do to take care of yourself?

One of the best things I’ve always done is going to the gym. It makes me feel better physically and mentally. I’ve let that slide as my responsibility with the company has ramped up.

I also like being outside. Seeing my friends. Flying also gives me the sense of freedom and headspace. I used to take study breaks in college and go flying. Especially over the Bay Area. It’s a nice, fun thing to do.

How did you choose a counselor?

Sophia made it easy for me. The counselor I found seemed nice, normal, and relatable.

In that first session, I found just by talking and thinking about what’s going on internally, I learned more about how I functioned. It was interesting to try and describe to my therapist who I am.

It’s so easy to overwork at this stage of trying to build a company. I’m still overworking myself and I may always continue to do so. But counseling is helping me to do it in a more sustainable way. Now I feel like I’m operating at my peak, resting so I can work at my best. If you work too much, your work isn’t as high quality. This is helping me find my balance, of being at my best.

Max Blumenthal is an entrepreneur, startup CEO, and Techstars alumni. He spends his spare time with friends, at the gym, or flying airplanes.