Book Club: Andy Dunn in Coversation with Jeff Bercovici

Earlier this summer, the JSV Book Club had the privilege of hosting Andy Dunn, author of Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing my Mind and Founder of Bonobos, to share the story behind his critically acclaimed, bestselling book and discuss mental health in entrepreneurship.

For the unfamiliar, in a piece of work Gayle King called eye-opening and Adam Grant called arrestingly candid and powerful, Burn Rate details Dunn’s journey building Bonobos while grappling with a private Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. ​Burn Rate is an unconventional entrepreneurial memoir, a parable for the twenty-first-century economy, and a revelatory look at the prevalence of mental illness in the startup community.

In a fireside chat at Jackson Square Ventures HQ moderated by Jeff Bercovici, business editor at the Los Angeles Times, Dunn fearlessly shined a light on the dark side of success and challenged us all to take part in the deepening conversation around creativity, performance, and disorder. We’re proud to share some highlights, as well as the complete conversation, below.

How do mental health disorders interact with the experience of a founder? 

Dunn breaks down the prevalence of mental illness among entrepreneurs and how the very act of entrepreneurship can fuel illnesses and disorders to new heights. In some ways, Dunn’s diagnosis made him much better at his job as a founder and in other ways—as Bercovici put it—put the company at risk in spectacular ways. Hear Dunn distill the ultimate goal of his book. 

To start a company is a fundamentally unhealthy choice mentally. But we don’t have to make it as hard as it used to be.

Is the decision to start a company good for your mental health? No, and according to Dunn, owning that from the outset is critical. How has culture shifted its mindset when it comes to entrepreneurial mental health? Dunn and Bercovici discuss the changing currents in the entrepreneurial ecosystem when it comes to the acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of mental health. 

How honest is too honest? I put my own shit in a bag. 

Does the truth actually set you free? Dunn shares the logic behind putting some of his most shameful memories in print. It turns out, being completely unvarnished is a good strategy to break free from the trap of shame in the first place. And it goes a long way in destigmatizing an experience completely out of one’s own control. 

Are we predisposed to want to live forever?

Dunn shares how the core of a manic episode is a messianic delusion. What happens when that comes to a head with the cultural forces at play that ingrain a human desire to live forever? 

Want more? Listen to the whole fireside chat. 

Categorized as Book Club

By Victor Echevarria

Managing Director at Jackson Square Ventures.