Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing Your Mind
Andy Dunn’s start-up, Bonobos, was being prepared for acquisition by the retail giant walmart, It was an exciting process, but the co-founder and former CEO of the online menswear brand knew it was time to reveal his secret: He had bipolar disorder.
In his new book, “Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind,” the 43-year-old entrepreneur opens up about how his personal life fell apart a while back. Walmart acquired for $310 million Bonobos came together in 2017. He shares some of the lowest points, including a stay in a psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and charges of assault from a severe manic episode when he hit his then-girlfriend and his mother. The charges were later dismissed as Dunn sought treatment and repaired relations with his girlfriend, Manuela, whom he later married.
Dunn joins Walmart after telling the retailer about the episode and his efforts to get better with therapy and medicine. He oversaw Walmart’s growing collection of brands that started online and contributed to the company’s growth in the digital world.
dunno left walmart in 2020 And there’s a social media start-up, Pumpkin Pie.
Earlier this year, Walmart launched a new, lower-priced extension of the Bonobos brand, the Bonobos Fielder. It marked the first time that Walmart’s website and some stores sold apparel under the Bonobos name — part of the company’s broader strategy of launching its own fashion-forward apparel lines and selling more generic merchandise.
Dunn spoke to CNBC from his home in Chicago. His comments were edited for brevity and clarity.
Andy Dunn, Writer
Courtesy of Brian McConkey
You could have devoted the book to advice on entrepreneurship, or the acquisition of Bonobos by Walmart. Why did you decide to write a book about your mental health struggles?
Before my editor officially became my editor, I had a great conversation with him. He put it in a clear way, in a turndown email: “If Andy wants to write a chest-thumping, self-congratulatory memoir about entrepreneurial success, I’m not interested. Wants to do an untold story about illness, told through the lens of an entrepreneur, so this could be a really exciting project.”
And I was like, yeah, that’s what I want to do. This is the person I want to work with.
What prepared you to re-live parts of your past?
Four years of therapy, twice a week, and really worked myself to process and metabolize and rebuild after this devastating mental break in 2016. And all the strength of loved ones around me
It’s never ended with this diagnosis, but I thought I had a unique opportunity to share how I got through at least a few challenging days. I didn’t want to ruin it.
Andy Dunn credits his family, including his wife Manuela, for helping him recover. He said the birth of his son Isaiah has also helped him stay grounded.
Courtesy of Andy Dunn
In the book, you mention another skilled entrepreneur who had a very public battle with mental health, Tony Hsieh of Zappos. Why do you think mental health has been such a taboo subject in the business world, and indeed in the entrepreneurship world?
Tony’s case Very sad and sad in itself. Here’s a man who wrote a book called “Delivering Happiness” who built a company rooted in joyful energy. Zappos had long been known and studied for their culture. He was known as the life of the party and a man who did much for the community in Las Vegas.
He was a hero for me. And then, apparently, he suffered in private.
I think it’s part of the distinctive entrepreneurial archetype he’s got—a brilliant, charismatic spirit. And this is expected, isn’t it? You have to show up with him every day, and it’s inhumane to expect that from anyone.
The pandemic has triggered a wider conversation about mental health. What role can businesses and employers play in trying to improve access to care and fight stigma?
The first thing is creating a safe environment for disclosure, so that people can share their work. It is up to leaders to role models that behavior to show their teams that it is safe for them to come forward.
Step two is building the community around it. I’ve had the chance to speak to a bunch of companies over the past few weeks. Me . liked your conversation with [tech company] Carta because they already have a neurodiversity employee resource group.
The third part is actually investing in the care that people need. Regular medical insurance is not working in terms of ability to find mental health professionals. The reimbursement rate is often very low.
Investing is the only way to change that.
The contrasts in the book were really striking. You’re staying in a psychiatric ward and soon after, you’re negotiating a deal with Walmart. How was it when you heard that Walmart was interested in buying bonobos?
I went on thinking that we would do a private equity transaction where we were on an independent path towards the IPO, spending time with the team at Walmart, specifically Mark Lorre. [Walmart’s then-e-commerce chief] And [CEO] Doug McMillan and really falling in love with the opportunity to be a part of the digital transformation of the Fortune One Company.
As I went from “free to the moon” to “Joining forces with Walmart would be incredible,” we got into a part of the deal process where background checks were going on. It was time I thought reveal where I want to go [my diagnosis and arrest record], I didn’t want to try to hide it.
Andy Dunn attends a launch party at a Bonobos store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago in 2016. After operating as a digital-only, direct-to-consumer start-up opened brick-and-mortar locations called “guideshops,” where customers could try on clothing and order it straight to their door.
Daniel Bozarski | Getty Images
You helped spawn the direct-to-consumer movement in many ways. But many of those companies haven’t become independent, profitable businesses. What do you think is the future of the DTC model?
The pure-play Internet model is tough. Direct-to-consumer founders—and I was one of them—fall in love with the direct-to-consumer potential of their brands, but neglect the parts of the legacy retail world that are still alive and well.
Pure-play Internet models pose only a fundamental challenge to long-term profitability. It’s important to be humble as a direct-to-consumer founder and be aware that even though the e-commerce side of the home is growing really quickly, there’s still a lot of revenue through traditional brick-and-mortar. Happening.
How have you finally found a better balance between your drive for success and your desire to be healthy?
My son, Isaiah, is a big part of it. He’s 20 months old, and he doesn’t care about my success. He cares about himself and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I felt included for so long. Building a company can be a self-absorbed endeavor.
The way I would describe it ranges from being at the center of the Solar System to having a planet orbiting it. It just creates a fundamentally different worldview.