Entrepreneur Kevin F. Adler remembers Jody Sherman, founder and CEO of ecomom.
I am saddened by the death of ecomom CEO Jody Sherman in late January. It seems he died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on his birthday.
My co-founder Annie and I met Jody last November at the Creamery. He spent over an hour with us talking about our startup, inthis (a contextual invite platform for building relationships around shared experiences); it was our first meeting, and came from a cold email at that.
He provided invaluable feedback on inthis, and shared a few lively stories from his career and life. One story stuck out, and gives a chill to think of it now: the time when a disgruntled former employee showed up at his bedside one night and held a gun to his head while he was asleep, and how he woke up and talked to the employee until the employee had shared why he was so angry and what was wrong and how he was feeling, and backed down.
I found Jody to be incredibly unique for the two dominant traits he combined: a hard-nosed, call-it-like-he-sees-it honesty (which came across as presumptuous at first, and refreshing later) and a genuine warmth, kindness, tenderness, and desire to support us and see us do well, as if he looked at us as his eco-children.
In reading reactions from the tech community to Jody’s passing, I noticed that many commentaries remarked on the stress Jody was under at ecomom. This stress discussion was followed by the startup culture discussion, which is to say that founders learn to always be on: everything is gravy, be relentlessly positive, and say they are “killing it” as a makeshift phrase that tries to combine humility in its vague conciseness with reassuring confidence in its boast.
The pressures of startups are very real, and the norms of presenting oneself like the infamous Stanford Duck – smoothly sailing on on the surface for all to see and admire, but ferociously paddling for dear life just underneath – do little to ease those pressures. Though I am a relative newcomer to the tech scene, I have experienced them for the better part of 1.5 years as a startup founder and CEO, most of which time was bootstrapped and with a hungry (mouths to feed) team.
That being said, I do not believe the conversation should end with a discussion of founder stress and a call to find more balance in life and a plea to be more honest with how we are doing with our friends. All important, but not enough.
A wider dialogue on mental health is urgent within the tech community, and in the United States as a whole. Dave McClure is right to state that “mental health … needs to become part of our process.” It starts with getting professional help, being open with ourselves and each other on our own struggles and fears and vulnerabilities, and throwing off the ridiculous idea of “failure” once and for all.
On the need for professional help, just because we can teach ourselves how to code and dropped out of Stanford doesn’t mean we can identify, diagnose, and treat our own mental health or each others. Professional therapy saved my dad’s life, and may save your life, too, or someone you know. Suggest it, or better yet, offer to go together.
On the need to be open with ourselves and each other, let’s start with a small commitment: never again to answer the question “how are you?” with “fine/good/great/killing it” and never again to let someone who says that off the hook so easily. I’ll personally make the How Are You Really Doing promise (the HAYRD promise?). Definitely not hard.
On the end of “failure,” we should adopt a longer-term perspective in evaluating people and companies. Learning fast is wonderful and learning by doing is ideal, but failing fast only leads us to run around with the failure sticker looking to affix it to something or someone, fast.
As I like to think of it, there is no failure for a baby learning to walk. A super advanced-level walker (such as most adults) would never look down at a baby and say, “look at that baby failing to walk! What a failure.” Nor would a hyper-cognizant baby look to adults to say “Yikes! I’m making too many mistakes in attempting this activity. Maybe I should call this a failure and quit?” No, of course not. Instead, the adult helps the baby and encourages it along and offer it pointers, for she knows that the baby will be successful eventually in learning to walk – or run, or drive, or fly, or whatever its heart desires.
We are beings of infinite potential to learn and inevitably succeed. Each of us can do anything if we set our heart and mind to it. The question is not can we, but what do we want to learn and succeed at, and whether the time and energy required to succeed at a particular endeavor would be better spent elsewhere.
We come to each other filled with pain and disappointments and responsibilities and feelings of inadequacy and comparisons and gnawing regrets. May we learn to give each other the tenderness, understanding, and pure love we give a baby, learning to walk.
A few articles on Jody’s passing
The article where the baby learning to walk idea was first shared.
If you are dealing with feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255