Bonobos’ Andy Dunn says that founders should tell VCs about mental health diagnoses

Andy Dunn is perhaps best known for founding menswear company Bonobos, selling it to Walmart with a $310 million price tag in 2018. After leaving Walmart in 2020 to focus on his venture shop Red Swan and social media company Pie (previously called Pumpkin Pie), Dunn has become vocal about how his mental health struggles have affected him as a founder and leader. 

“Entrepreneurship has a way of producing mental health crises,” Dunn said during a private lunch panel with Fortune’s Founders Forum at the publication’s Brainstorm Tech summit in Park City, Utah. “Everyone’s going to go through multiple acute moments of mental distress, even if they have the ‘cleanest bill of mental health.’”

For Dunn, his mental health bill changed as an undergraduate at Northwestern University when he had his first manic episode and was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. In a subsequent manic episode, Dunn was charged with assaulting his fiancée and her mother as they tried to bar him from running through New York City nude. 

Ultimately, having this arrest on his criminal record led him to disclose his diagnosis to Walmart prior to undergoing the company’s prerequisite background check during the acquisition process. Dunn noted that Walmart tapped the FBI’s former head of psychiatry to evaluate his mental wellness, and concluded that his therapy and medication regimen made Bonobos a worthwhile acquisition, and Dunn a leader fit to oversee Bonobos from within Walmart. 

“It was a harrowing two weeks with a $300 million deal on the table,” Dunn said. “There were so many people who deserved to have this outcome.”

It’s worth noting that in April of this year, six years after Walmart acquired Bonobos for this eye-popping sum, it sold the company to brand management firm WHP Global and clothing company Express Inc. for a combined $75 million. WHP paid $50 million for the Bonobos brand while Express acquired the operating assets and business liabilities for $25 million, per Retail Dive. 

But Dunn left Walmart in 2020, and its unclear how his leadership and exist factored into Bonobos’ sunken valuation and sale. Now Dunn has moved into roles as the founding venture capitalist at Red Swan and founder and CEO of Pie. As a three-time founder, he believes that founders should disclose their mental health diagnoses with investors “about six weeks” after deals have closed. 

His suggestion to fellow founders: “Say, ‘Hey, there’s something I want you to know about me now that we’re in business together. And here’s what it is, and here’s what I’m doing about it. Please feel free to raise it anytime.’”

Dunn believes that founders should extend these types of disclosures to their co-founders and employees to foster accountability and healthy relationships and work environments.

He believes that “at some point every year,” founders should “take 10 minutes” to tell their teams about concurrent personal struggles.

“It will create a norm of safety around disclosure. It’ll change the culture just in that moment,” Dunn said, explaining he also believes that creating a mental health stipend that goes “above and beyond” a health insurance offering will foster a productive corporate culture around mental health.

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