CEO Confessions: What It’s Like to Be a Startup Founder with ADHD

Learn how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can positively impact startup founders living with the psychiatric disorder.

I was recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD. ADHD often causes a lack of focus, being overactive, not being able control behavior, or a combination of these various symptoms.

Research suggests, “ADHD afflicts approximately 3% to 10% of school-aged children and an estimated 60% of those will continue to have symptoms that affect their functioning as adults, while prevalence rates for ADHD in adults are not as well determined as rates for children, but fall in the 4% to 5% range.”

After thinking back on my journey I have come to realize that there are huge benefits to having ADHD when you are a startup founder alongside a few painful drawbacks.


Understanding ADHD

In a nutshell, there are three types of ADHD.

  • The first is hyperactive, which means you can’t-sit-for-more-than-a-second, squirming, running, talking-out-of turn, etc.
  • The second type is inattentive. This is best defined by someone who is easily distracted, often forgetful, and doesn’t pay attention to detail or seem to be listening.
  • The third type is a combo of the first two—and it’s the most commonly diagnosed.

If you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD, you’re easily distracted and might have trouble meeting deadlines. Or, it could be that you consistently “space out” and lose large chunks of pertinent information during meetings and conference calls. Also people with ADHD often have trouble keeping a schedule.

Suffering from severe distractibility and impulsivity can take its toll. Many times a person can become confused and depressed. Often, people with ADHD are creative, multi-taskers and very dynamic, but have trouble being productive and completing a task.


Startup Pro’s and Con’s Associated with ADHD Founders

Though its not all bad. Having a mile-a-minute brain works great at times and when applied properly, it can make you an extremely efficient problem solver. In a typical startup environment, having ADHD comes with specific advantages, including:

  • You are hyper active and love being busy all the time; startups usually work around the clock.
  • You love new challenges; startups are full of them.
  • You get a natural high from achieving small victories; every elegant line of code is a mini-success for tech startups.
  • You get to work with people who don’t mind that you are a bit crazy; startups usually adhere to the mantra of “go big or go home.”

That being said, ADHD can negatively impact interpersonal relationships inside and outside the company. The associated disadvantages include:

  • You dread mundane tasks, but they are necessary — especially in the beginning.
  • You can possibly say the wrong things and get into trouble with press and investors.
  • You will get bored easily and need to transition yourself out of tasks.
  • You can never quite finish things off and sometimes they will fail.



The Hidden Potential of ADHD Startup Founders

Overall, being diagnosed with ADHD has been a blessing for me and people like me are made for startups. People with ADHD are non-linear thinking people who often have a lot of information processing going on simultaneously. This means, startup founders with ADHD can often connect the dots that others might not necessarily see.

With a highly creative set of quick-thinking chops, it is ideal to work in a startup environment that appreciates this talent. For example, those with ADHD often thrive in the creative arts, engineering professions and in startups, where they can work more independently and contribute to out-of-the-box ideas.

One of the most important lessons for startup founders who are diagnosed with ADHD is to hire people who don’t have the disorder. With enough perfectionists to keep you in check, your team can make sure all of your loose ends are tied up. This way, as an ADHD startup founder, you can continue being yourself: often erratic and neurotic with flashes of brilliance.


John Fearon is the founder and CEO of Dropmysite.com, a company that provides website monitoring and automated backups for small businesses. Fearon was recently diagnosed with ADHD, an affliction that he believes can be rather common within the startup community. Fearon shares his personal thoughts on the pros and cons of living with ADHD as a small business owner and how others like him can turn the disorder into an advantage.


© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.


In this article