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A startup founder’s sudden death sparks a public discussion on work anxiety in China

The news of the recent death of an Internet startup CEO has gone viral. There have been massive reports on this matter, discussing the problems of anxiety among the IT industry in China.

Zhang Rui, founder and CEO of the Chinese mobile healthcare Q&A services provider Chunyu Yisheng, died of a heart attack on Wednesday, according to the company’s Weibo.

The 2011-founded company is rumored to have landed RMB 120 million (USD 17 million) in 2016 for its planned IPO. It was previously rumored to be going out of business in a widely spread report in October 2015. Zhang later showed up in press conference to dispel the rumor.

It is feared that the chronic stress and anxiety finally led to Zhang’s sudden death. It seems that entrepreneurs just cannot stop worrying about their startup situations. But why?

Zhang Rui, founder and CEO of Chunyu Yisheng. Photo from

Anxiety inevitable

Zhang himself talked about his anxiety in an interview in March 2015.

“I have been really anxious. I can’t eat or sleep well, every day,” said Zhang in the interview.

The anxiety, or the sense of insecurity, can be spotted in many entrepreneurs, even the successful ones. Both entrepreneurs and investors would often suffer from a sense of insecurity, according to tech blog 36Kr.

It is reported that the Chinese entrepreneur Liu Yan, who pioneered a popular form of video streaming in China, still feels under pressure – even after his company having been acquired at a price of RMB 260 million. Liu has to rely on sports to relieve the pressure, despite his personal success.

Anxiety indelible

The root of most entrepreneurs’ anxiety lies in the fact that they often do not feel secure. For some, a sense of security cannot be obtained at all.

Among the deciding factors determining a sense of security, the relationship between the entrepreneurs and other people is the most important one.

It appears that it is the entrepreneurs that are exerting influence on their partners, team members, investors and the media. But in fact, their sense of security depends on how much they are recognized by the latter.

As the company’s businesses develop and the surroundings change, people’s thoughts change with them. So, from this perspective, the sense of security cannot be solidified: or there is no such a thing as a final sense of security, at all.

This is to say, the mental stress and anxiety are indelible, and they will keep bothering the entrepreneur from beginning to end.

Anxiety intentional

It has been a trend among startups, the media and the public to see entrepreneurs as heroes, and entrepreneurship as a form of pathos. The startup circle is immersed in a both spontaneous and manmade atmosphere of sadness and anxiety.

Zhang was only one of the few successful entrepreneurs who have made something out of their startups. Many more are still struggling in the startup environment. They keep showcasing their misery: work overtime, sleep in the office, weep and cry, swear and make vows.

Anxiety could come from competition, which is evitable. No matter if they are nameless or with a reputation. Baidu CEO Robin Li would be troubled by the company’s medical ads scandal; Alibaba chairman Jack Ma could not neglect the fast development of Tencent’s WeChat Payment; Tencent CEO Pony Ma can’t ignore the fact that NetEase has cut a large piece of cake out of China’s gaming industry.

Since troubles and stumbles are inevitable in the path of entrepreneurship, you should spend your time in doing something meaningful rather than in groaning and moaning.

Maybe sometimes you will feel it’s unfair, but all is fair in love and war. Starting a business is a war, whether you win or lose.

Or, do not start the war in the first place.

(Top photo from

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