Micah Baldwin is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Graphicly which was acquired by Blurb in 2014. We are very fortunate to have him come on the show and be very vulnerable with us about his experience recovering from addiction, and dealing with mental illness since childhood. He has a lot of wisdom and experience living in the recovery community and helping others to find help and hope.
Micah grew up in Silicon Valley and started his first company at the age of 9. After selling Graphicly, he spent time at Amazon where he led a team dedicated to helping startups growth their businesses by connecting with large enterprises and business units. Currently, Micah is the founder and Executive Director of Create33 in Seattle which he describes as a labor of love, providing resources to founders such as advice, fundraising access and other resources he would have loved to have when he was starting out as a founder.
He is also an experienced startup investor, and a trusted adviser to many startups as well. He’s a mentor and adviser at 500 Startups, Techstars, CrunchFund and others where he helps early stage companies with fund raising, business development, product development, marketing and growth
Here are a few highlights of what you can expect to hear in this episode:
- Micah talks to me about his personal entrepreneurial journey. He talks about growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley and how his father worked at Stanford and was asked to be the 4th employee at Cisco. Micah grew up around entrepreneurship.
- I asked Micah what comes to mind when he thinks of mental health and he shared about how stability comes to mind first and goes on to explain his lifelong struggle battling mental health issues. He discusses his mental health diagnoses which include bipolar 2, anxiety and bipolar depression, all of which are medicated, and he is currently in a stable state. He talks about how when he was growing up, nobody really knew what mental health was and that people just viewed him as “the crazy kid” who was sad all the time, or the little “genius kid” that was like a little energizer bunny all the time. Micah goes on to explain how when he talks to his mom to this day, about mental health, her response is just about always the same. She says she she wished she knew this was going on when he was a kid. This brings up a very interesting point which is that mental health was not talked about when we were kids. It was something you kept quiet. He gives an example about how if he had gotten in a car wreck and become a paraplegic there would have been a conversation about how to deal with it, but mental health just wasn’t talked about.
- We talked about how addiction interacted with his mental illnesses throughout his life.Micah talks about having an addictive personality, and how moderation has been something he struggled with. His very first drug was food. He became a big kid and he talks about how he used his role as the “funny fat kid” as a defense mechanism. Later in life that translated into drug and alcohol addiction. He talks a lot about how he bottomed out and when he decided to get sober, as well as his process to gain sobriety and maintain sobriety.
- I asked him to talk about the difference between “white knuckling” it with regards to addiction recovery versus going through a program like AA. He talks about how he first attended AA after being court mandated after a DUI in the early 2000s. When he went he expected it to be full of fake people pretending to work a program but, he realized how nice everyone was, how different everyone was, and how every single one of these very different people were full of pure love for one another. The sense of belonging was the biggest wake up call for him.
- We talk in depth about the spiritual component of AA (or 12-step programs). He talks about how at one point he was turned off by the mentions of “higher power” in AA. He talks about how he would listen to all these people turning their lives over to a higher power and that it didn’t’ make any sense to him. He talks about how for him higher power has evolved into the broader AA group and how each friend he has made in the program represents a piece of this higher power.
- I asked how stigma has impacted his journey with his mental health and addiction. He talks about how there is always this image of “perfect” in certain fields, like venture, or startups with respect to how you look, or who you are. He doesn’t fit the mold in many ways, and his fear of adding his mental health issues to his reasons why he doesn’t’ fit the mold kept him from wanting to get help or talk about it. Eventually he made the shift from worrying what other people think to not caring if someone judges him because he’s not like everyone else or because of what he’s done in his past.
- We talk about how we can address the problem of stigma. Micah outlines three things that need to happen:
- Each of us needs to be open to admit that we all have biases and we have to work to be compassionate, accepting, and willing to listen to a person’s whole story instead of judging them based on part of the story.
- We need to talk about mental health as a medical condition, because it is one. My brain works differently than other peoples’ brains. That’s ok just as it’s ok for someone’s legs to work different than other peoples’ legs. Furthermore, education is key. There needs to be more opportunity to learn what it means to live in unstable versus stable mental states. We need to educate people on how they can be helpful to us when we are struggling whether it be in a crisis or in a depressed state or whatever it may be.
- We need more people who have succeeded in spite of mental illness and addiction, to come forward and share their stories. We need to make it well known that many people achieve a great deal of success while struggling with instability or addiction.