April Koh is an excellent example on hypocrisy in leadership

Bernardo Montes de Oca
November 30, 2021

April Koh took the world by storm from a young age, with a perfect tale of overcoming personal and professional challenges. Koh struggled with mental health and decided to act on it. She started her own company at age 24 to help companies improve mental health. What came out was Spring Health which, by Koh's 29th birthday, had a $2 billion valuation.

To the eyes of the world, Spring Health and Koh were the definitions of success. As a CEO, Koh earned a reputation as relentless. She believed in setting the highest standards and working fast to achieve goals. The company’s motto, “Move fast”, reflected her ideals.

The company started in 2016 and had had moderate success before the pandemic raising $22 million in its Series A funding round. Still, Koh didn't stop and demanded the highest standards possible from her employees with one goal. Spring Health was to grow at all costs, and the startup's mission had to be in everyone's DNA. You could say she accomplished her goal. Spring Health grew, and a lot. It jumped from 100 employees in pre-pandemic times, to more than 250 now, but something was wrong.

At the same time, more than 40 quit. The pace was relentless, and, at times, it seemed like basic needs were now optional. Instead, 70-hour workweeks ensued, with employees giving their all and even more.

Tension was a part of April Koh and her recipe

There was a constant fear of getting fired, and anxiety was rampant. As one former employee put it, the company focused on others' mental health while employees sacrificed their own.

Now, this story isn't new in the startup world. It's long been a rule that these young companies need such a culture. The problem arises when the company loses sight of its very essence to reach those goals. This comes at changing times. We've all seen the massive waves of people quitting.  More and more employees reject the work-first mentality and leave companies such as Spring Health.

So, in the face of the challenge, Koh had to regroup. Finally, in October of this year, she recognized that Spring Health had a systemic burnout issue and would take action. Some former employees criticized her actions as being too late. I, for one, have to commend her. After all, she took action, and other companies should do the same.

Bernardo Montes de Oca
Content creator in love with writing in all its forms, from scripts to short stories to investigative journalism, and about almost every topic imaginable. From start-ups to nature, from literature to aviation. Hearing impaired, so let’s talk loud and clear.
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