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February 20, 2023
Min read

“I broke down while leading a company retreat. I wish I’d acted earlier.”

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf
With thanks To
André Bastié | Co-founder & CEO of Happy Scribe

For André, growing up gay in the French countryside meant there were few opportunities for self-discovery. His childhood was marked by bullying at school and an unstable environment at home. 

“I can’t even remember that time. I didn’t have a safe space or anyone I could talk to.”

André coped by taking on a ton of extracurricular projects and initiatives. He began training to become a firefighter. He joined the regional youth parliament. He started a local association.

That innate energy and drive naturally led him to become an entrepreneur. In 2017 he launched Happy Scribe, a bootstrapped transcription services startup, straight out of university at age 22.

Thanks to some good early press, the company took off right away—going from zero to €3000 in monthly revenue in just one month. “It was super exciting,” he recalls. 

André and cofounder Marc quickly found themselves working nights and weekends as they tried to figure out the industry. Sometimes they’d stay up till 5am.

But André badly neglected his personal life. He moved to Barcelona for Happy Scribe, but couldn’t connect with the city.

“I was working days, nights, and weekends. I had no relationships. I wasn’t seeing my friends. My life revolved around my company. Sometimes I felt super lonely, but I didn’t mind because my sole purpose was to make Happy Scribe grow and succeed.”

It was a recipe for burnout.

“I was slowly going down”

After a couple of years, André began experiencing bouts of depression. The descent was so gradual that he wasn’t even aware of it. But his friends noticed that every so often, he would be really down for a week. These rough patches started to grow longer and more frequent.

“One weekend, a friend said, ‘André, you look exhausted. What’s going on?’ I just started crying. I couldn’t give any reason.”

Being naturally resilient, as soon as he felt better André would dismiss this as normal work stress and forget all about it. Besides, each rough period would be quickly masked by the excitement of hiring new people, signing new deals, and watching his company grow.

“Each milestone was like a shot of adrenaline that kept me going. I became like an addict—I kept looking for the next high from work.”

<quote-author>André Bastié<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CEO of Happy Scribe<quote-company>

But despite working nonstop, André wasn’t so productive—and he stopped enjoying what he was doing. In fact, he was feeling lost. He started doubting himself, and his motivation was ebbing.

Things finally came to a head during the annual company retreat.


“It hit me and I cracked”

Every year, André takes his team to a remote location for 10 days of intense work as well as fun. This time, he’d picked an island near Stockholm. As usual, he made all the arrangements himself—dealing with passports, flights, car rentals, and making backup plans.

It was a lot of work, and he was in overdrive.

“This was the last adrenaline rush that my body accepted. Like, ‘Okay, I’ll let you enjoy this last shot. But after this, you’re going to pay for it.’ On the way there, I was super excited and motivated. Then we arrived on the island—and boom, it hit me and I cracked.”

André made it through the first day, but the next morning, he found it impossible to get out of bed. Even when he made it to the first session, his brain refused to cooperate:

“I couldn’t connect the words that people were saying. Trying to participate was causing anxiety. Turning on my computer or looking at email was causing anxiety. I just wanted to stop everything.”

André started going to bed early, exhausted and tearful. He questioned everything he was doing, and struggled with dark thoughts. In the morning, he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed until 11am. He fantasised about leaving Happy Scribe and opening a beach club instead.

"I was so down and exhausted that I couldn’t do anything. I slept 12 hours a night and wondered, ‘Who is this person?’ It was the worst week of my life.”

André’s colleagues noticed he was struggling, and his cofounder Marc tried talking to him. But the problem wasn’t related to the team or the company. It was internal—something he’d have to tackle himself.

He texted his entrepreneur friends in France: “I think I need help.”


The root of the problem

André’s friends referred him to a therapist who works with entrepreneurs. After the retreat ended, he flew straight to Paris and called her.

“Half an hour into our first meeting, she looked at me and said, ‘André, you’re in a very deep depression. You need to start taking care of yourself—now.’”

At first, André was sceptical about therapy. He didn’t see the point in talking about his childhood or his parents. But over time, he began to recognise that his present problems were rooted in his past.

“When you’ve lived with past trauma for so long, it just becomes a normal part of your life. It’s hard to see it as a problem. Therapy helped me revisit and recognise my underlying issues.”

<quote-author>André Bastié<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CEO of Happy Scribe<quote-company>

He talked about his mother’s depression and his fear of not being accepted by his father. He talked about the bullying he endured in school. He realised that his relentless drive to succeed came from a desire to prove himself to his dad, and to outdo the kids who had tormented him.

In retrospect, André realises how unhealthy this was: 

“I had achieved my revenge. That’s when things started to crash—because I didn’t have anything more to prove to those people.”  

As a result, even when he did achieve success, he didn’t feel happy. And meanwhile, he’d neglected his own needs.

“All those years, I never really worked on who I am or what I want in life. Until I experienced depression, my own self didn’t count. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned in 27 years.”

Making these connections in therapy helped André understand why he had allowed his company to take over his life. More importantly, it helped him change course.


A healthier relationship with work

After the breakdown in Sweden, André took 3 months off to recover. He disconnected completely, spending time with friends and doing things he enjoyed. And he initiated the hard conversations he needed to have with his mum and dad.

Since returning to work, he’s reduced his hours and no longer works weekends. He’s more deliberate about what he takes on, and doesn’t allow external pressures to dictate what he does. Rather than letting the company be the centre of his life, he now sees it as a tool to help him achieve happiness and fulfilment in his personal life.

André was honest and transparent with his team about why he was away. He also signed them up for mental healthcare through Oliva so they can talk to someone before they reach breaking point, like he did.

“It’s still very early, because therapy takes time. But I have a much healthier relationship with work. I want us to win the market. I want us to succeed. And most importantly, I’m happy at work.”

Oliva therapist photograph

4 tips for avoiding a big burnout

by Oliva therapist

Catalina Pearce

Take a moment to pause

When we are feeling intense emotions such as stress, panic, anxiety, or even anger, our mind and body wants to react very quickly. It’s easy to feel like there’s no time to stop and take stock of things. But pausing is helpful. It could be a few deep breaths before saying yes to something—or a longer step back to really consider what is triggering these emotions in you, what your priorities are, and what is within your control to change.

See your whole self

Periods of intense pressure can make us see ourselves through a narrow lens. We can end up only measuring our worth by our productivity. But as humans, we all have a range of emotional and physical needs that need to be considered—or we’ll eventually feel the negative consequences. It’s important to recognise this.


Think about the key areas of your life: health, relationships, leisure, and work. Now think about what you need to be doing to regularly meet those needs. Be honest with yourself and consider if you’re focusing all of your energy into just one area. If this is the case, then it’s time to think about redistributing your energy more equally into other areas of your life.

Get rid of guilt

Sometimes we are afraid of taking a step back from our responsibilities, or of setting boundaries, because we feel like it’s selfish. This thought only holds us back from truly being able to fulfill our potential. If we’re burnt out, sleep-deprived, irritable, or stressed then it’s unlikely that we’ll be giving the best of ourselves to those around us. It’s only by putting ourselves first that we can truly be present for others.