Bonobos cofounder Andy Dunn says having bipolar disorder presented challenges during his time as CEO but also helped him be his 'entrepreneurial best'

Bonobos cofounder Andy Dunn says having bipolar disorder presented challenges during his time as CEO but also helped him be his 'entrepreneurial best'
Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
  • Andy Dunn is the cofounder and former CEO of the menswear brand Bonobos.
  • In his new book "Burn Rate," he reflects on how his bipolar disorder affected him as he led the company.

Bonobos cofounder and former CEO Andy Dunn is opening up about how his bipolar disorder affected him as he helmed the men's fashion brand years ago.

In his new book "Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind," which came out Tuesday, Dunn explains how being bipolar both helped and hurt him as a business leader.

At one point, he recalls telling Chris Travers, at the time Bonobos' general counsel and in-house therapist, that he'd double his equity while in a manic state. Dunn's promise later got him in trouble with the board and necessitated that he give up some of his own equity to make good on it.

"I let Chris know that I'd spoken too soon on the equity grant, and that I'd do my best to get him a refresh from the board," Dunn wrote. "At our next board meeting, I was able to get him some more equity, but nothing close to the double I had offered over email during my manic state. To try to bridge the gap, in a highly unusual step, I said I'd like to give him some of my equity. Nobody on the board liked that idea, but they let me go through with it."

In another anecdote, Dunn remembers having his "CEO investment review" in 2016 the day after he left a hospital and jail following a manic episode in which he struck his wife, Manuela Zoninsein, and her mother.


"It just so happened that day that I would be on display in front of a huge group of people for the most high-pressure thing I did at the company," he wrote. "In a retail company, the biggest investment you make is in inventory, and this was the meeting where tens of millions of dollars' worth of investment was being finalized."

"I put on an Oscar-worthy performance," Dunn continued. "I managed to hide everything that had happened, including some lurking but still present irrational thoughts, and, as if nothing had happened, I chattered about how many olive-green chinos we should be buying and where the opportunity was to expand into new fits in tailored clothing."

The next day, Dunn told the board about his bipolar disorder and was relieved to be met with members' understanding and acceptance.

"We hold this idea in our heads that something that is stigmatized simply cannot be spoken of," he wrote. "It is unspeakable. Before this phone call, I couldn't imagine that even in a thousand universes I would ever divulge to the board that I had mental health problems."

Though it sometimes created hurdles for Dunn at Bonobos, his bipolar disorder could also help him as a business leader, he says.


"For me, controlled hypomania is when I am at my entrepreneurial best: able to work long days, with high levels of endurance; generating kinetic positive energy for recruiting, fundraising, and motivating the team; and having frequent sparks of ideas, perhaps even moments of vision," he said. "Everything is clicking, everything is making sense, life has purpose. Colors seem brighter; gratitude flows. This is the zone where creativity and productivity flourish."

Closing out "Burn Rate," Dunn calls on people to end the stigma around mental illness.

"Let's not celebrate 'crazy,' and let's not stigmatize it, either," he wrote. "Let's just deal with mental illness—openly, transparently, medically, chemically, in the mirror and in living rooms and conference rooms, boardrooms and family rooms and bedrooms and, yes, rooms with trained therapists and psychiatrists—and let's, for everyone's sake, stop pretending that it's not here. That we're not here."