STORIES FROM THE SCHADENFREUDE – Recognised correctly, it could lead to your secret superpower

In these unprecedented times of (using the word unprecedented) uncertainty, many of us are contemplating taking the leap of faith and becoming a fulltime entrepreneur. In this edition of the Zymurgist Diaries, let’s aim to understand how schadenfreude is important to founders (and investors); and how can founders (and investors) use it to their benefit using the right perspective.

But first: schadenfreude


  1. pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.


Schadenfreude and envy assume happiness is a zero-sum game

Schadenfreude or empathy’s shadow – has been one of my all-time favourite words to succinctly convey a dark characteristic about human nature. Simply put, schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where, rather than feeling sympathy, one takes pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction from learning of or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.  However, it is also a perfectly normal human response when we see someone get their comeuppance for their misdeeds.

It manifests itself in innumerable ways – both consciously and subconsciously. And more so, with founders and investors – with other people in their lives.

What emotion does the below GIF image trigger in you?

Do other people make us laugh, or are we laughing at other people?

From an evolutionary perspective, researchers suggest that schadenfreude could be a natural product of direct competition over limited resources; and that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are those who have high self-esteem. This is because of the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves and our ongoing misery is forgotten for that brief instant.

Founders and schadenfreude

Founders are always under tremendous pressure to succeed. Having left their cushy corporate jobs or comfortable alternative careers, they chose to go through the rigmarole of entrepreneurship and dedicate their life in the pursuit of their vision via the venture.

It is hence, quite natural that founders go through several shades of schadenfreude, which are a result of them comparing their current lives with others (friends, classmates, siblings) and the conclusions they make about themselves based on these observations. As much as their inferiority makes them feel bad, their superiority makes them feel good.

Explains all the anonymous LinkedIn visits, I suppose.

“I told you so”… “I knew it”…

On the other side, there is the class of people who are employed and have never taken risks in their lives and feel schadenfreude when their friends fail in their business ventures. It is quite shameful that one experiences such emotions, but it is human nature after all. And that further discourages people from entrepreneurship and taking risks.

The lead up to schadenfreude – it wasn’t built in a day

Due to the overconfidence and hindsight biases (among others) clouding their judgement and life, sometimes founders do not really want to hear the truth because they do not want their illusions and the make-believe land they are living in destroyed. However, because founders do not acknowledge their problems and shortcomings, they do not change or they solve the wrong problems; and as a result, are stuck in a never-ending loop. So, subconsciously, knowing they are not in a great position, they walk right into the trap of schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude as a psychological band aid – acknowledge what is aching

Essentially, the sense of security or self-esteem founders get from schadenfreude is fragile and does not really heal the deeper wound. The inevitable question is: what can founders do about schadenfreude? And how can founders use schadenfreude to their benefit?

Instead of consciously enjoying schadenfreude, founders can use it as a signal to probe deeper into their own sense of who they truly are: Why are they feeling threatened or jealous? What is the source of their envy, the anger, or collectively – the low self-esteem?

Celebrate what is right in your life

As Epicurus said: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

When we root ourselves in gratitude for our own life, we are more likely to counter schadenfreude by remembering that there is enough happiness within you to keep you happy. Need I say more?

Take risks, put yourself in vulnerable situations to experience the unknown

As a founder, you have realised that safety is an illusion and that you need to take risks and get out of your shell of comfort to get to an extraordinary life. Unless founders look inwards to find answers to their problems; their fears, their dark-side and worst of all – their schadenfreude become stronger. Problems are not inherently bad, it is the attitude and our approach to them that makes them bad.

Perhaps it is time to take that risk, and to make yourself a bit more vulnerable; and face your fears.

Remember – you are fragile too, and are the topic of someone else’s schadenfreude

Instead of rooting for others’ failure, if people flipped the equation, and derived pleasure and inspiration in others’ triumphs, the world would be such a better place, instead of this inglorious rat race.

Schadenfreude and empathy are two sides of the same coin

Accepting that feeling, forgiving ourselves for it, and practicing unconditional loving-kindness toward our own frailties might be the first steps in extending that same compassion to everyone else in your life – the co-founders, staff, investors, family, partners… you get the drift.

Learn to forgive yourself, and others

Need I say more?

And finally, the concept of Mudita

Mudita is the antithesis to schadenfreude.  Simply put, mudita in Sanskrit means joy; especially sympathetic or vicarious joy, or the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being. It is that state of consciousness where one shows joy is to celebrate happiness and achievement in others, even when we are facing tragedy ourselves.

Parting thoughts till the next blog:

Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.

  • Sun Tzu

Pause, reflect, act.

#TheZymurgistDiaries #GrowthMindset #Leadership #EntrepreneurialMindset #EntrepreneurialChallenges #covid19times

About the author:

24x Founder, 3x Success, 2x VCExit, 19x Failure, 100x Resilient, 14x Sectors, 6x Continents, $2+bn deals originated and advised.

Chennakeshav Adya (Keshav) is an eclectic value creator for mid-sized firms and PE/VC funds on Fund-raising, M&A, growth, corporate strategy and deal-making (currently, as co-founder of Adan Corporate). He is a resourceful entrepreneur with 20+ years of global experience in building businesses from a concept and growing global teams from 2 to 200+.

A deca-lingual, multi-talented zymurgist, Keshav is skilled at using the founder’s mentality and thrives in uncertainty and chaos, directing teams through the “Unknown” in the initial 1-2 years of setting up any type of new venture.

As an Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence (EMiR), Keshav is associated with London Business School’s experiential entrepreneurship activities supporting students and alumni who are interested in pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, whether launching or growing their own ventures.