Unbeknown to Matt Berriman, he was battling bipolar disorder while leading his tech start-up to dizzying heights. Now he's made the brave decision to open up about the mental illness as he relieves himself of the day-to-day responsibilities as CEO.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on February 14, 2018

Matt Berriman, co-founder of Australian technology start-up Unlockd, has stepped aside as CEO while he deals with bipolar disorder.

In an open letter, Berriman speaks openly about the reasons for his “agonising” decision, hoping it “helps the community better understand that mental illness”.

The 33-year-old said symptoms of bipolar disorder began to take hold during the rapid rise of Unlockd over the last two years.

The start-up , which rewards smartphone users for watching ads, and is backed by a host of high-profile investors including Lachlan Murdoch, has raised more than $60 million in that time, including $30.8 million in series B funding last May.

It is now a global company with 55 staff in five countries, and just last month, Berriman announced the company had recorded an annual recurring revenue of $20.6 million, which puts it in the highest echelons of start-up performers in the eyes of investors.

“I began to experience symptoms, which I attributed for far too long to stress, lack of sleep and the start-up roller-coaster. What I did not know at the time was I was fighting a battle with bi-polar disorder,” Berriman wrote in his published letter.

What I did not know at the time was I was fighting a battle with bi-polar disorder.

“Over the last 15 months, despite continuous and multi-faceted treatments I’m still struggling to return to my optimal holistic health, and as a result I now need to put a larger commitment in place to con-currently prioritise my health with my commitment to Unlockd.”

He has decided to take on the role of Executive Director, “focusing on major shareholder relations, overall strategic direction and corporate development”, to give himself space to manage his illness while still maintaining control over the direction of the company.

Chief Operating Officer Jane Martino will take Berriman’s place as CEO, which he stresses won’t be a jump, as she’s been covering for him for some time.

“Throughout Unlockd’s journey, my first investor, key advisor and most recently Chief Operating Officer Jane Martino has been instrumental in what Unlockd is today and I’m now proud to announce her as our new CEO,” he wrote.

“This is a role she has effectively been playing for some time now behind the scenes as I continued balancing my own personal health challenges with being the founder and CEO.

“The success of the business is significantly attributable to her operational control, and in addition to the qualities she exhibits as a person leave me in total confidence and faith of her succeeding me as CEO.

“I will work closely with her in my new role to continue to drive the business and its success well into the future.”

People with bipolar disorder experience extreme highs and lows in their moods, it is also known as manic depression. And Berriman says it’s important to shine a light on mental illness.

“Mental illness continues to be one of the most misunderstood and hidden epidemics of our generation,” he said.

“Like others before me, the decision to make my journey public, is another important step forward in helping engender greater awareness of mental illness.

“Hopefully in some incremental way it helps the community better understand that mental illness.”