6 Ways Startup Founders Can Deal With Extra Stress

This post was originally published on Thoughts on Tech Startups and Venture Capital

Recently, I came home from work at 10pm, opened the door and immediately heard my wife say how stressed she was.

Her pharmaceutical company recently bought a biotech startup for a lot of money, and my wife is leading a very tough integration project. She works super hard, all the time, and is still behind on things.

The truth was that I was really stressed too. After my wife finished complaining I complained right back.

In general, running a Techstars program is super intense and stressful. This winter, though, just feels unusually challenging and demanding at work for me as well. I am behind on projects, concerned about not doing my best with founders, feel more tired and more stressed.

On Friday morning, while driving to work, I was trying to dig deeper to understand the cause of our stress. Suddenly it hit me – subconsciously, me, my wife, all of our family, friends and co-workers are way more stressed because of political instability in United States. Regardless of the political views, the stress caused by politics on Twitter and CNN combines with the typical stress at work, and amplifies.

As soon as I recognized this I felt better. In general, I’ve been good at self-introspection, de-stressing and identifying causes of my stress and addressing them. I think this is an important quality particularly because when dealing with startups, the stress tends to be extreme. 

I want to share tips for how to deal with founder stress, which tends to be amplified nowadays.

1. Recognize That You Are Stressed

The first step in dealing with stress is recognizing that you are stressed.

Do a self check-in once a week on how you are feeling. Literally, put it on the calendar.

If you are stressed, think about the source. What exactly is stressing you out? Uncertainty about the future? Fundraising? Co-founders? Co-workers?

Whatever it is, figuring out the source of the stress helps address it better.

2. Get More Sleep

Whenever I feel really stressed, I go to bed.

Stress for me is typically combined with physical and mental exhaustion. To deal with it I go straight to bed. I’ve never had a situation where I didn’t feel better after a full night of sleep.

The clog, and chemical build up of stress tends to wash out and get garbage collected during the night. We are all sleep deprived these days, especially founders, so extra sleep really helps.

Conversely, lack of sleep, and repeated stress causes people to malfunction. Literally, our brains don’t work well under repeated stress, and can we can’t think straight. Ongoing sleep depravation and stress can lead to permanent brain damage, so be sure to catch up on your sleep.

3. Take a Regular Vacation

Brad Feld has a rule of one week off the grid every quarter.

While you, as founder, may not be able to afford this, there is no reason why you can’t take at least one weekend completely off every few months, and take a week off twice a year.

Plan vacations ahead of time, and don’t ignore them. You always comeback refreshed, and ready to go. Give your body and mind the break it needs and deserves.

4. Eat Better and Drink Less Alcohol

This one is really important, and often founders get this exactly backwards. Startup culture is a culture of unhealthy foods, snacks and drinking. All of these tend to compound stress. Make an effort to plan your meals and to cut out alcohol. Healthy food leads to a less clogged and less stressed body.

Alcohol seems like it relieves stress, but it really doesn’t. I was drinking to reduce stress when I was running my second company, and developed an addiction. It was pretty bad, as I would drink, a lot, every single day.

I quit cold turkey over 3 years ago and never looked back. If you are founder and catch yourself drinking daily, be mindful that this is a response to stress and can turn into an addiction.

5. Exercise & Meditate

Regular exercise is an awesome way to release stress.

Personally, I do yoga, running and strength training, and try to exercise every single day. By trying to exercise every day, I end up exercising 5-6 days a week.

I exercise first thing in the morning, because I realized that if I don’t do it then I won’t get to it at all. Any sort of exercise (at a gym or participating in sports) is a great way to destress. Figure out what works for you and commit to it. 

Meditation is one activity I’ve not been able to incorporate into my daily routine yet.

I’ve tried meditating a bunch, but never stuck to it. Many investors and founders do it and find it extremely beneficial for mindfulness, and stress relief.

Similar to sleep, during the meditation, the brain tends to relax and clear out the clogs and stress that’s building up. Just ten minutes a day can make a massive difference in how you feel.

6. Have a Routine and Plan Your Calendar

As you probably know, I am a massive productivity nerd and do a lot of scheduling and planning.

Uncertainty in the schedule causes stress. Startups in general are chaotic, but sometimes total chaos leads to stress.

You need to own your calendar and plan time for everything – meetings, work, email, family time, exercise — everything you do should be planned and mapped out onto a calendar.

Planning helps you clearly know what to do next and it helps you to reduce the stress.

Please share your tips for reducing stress with our readers!

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How My Horse Helps Me Run My Company

This year my boyfriend (and Testlio’s co-founder) Marko and I decided to get married. In a small wedding surrounded by our closest family and friends, he completely surprised me with something that I had only dreamed of — a horse.

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Crazy, right?! I know.

Even I couldn’t believe it when I first met my horse Rockefeller. The first three minutes I just thought that he has been brought there for us to take photos, but when Marko finally started explaining how he has been taking Rocky for walks for the past week, I was in shock and realized that he will actually be part of our family! It’s been three months now and I have to say that I’m happier and feel more fulfilled than ever before.

Marko is the only one in the world who can read my mind and knows exactly how I’m feeling at any given moment. Since starting Testlio he has seen me hit the lowest emotional points of my life, those times where you think you’re worth nothing even after working so hard.

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I had ridden horses as a child for a few years before my family was no longer able to afford it, and I never realized that it was such an important thing missing from my life. Until the day I got married, I actually didn’t have any hobbies besides playing piano, which meant I wasn’t doing anything physically challenging. Unfortunately the lack of exercise (and the fact that I wasn’t engaging myself outside of work) led me to a point of emotional self-destruction — feeling unhappy, guilty, sad.

The hardest thing about running business for me is feeling responsible for everyone and everything. As a founder and a CEO I want everyone to be successful and happy. I constantly question myself. Am I making the right decisions? What if…? What if…? What if…? It’s a constant battle against the fear of the unknown.

I felt like I was in constant f*ck up mode. Like I was morally responsible for everything that goes on every day, and I was failing.

I honestly don’t know how long I could have continued like this. Luckily, I never will know because since Rockefeller came into my life, I’ve felt happier and know that everything is going to be alright, always.

But it took me a long time to get to this point, where I feel emotionally balanced and like an unstoppable force. It’s clear that the two are related.

So what broke the cycle of stress? What is it about Rockefeller?

I simply hadn’t been taking care of myself, and Rockefeller reminded me of that and helped me move forward. When you’re faced with a difficult situation that you don’t know how to act on it’s best to sleep on it. Or paint. Or in my case, ride a horse. But I hadn’t allowed myself to pull away.

Rockefeller both recharges my brain and helps me take better care of my body.

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There’s no question that my current goal in life is to make our community of testers, customers, and my entire team successful. But with anything you work towards, you have have to take a step back.

Hobbies have actually been proven to make you more productive and happier at work. Just one hour of a creative or physical hobby can lead to more success and fulfillment in the entire day. Hobbies help you refocus, become more creative and attack problems better than ever before. Because with everything we do in life, we always learn something new. The more we know the better we are at making decisions.

Here are three ways that Rockefeller helps me tackle the hardest parts of running a business on a daily basis.

Taking Time Off of Work

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to actually take time off of work. Everyone needs to find that one thing that forces them to take a break and balance their mind.

A passion, a hobby, an activity, a loved one. Someone or something wants to pull you away from work and you need to let them.

But guilt can creep in, telling us to finish our tasks and keep pushing. Sometimes guilt is a message we’re supposed to ignore. Even if that feeling won’t let you rest, you can choose what’s best for you and give your brain the downtime it needs.

Learning to be Simultaneously Patient and Confident

Running a startup is a constant rollercoaster where one day you feel on top of the world, but most days you doubt yourself and your self worth as a founder.

This is when having a hobby pays off. You can feel good about life even on the worst days, knowing that you at least have that one thing that is constant and good. You get that extra boost of confidence in your professional life, while feeling more attuned and more patient. When you’re taking care of yourself and feel balanced, there’s less rush.

That clarity often makes solutions arise faster.

I’ve struggled to solve a problem for four hours to no avail only to play the piano for ten minutes and boom! There’s the solution.

Balancing Work with Physical Exercise

Besides just having a hobby that challenges our minds, we should also put our bodies under pressure. Because if your body feels good, so does your mind. Physical activity produces endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. They also improve our ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

I would have never bought a horse on my own. How could I possibly have handled the responsibility on top of long workdays and constant travel?

But I’ve made it work. Instead of sleeping until 9, I wake up at 6, do my training and get started at Testlio. I arrive fresh and ready to nail the day!

I consider myself very lucky, because I really love this company, but from time to time, even I need time to relax and do other things. I’ve seen people crash and burn multiple times in my life. Not only will you not succeed if you don’t take care of yourself, but you deserve to be healthy and fulfilled.

This was originally published on Medium.








(Comic) No Pain No Gain

#entrepreneurfail Comfortable with Uncomfortable

Ever been in an awkward situation? Ever kicked yourself for saying something foolish? Ever been a room where you are the least knowledgeable? Ever been yelled at by a customer?

If these sound terrible, you may not be ready to be an entrepreneur. As a new founder you will be constantly faced with situations that are unfair, confusing, overwhelming, and plain stressful. Successful entrepreneurs embrace these uncomfortable situations and accept them as a facet of starting a company. In fact, these moments of discomfort may actually motivate you to learn more, try harder and take more risks.

Some ways to mitigate that sinking sensation in your stomach:

  1. Expect the worst – you may be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Put it all in perspective – a little discomfort won’t ruin your business and every entrepreneur has felt it and dealt with it so you are not alone.
  3. Know it’s not personal – business discomfort has nothing to do with you as a person.
  4. Create a contingency plan – as they say, if plan A or plan B doesn’t work, there are many other letters in the alphabet!
  5. The sooner you anticipate and enjoy the discomfort, the sooner you can keep focused on growing your business.

Do you deal with difficult situations? Let us know how you deal with the uncomfortable in the comments below.








You Don't Have Time For This, Entrepreneur (Comic)

#entrpreneurfail For a limited time

What do you have in common with every entrepreneur big and small, successful and novice? Time. It is the one great equalizer in this world. Everyone has the same number of hours to play with, splurge, spend and invest in any way they want.

If you’ve ever negotiated with an investor, money is probably the lever. However entrepreneurs forget the other currency they can leverage: time. I know you’ve heard the phrase “time is money”. It is true entrepreneurs are always grasping for time, and there is never any time. A few things to remember if you are constantly grasping for more “free time”.

  1. Don’t squander your time on unnecessary tasks.
  2. Time box your free time and your work time. Check out the Pomodoro Technique.
  3. There is more time than you think.
  4. Procrastination is a sign that your work may not be the right work.
  5. Deliver earlier than planned.
  6. Being busy all the time may imply that you are not managing your priorities correctly.
  7. Say ‘no’ and see how it frees up your time.

Let us know how you effectively manage your time as an entrepreneur in your comments below.

This was originally created by Kriti Vichare for #entrepreneurfail: Startup Success.








Cómo manejar el estrés y los problemas al iniciar un proyecto.

stress management

Los días previos a comenzar cualquier proyecto nuevo son, en la mayoría de los casos, días llenos de estrés y preocupaciones. Si no tuvimos una planeación previa que considerara el tiempo necesario (y algunos días previendo contratiempos), nos vamos a topar con detalles que nos van a frustar mucho y nos van a hacer pasar un mal rato. Pero, ¿quién quiere pasar un mal rato, estar enojado, frustrado, al iniciar un proyecto?

Para arrancar un proyecto es importante tomar las decisiones con la cabeza fría, considerando las opciones que tenemos a la mano, recursos disponibles, tiempos de entrega, cantidades de compra, y muchos factores más. Tomar esas decisiones no es fácil si estamos enojados o frustrados.

Hay varias cosas que debemos esperar cuando estamos arrancando un proyecto nuevo:

  1. Algunos proveedores o gente involucrada te van a quedar mal
  2. Los gastos van a ser mayores a lo que se tiene presupuestado.
  3. Difícilmente el resultado inicial va a ser lo que tienes en mente.
  4. Va a necesitar más tiempo de lo que crees.
  5. Van a salir contratiempos que ni te habías imaginado.

Cualquiera de estas 5 cosas (y muchas más) pueden pasar de forma aislada o todas al mismo tiempo, y créanme que en esos momentos es posible que el estrés te lleve a enojarte, hacer rabietas, llorar del coraje, querer tirar la toalla y mucho más.

Eso no lo podrás hacer si no estás en la mentalidad correcta. Para poder evitar caer en una espiral de frustración y enojo piensa en lo siguiente:

  1. Identifica los pensamientos absurdos que te desata ese sentimiento y elimínalos. De qué te sirve pensar que ”Todo está saliendo mal. Hasta el clima está en mi contra. De por si vamos atrasados y ahora se soltó lloviendo.” Suena ridículo pero es un tipo de pensamiento que sucede más seguido de lo que pensamos. De repente todo está saliendo mal y somos las víctimas de una jugada del universo. Suficiente. Detén todos esos pensamientos. Deja de victimizarte.
  2. ¿Qué es lo que te causa ese sentimiento? ¿A caso es el hecho de que fue algo que pasaste por alto (culpabilidad), el hecho de que alguien en quien confiaste te quedó mal, que no hubo comunicación efectiva, por lo cual no sucedió lo que debía haber sucedido?
  3. Eliminando los pensamiento absurdos y tomando en cuenta el origen de ese sentimiento de frustración, es momento de entrar en perspectiva. No estoy diciendo que se trata de “ver el lado amable” de la situación, si no simplemente aceptar lo que sucedió y el sentimiento que tienes como un hecho y dejarlo ir. Acéptalo, déjalo ir y comienza a actuar. Es totalmente válido enojarse si el proveedor no te entregó el material que necesitabas a tiempo. Negocia con él y asegúrate que no hay nada que pueda hacer para resolverlo. Ya habiendo hecho eso, déjalo ir. Tómalo como una realidad. Si es necesario di en voz alta para ti mismo “No tengo el material que necesito para comenzar”. Pero no permitas que esto te bloquee. Actúa. Muévete. Es momento de resolver el problema. 

Cada vez que pase algo que no esperas, date 1 minuto para hacer lo anterior. Haz lo que sea necesario para que físicamente manifiestes ese contratiempo. Después de ese minuto, canaliza toda tu energía en IDENTIFICAR las razones por las cuales se generó el problema, PREVENIR que vuelva a suceder o afecte otras áreas del proyecto, y finalmente en RESOLVER el problema. Para eso:

1. Identifica la causa raíz del problema

  • ¿Qué causó este contratiempo?
  • ¿Quiénes estuvieron involucrados?
  • ¿Cómo se pudo haber evitado?

2. Prevee contratiempos similares

  • ¿La causa de este contratiempo, me va a afectar en algún otra área?
  • ¿Cómo evito que este contratiempo retrase otras áreas y tiempos del proyecto?
  • ¿La gente involucrada en el contratiempo anterior, en qué otros proyectos están involucrados?
  • Verifica que la gente que te quedó mal no te vaya a quedar mal en otros entregables.

3. Resuelve el problema

  • ¿Cómo se ve afectado mi producto/servicio final si no resuelvo este problema?
  • ¿Vale la pena hacer gastos no previstos para resolver este problema? ¿Cuánto es lo máximo que se le puede invertir?
  • ¿Cómo me va a afectar este problema?
  • ¿Cómo lo resuelvo?
  • ¿Qué recursos necesito para resolverlo?
  • ¿Existen otras alternativas que serían más rápidas, económicas o factibles?
  • ¿Cómo evito que ya solucionado este problema específicamente, no suceda de nuevo?

Estas son algunas preguntas que te puedes hacer para identificar, prever, y resolver los contratiempos al arrancar tu proyecto.

¿Cómo manejan el estrés y actúan ustedes al iniciar un proyecto?

•Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en Think&Start.com por Aldo Aguirre, Director de Finanzas de UP Global, para Latinoamérica.