Entrepreneurial Stress

Imagine lying awake at night, knowing that the fate of the world rests on your shoulders. Either you succeed and humanity gains the ability to reduce a major pain – or you fail and we soldier on as we’ve always done. This is the pressure of founding a startup. On the upside, we have hope and a shot at improving the world around us. On the downside, we have a crushing responsibility and challenge after challenge standing in our way. At Boulder BITS, I help awesome entrepreneurs harness the upside and work through the downside. Here, I’ll share a few strategies for building yourself stronger so that you can change the fate of the world.


I’ll start off on a dark note. About 30% of all entrepreneurs suffer from depression (Michaela Freeman). Some 27% suffer from anxiety. Nearly half experience at least one mental health condition. This is staggering compared to the estimated national average, 7%. Furthermore, 62 % entrepreneurs often suffer from insomnia and >70% experience physical manifestations of stress; headaches, indigestion and back pain (The Rotarian). I’ll say it as simply as I can, “You need a support network to deal with the pressures of founding a company.” If you don’t have one, stop what you’re doing. You need to go into this endeavor with both eyes open. You must be prepared.


If you don’t have a set of mentors, find some. If you can’t find the right mentors, ask people to help you find them. Mentors take all shapes and forms – everything from your technical expert to your cheerleader. Every mentor should be equipped to reduce your mental load and help guide you on a better path. Sure they may add stress in the moment, but they should reduce stress in the long run. A good mentor will challenge you intellectually, strategically or emotionally.

Smartest Person Errors

I find that intelligent and successful people commonly fall into three stress traps that I call “smartest person errors.” I’ve seen each of these errors myself and work to avoid them.

Smartest Person In the Room: Michael Dell and many others advise us to never be the smartest person in the room. By surrounding yourself with brighter people, you’ll learn faster and achieve more. If you think you’re the smartest in the room, it is harder to trust those around you. This places all the stress on your over-inflated head. Not smart!

Smartest Intelligence Bias: Many people think their type of intelligence is better than others. As a result, otherwise intelligent leaders won’t surround themselves with different perspectives and discount sage advice derived from valid experiences. Such leaders create blind spots, which increases stress for everyone.

Loudest is Smartest: It is often easy – but inaccurate – to assume that the loudest person in the room is right. In fact, I’ve seen many cases where a silent observer has the best perspective. All too often humans cover up insecurity with overly confident claims. The problem is that such fear of inadequacy will fester and cause anxiety. As Yoda said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

By avoiding these errors, we entrepreneurs can achieve more, cover our bases better and live healthier lives.

Sleep Dammit!

This may seem obvious, but sleep is important. The less sleep you get, the more stressed you are and the more prone to sickness you become. The more stressed you are, the more likely your startup is to spin out of balance. Sure we all have deadlines that require work at all hours. Sure we work ourselves ragged. I’m not telling you to sleep more all the time. I’m just suggesting that you monitor your sleep. It’s as simple as wearing a Fitbit nightly and checking your sleep once a week. While stress can slowly boil over you like a frog in water, monitoring your sleep will let you know when the pot gets too hot.

Blowing off Steam

Ultimately, much of leadership comes down to stress management. If you have outlets for stress (exercise, meditation, the gun range, boxing,…) great. If you don’t, please be careful. I personally struggle with this. Like many, my natural tendency is to avoid exercise when I’m stressed. It seems counterproductive to take time off work and waste energy when the world is pressing down. But experience has taught me that taking time to clear my mind is critical for overcoming the thousand new challenges standing in my way. Fortunately, I moved to Boulder, Colorado where showing up at a meeting sweaty with hints of mud splatter earns you style points. By building stress relief into my startup’s culture (e.g., the walking meeting), I’ve become a better entrepreneur.

One concept that causes stress in many entrepreneurs lives is the valuation of their startup, which we’ll discuss next time. In the mean time, I’d love to hear more about how you blow off steam. Cycling? Archery? Gaming? For me, blowing off steam comes in many forms – sparring with a trainer (physically draining), watching the Walking Dead (Shut down my brain while putting my problems in perspective), Skiing (a speed induced adrenalin hit), wine tasting (focusing the mind and simultaneously buzzing it), cooking (a creative outlet) and hiking with friends.

Fun Bits:

  • Some more ideas in managing stress is to continue to be grateful for what you have, staying positive, practicing good self-care, relying on routines, and keeping the big picture in mind. (Bernard Marr via The Entrepreneur)
  • The three top stress points for entrepreneurs are: expectations, competition, and closure. (Mukund Mohan)
  • “The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” (Tony Robbins)

Originally published on February 23rd, 2016 on our previous blog.

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