The concepts of ‘Start-up’ and ‘Stress’ could be compared to that of ‘Life’ and ‘Ageing’. Why you may ask? Well, because stress while trying to establish a business, and ageing as one lives on are both, as I put it, inevitable.
Start-ups, just like other trending things, are a big rage these days and are full of thrill, hope, and excitement. On the not so exciting side, however, a recent survey states that about 49% of startup founders have an emotional health concern, while 27% had anxiety problems, with depression being the number one reported condition.
An entrepreneur has the difficult task of challenging the status quo, making people believe in a vision that may seem far-fetched, and set out to achieve it with limited, if any, resources.
Common Causes of Stress in Startups
Stress is nothing but a by-product brought about by a series of underlying causes. You may find some of them right here.
1. Capital Crunch
Most start-ups face the financial challenge of pumping money into the business, especially since there is no ROI i.e., returns on investment taking place during the infancy stages of the venture. When such a scenario is persistent, it becomes difficult for entrepreneurs to obtain finances in order to invest in the business. This could prove to be a huge setback for a startup, and may highly contribute towards stress caused to the founder.
2. Will this be the next Unicorn?
With the growing popularity and success of startups, one may jump into it with the hope of it becoming the next big thing. While we read about fund raising, valuations, unicorns on a regular basis, we don’t get to read as much about the behind-the-scenes story and struggle of such startups. An aspiration often becomes an expectation and when unmet, it can bring a lot of stress and panic.
3. Finding & Retaining People
A line from the books of business management so reads: ‘it is all about finding the right person with the right skill sets for the right job at the right time’. This is definitely something that is easier said than done and is thus one of the leading causes of stress in a start-up which doesn’t have the financial muscle or repute of an established organization. The risk associated with a startup makes it even more difficult for the entrepreneur to hire talent.
4. Not So Novel Anymore?
While it would be exhilarating to start something no one has ever thought about. Chances are, someone somewhere may already have. Similarly a lot of startups may imitate or borrow substantially from your startup idea and it can get quite stressful to deal with them especially if they have deeper pockets.
5. Salad of Emotions
As part of a budding business, the founder is exposed to changing emotions regularly (some times even on an hourly basis), which in turn may feel stressful and overwhelming. Some days the motivation levels may be relatively high, while some days be seem hopeless and glum.
6. When Hectic becomes a Norm
Majority of the new businesses are unable to add much structure to their operating hours, since it is important to create a space for themselves in the market amidst competition with limited resources. In order to do that, most start-up teams work over-time, way beyond what they would ideally wish to do. As a result, your profession takes over your life – something that becomes emotionally distressing.
7. Trial and Error
In this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world where the predictability of the outcome revolves around a lot of uncertainty, we must rather focus on probabilities. A seemingly great idea is not all that great when it comes to execution challenges, which is when many of them turn to the trial-and-error method, and adopt those practices that yield positive results. This, however, poses a challenge to the presence of high stakes but limited capital, and could be a big cause of stress for an entrepreneur.
8. Self Doubt – When the Big Idea doesn’t seem big
It is common for ventures to experience a series of bad days that could have a number of underlying causes. The result, however, is that at times the founder may question the viability of the idea, the approach and may even go into self doubt.
Considering the stressors are unavoidable and there’s no dearth of situations Startup Founders have to deal with, it’s imperative for the Entrepreneur to know how to manage stress and cope effectively.
Coping with Stress in Startups
Where there is work, there is stress. To begin with, it is important that we not only accept this truth of life, but also take certain measures to keep it to a minimum. Stress can’t be fixed by acknowledging it alone, but it can definitely be dealt with more effectively if we took it upon ourselves to do something about it.
1. Know your Can’s & Cant’s
There will always be things that an entrepreneur can control, and then those that they can’t. It is prudent to spend time on the former. Competition, imitation, and funding can’t be helped beyond a point, but customer experience, evolution of business model, market approach, team building can be helped if serious thought and effort is put into it. Staying hopeful, realistic and focused is the first step towards growing the venture and managing stress.
2. Plan & Organize
Ironically, when there’s a lot to do, one may feel they don’t even have the time to organize their tasks. By this I am not referring to a checklist or a ‘to-do’ list. A better approach would be to set SMART i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Specific goals for themselves so that every achievement can be celebrated as a milestone, which is turn will reduce the stress that prevails.
3. Exercise is a Savior
As little as just 20 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week has been proven to reduce depression inducing stress, which is why this is something I really recommend! Exercise does not always imply going to the gym. It could also involve cycling, swimming, running, or playing any sport such as squash, cricket, basketball, football, etc.
4. Keep your Connections close
Psychological studies suggest, that spending time with those who matter to you tends to reduce stress and fatigue by a significant amount. Socialising is linked to a stronger immune system, as well as emotional well-being, which is why keeping your loved ones in the loop is key.
Meditation has proven to calm one’s mind as well as nerves that are stressed. That said, it also helps one to reflect upon their thoughts, words, and actions, which in turn could be a very peaceful and enlightening experience.
6. Build Great Teams
Founder alone cannot run the business, hence it is essential to spend time and effort building a team that one can count on. It is often important to communicate challenges to the team and get their thoughts. It won’t only make them feel involved and connected to the venture, but also bring out some great solutions.
Connecting with founders of other startups will give you insight into various aspects of life in a new business. Experience sharing, what worked, what didn’t, etc. are all very helpful and comforting. You will feel better by virtue of being in the company of people who understand you and can empathize with your lows and possibly also offer solutions.
8. Don’t forget the serenity prayer
Being a founder, you are the change agent for your business, so always remember to tell yourself, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
And lastly, remind yourself of the reasons you decided to start out!