5 Steps to Optimize Performance and Manage Stress as a Startup Founder | by Sneha Saigal | Mar, 2023
It cannot be learned or taught, but it can be practiced daily
There is so much more to entrepreneurship than what we see founders sharing on their social media. It’s only in the past few years that founders have started talking openly about the behind-the-scenes, sleepless nights, self-doubt, and the constant mental battle we call imposter syndrome.
Not that I knew any of this when I signed up to become a founder and launch my first startup, Geeks and Experts. No tutorial or book could have prepared me to feel the wave of emotions I am capable of feeling in a day.
It could start with the high of getting new user sign-ups and the next moment could be spent firefighting customer service complaints, followed by connecting with inspiring founders across the globe to see others fighting the same fight or ending with the feeling of losing control of it all.
All these emotions get trickier to handle when you are leading a project almost fully by yourself (my co-founder is with us part-time) and you have no one to take these issues to. You are your own cheerleader! And, mirror.
Over the past few months, the biggest unexpected outcome is that I have learned immensely more about myself than I ever imagined finding out.
I figured through trial and a lot of error that there are some coping mechanisms I can adopt when it feels like the world is coming tumbling down and nothing is working. I intentionally lean into these methods when I feel that my performance is getting impacted or I am losing focus.
I hope this helps you in some way and makes the journey worthwhile:
It really took me a while to accept the messy and scrappy approaches I was taking as a startup founder. I was trying to craft a very flowery image and highlight my ‘successes’ in reels without showing an ounce of vulnerability.
Breaking news!!! Success does not always come as anticipated.
When we first launched Geeks and Experts, it was like crickets all over. No fancy launch announcements, no great media coverage, and no massive overnight success. Nada. It was quite a punch in the gut if you ask me.
However, that is because of the perfect image I was trying to portray and the expectations that I had from adopting this perfectionist approach. It was only when I started sharing my story more authentically on Twitter that I began to embrace imperfections and let go of any expectations.
How to implement: Ask for advice, or feedback from peers or mentors and tell them what you are struggling with the most. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.
I can confidently say that my-cofounder and my relationship also strengthened tenfold when I began to see the daily growth we were achieving as a team of two immigrants (including a WOC), BIPOC founders bootstrapping a startup in a foreign land in the current environment.
Truth be told, there really was no other way to make this cofounder relationship work for the long term without impacting the business. Even though the mindset change to be a life-long learner and play the infinite game was tough, it helped me visualize a future where I’ve already won.
I’ve won because no matter what happens, I take away a lesson or a win. No losses. There is a massive upside and a very tiny if at all, downside to this. Whatever happens from here is great as I am fully aware of the optionality.
How to implement: Take the time to reflect on or share your lessons, setbacks, and disappointments with those who are following your journey. You never know who needs to hear it!
It really riles me up when people make false statements or glorify hustle culture online by saying if you’re not working nights and weekends you’re not going to make it. I genuinely got caught in this nonsensical narrative.
I would make it a ground rule that I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to binge-watch, read for fun, or do anything the productivity gurus called ‘unproductive’ until I had meticulously clocked in a certain number of hours of work.
The joke was on me! In reality, I mistook activity for action.
Don’t fall into the same trap and honestly, if there is one thing I’d tell my younger self it would be that you are not your work. So, say it after me. And, if needed, write it out on a sticky and post it on your laptop.
How to implement: You can’t pour from an empty cup so take care of yourself throughout this rollercoaster of a journey. To earn respect from others, respect yourself first.
I love this approach I have adopted to manage my stress because it has been the most authentic, alive, and agile I have felt in a long time.
I had no idea that I would enjoy writing so much to one day become a top writer on Medium. I also had no idea that I hated excel so much. Long story short, when I began to carefully observe what drained me versus what energized me was when I was able to fully optimize my performance.
A day full of calls, attending webinars, and networking, that left no room for me to write left me feeling anxious. I felt like something was missing. Whereas a day that had a mix of calls, a lot of writing, and some time to reflect on growth strategies, fueled me with the best creative juices.
How to implement: Figure out where to delegate, automate or complete a task. Especially if you are bootstrapped, working on a shoestring budget requires optimized automation.
I keep going back to the book Make Time, in which the authors, John Zeratsky and Jake Knapp, often mention how to manage your time so that you can manage your energies. This has never been truer for founders.
At any given point, you are either moving so fast that you feel like everything is going out of control or if everything is under control it feels like you’re not moving fast enough. Trust me, this constant battle is real!
I would start my day excited to jump into some pressing tasks only to be distracted by another article, which would take me into a rabbit hole of growth hacks, only to find that I now have a customer discovery interview which leaves me with no time to complete the earlier task I had on hand.
Imagine this back and forth on repeat, all day, because you also are your own boss so you jump into work whenever your body and mind allow.
That’s when I adopted the highlight mindset and no single day of mine is left without one major task that I have to accomplish for Geeks and Experts. It can be anything from a massive needle mover like strategic partnerships, to a simple task like scheduling social media content.
How to implement: Set a top goal and focus on the daily task which is directly tied to the top goal and all the other activities that you complete are simply a bonus. Focus matters most.
You got this
If you’re a startup founder, firstly, congrats on starting out. Secondly, spend time this week to figure out how you can optimize for the long run. After all, you can’t be everything to everyone nor can you ignore the stressors.
What you can do is figure out a way to manage them or calm them. Yes, meditation routines, workouts, sleep routines, and treating this as a marathon, not a sprint are all great but we need more tangible actions.
None of this can be learned in a tutorial nor is it easy to master. It takes a toll on you to figure out a mindset and approach that is meaningful. But, it is worth spending that time to define those boundaries today for tomorrow.