How Do You Deal With The Stress Of Being CEO?

"I'm no expert but I think the first step to becoming a good leader is to choose the right emoticons."

“I think we should sell the company,” “Raul,” one of our investors said to me. Raul’s demand came out of nowhere. We were doing well. Revenue was growing at a healthy clip, and we had just received a term sheet from a new investor to lead our next round of funding.

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“What!” I just lost it when Raul said that to me.

Raul smiled sadistically when I responded. It was the first time I had lost my composure around him. And I think Raul, who just a couple weeks earlier said to me, “Nothing seems to phase you,” noticed the difference in my demeanor.

I was out of control. Raul remained in control.


You need to be calm under pressure as a startup CEO.


We kept arguing for the next 45 minutes. In fact, I think Raul was enjoying my predicament. The volume in my voice kept rising. Raul’s voice remained chillingly calm.

Finally, I had enough of arguing with Raul, and I stormed out of his Sand Hill Road office. On the drive back to work, I spoke with the Chairman of our company, Barry, about what was going on.

I was still white-hot with anger about Raul’s demand that I couldn’t think straight. Barry tried to calm me down, but it didn’t work.

I was experiencing the classic, “fight or flight syndrome,” that we all feel when we’re under attack. The problem with the fight or flight syndrome is we humans react to a verbal attack the same way we react to a physical attack.

The blood rushes away from our brains to our muscles. Adrenaline kicks in adding to the mix. It takes 20 to 60 minutes for your body to get back to normal after you experience a fight or flight attack.

The problem is we are essentially useless during those 20 to 60 minutes. Witness my conversation with Barry.


Developing good tools to deal with stress of being a Startup CEO helps.


I was back in the office 45 minutes later. I called Gill, our other investor, to let him know what was going on. I was calm again.

We added Barry to the conversation and the three of talked about what to do. The answer was clear. We needed to add another new investor to the mix to offset Raul.

I went home that night and I used the only tool I had at that time to deal with the stress. I had a couple of glasses of wine, and I went to bed.

Over the coming weeks as our fight with Raul continued, I started going on long walks at lunchtime. The walks got me out of the office and helped calm me down.

The crazy thing was that, even thought the temperature was usually around 75 degrees on these walks, I would be shivering. What I didn’t realize at the time was the shivering was a symptom of fight or flight response.

Somehow, despite the crazy stress that I was under, I remained cool and calm for the most part. But every once in a while the stress would be unbearable and something would set me off. Like the time I got so angry that I threw my coffee cup and impaled it into the wall of my office.

Tina, our Controller, asked me if I wanted to have someone take the cup out of the wall. I told her I wanted to leave it in there as a reminder to keep calm.


You use the tools you have to keep calm.


I didn’t have then the tools I have now to deal with stress. I wish I did. I hadn’t learned how incredibly calming meditation is. I didn’t yet know the power of focused journaling in the morning and in the evening.

If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have operated on a few hours of sleep every night. But I used the tools I knew then; alcohol, walks, and throwing coffee cups into the wall.

For more, read: How Do You Really Feel As A Startup CEO?


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