Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Start-up Hub: My Stress Busters – Top tips for dealing with entrepreneurial stress

July 15, 2016

Stress and the various ways to combat it will be familiar topics to most start-up owners. It’s something we tackled on our latest Problem Page, with help from the experts at Thales Learning & Development and some of the start-ups on the frontline too.

Today we hear from Simon Smith, CEO and co-founder of cloud application delivery start-up Extrinsica Global, who we first caught up with earlier this year. Like many start-up founders, he’s had to face his fair share of stressful situations and has come up with a few of his own interesting ways of coping…

Simon_HeadshotLet’s face it, an integral part of being an entrepreneur is dealing with stress. It comes in many forms: sales targets, strategic finance, investor relations, people problems – the list is almost endless. It sometimes makes us wonder why we ever decided to set out on the entrepreneurial road in the first place!

But we did. So we need to recognise and acknowledge that stress is an ever-present part of our personal landscape.

Any medical practitioner will tell you that a sustained diet of stress will make you very ill, so we also need to have some mechanisms for keeping it in check.

So how do I deal with the stresses of building Extrinsica Global? Here, in no particular order, are my top three tips. These tips are what work for me; they’re not intended in any way to be prescriptive, but hopefully they can offer some useful guidance at the very least:

  1. Have someone, or even a couple of people, with whom you can share your problems. This should be someone whose opinion you respect and who understands your business landscape.

They don’t need to be there to provide a solution, they just need to be someone that you can talk to. A problem shared really is a problem halved; try it and you’ll see how much easier it makes resolving issues. Often, it helps you to formulate a solution if you articulate the problem out loud to someone else rather than endlessly rehearsing the same monologue inside your head.

It can sometimes help if the people you choose have ‘been around the block a few times.’  They may have experienced a similar problem before and can talk through what worked (or didn’t) for them, but this is by no means essential in my experience. I find that simply being able to talk to another person about what I consider to be a problem somehow reduces the magnitude of it. My experience has been that the worst thing you can do is to keep problems bottled up in your head – they almost always head rapidly towards the ‘insurmountable’ category that way.

  1. Do some form of physical exercise. By ‘physical exercise’ I don’t mean light exercise like walking, but really intense exercise – so intense that you breathe so hard you can’t speak.

Even though it’s lung-busting, it gives you some respite from any stress because if you undertake exercise at this intensity, you don’t have the capacity to think about anything else but completing the physical challenge. My preference is cycling and I see big hills as one of my best friends and I use Strava as my coach. Every time I go out, I try to beat my personal bests. I don’t always succeed, but focusing on doing it stops me obsessing about stuff that is stressing me.

I’ve found that it has additional benefits too: it helps to keep me fit, which gives me improved energy levels and the endurance to cope with the rigours of being an entrepreneur. It also has a beneficial effect on my blood pressure – so when I go cycling, I tell everyone I’m off for some “blood pressure medication.”

It should go without saying (but I will anyway) that it takes time to get fit enough to do this and, if you haven’t done any exercise for a long time, it’s best to check with your GP before embarking on this and follow their advice.

  1. Finally, carve out some space in your manic schedule to think. Easy to say, hard to achieve, I know – but you’re an entrepreneur: make it happen!

Maybe it’s climbing a mountain or talking a long walk at the weekend, but give yourself some ‘mulling’ time. Often, you can get a better perspective on things than you can in the midst of the mayhem of the work environment. You’ll be surprised by the innovative solutions that are within you. That said, you should guard against looping monologue that gets you nowhere – if that happens, see tip number one.

Stress comes with the territory for entrepreneurs but, if you’re going to be an effective entrepreneur, it mustn’t consume you. Accept it’s something you have to deal with and develop mechanisms that will work for you in your circumstances.


Simon Smith is CEO and co-founder of Extrinsica Global, a cloud application delivery company. With a military background serving in the RAF, Simon has since spent time working at and subsequently running his own consultancy firms. Extrinsica Global was conceived in 2006, long before today’s commonplace cloud services entered the mainstream, and Simon has been at the helm ever since – guiding the company to accreditation and partnerships with the likes of Cisco and Microsoft.

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