With over 1,000 patents filed, Chris and his business partner founded and sold two medical/tech companies each in four years with a combined exit value of over £150m. The duo then founded and financed several other businesses.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in Ibiza having built and sold two businesses in a decade (with my business partner David Newns), for around £155m. I started my first after setting a record to become a qualified rider for fastest club time. A great traveler, literally and metaphorically, with a £1 million yacht in port, seemed to be the cliché image of success. My mental health, however, painted a very different picture.
He suffered from depression, anxiety, and poor physical health as a result of ten years of almost inhumane act of intense stress. Even now, two years after selling my last business, it’s almost a mystery to me how I learned to fly and pull off such big and daring entrepreneurial feats. I still suffer from very debilitating anxieties, even though I finally have the time and money to do what I want.
Is that the price I had to pay for being the UK’s most prolific inventor during that time, inventing over 1000 patents and selling the businesses I built while building them? Or is it possible to cope with the considerable stresses of being an entrepreneur?
3 challenges and solutions for better business mental health
1. Learn to manage stress before you encounter it
When you’re as committed to delivering our vision to make the world’s 1 billion smokers do better than I was, you’re in a fast-changing, ultra-fast-moving commodity market. It’s adapt or die. The core product of my life sciences business pivoted many times from the original idea to react quickly to rapid market changes. This required not only constant medical standard problem solving against brutally strict deadlines, but also high-stakes decision-making every week, funding issues…the list goes on. And all of that impacts mental health.
I read that pontification is the cause of 70% of anxiety, and I can only agree. Being able to make quick decisions, optimize them, have the courage to question them, and then pivot again is crucial. Decision is great for reducing stress, while wasting time and procrastinating on decisions is a sure way to increase anxiety.
I pride myself on my ability to have the optimistic belief that I will solve any problem I need and achieve my goal, combined with enough pessimism to break down my ideas of solutions in order to identify problems before they arise or become significant and to ensure that they are solved. I will win. It is yin and yang; kept in balance is fine, but push one too far, and stress can hit, fast. Too backwards and your business may fail. At one point, my own anxiety reached the point where I couldn’t bring myself to open the lid of my laptop and read the headers of business-critical emails as we prepared to sell to a buyer. He just couldn’t face the unknown, or perhaps the uncontrolled.
Subsequently, I put my health first, or almost. It only took me ten years and two nine-figure multi-million dollar exits to realize how bad stress had made me. Acting after the fact is better than nothing, but if I could have turned back the clock, I would have addressed my stress before it turned into serious health issues.
Now an amazing nutritionist has helped me restore my physical health, which is positively impacting my mental health as well. I have created a better home environment which is also helping. And I have immersed myself in hobbies, both social and solitary, cycling and photography, which are helping me regain some mental calm and clarity in my life.
Knowing now how to deal with stress before it happens is a superpower. So try to cultivate that skill before the stress hits.
2. Find a co-founder you respect
Being an entrepreneur can be isolating, which is one of the many reasons to work with a co-founder. Through extreme good luck, I have been lucky enough to work with an amazing one, David Newns. Despite the rosy success of our ventures, we have been through uncomfortable and desperate times, sometimes even hell. I speak for myself mainly, but I know David has suffered too. The way I’ve described it to people is getting on a roller coaster that never, ever stops, with zero chance to pause let alone get off.
We have trusted each other constantly and still do. Now the amazing thing is that David and I never raised our voices or even fought. This has not resulted from us thinking the same things, far from it. Nor has it resulted in us being tolerant of each other. It has been for a simple but very important reason: respect. We have a lot of respect for each other, and at the first sight of a disagreement, each of us is eager to hear the other’s point of view in case one of us missed something.
So find a co-founder, make sure you have a connection and that your skills complement each other, but build respect. This helps you achieve many things, but more importantly, it allows you to cope with the mental health stresses of business life.
3. Make up for lost time
One of the strangest surprises of my non-commercial business trip was discovering that my mother was a decade older than I thought. When I asked my PA to help me sort through a birthday card and gifts for her, I was convinced she was still in her 60s, only to be informed that she was now in her 70s.
This shows how much my mind was on a mission, immersed in a business focus and nothing else. My parents had aged and I missed being there in a way. I had neglected so much and sacrificed so much for my undertakings that they seemed to be the only things in my life. This was the price I paid for unnatural commercial success.
Determined to make up for lost time, I remembered that Mom had always wanted to ride the Orient Express to Venice. So I booked three carriages, hers being the one that Agatha Christie had used when she wrote Murder on the Orient Express. She looked forward to it with great enthusiasm throughout the next year. It was an amazing time and a warm reminder that it’s better to make up for lost time than not to. Even better, though, bring a little balance of time with loved ones into your life along the way. Not only is it good for mental health, but shared success is the best success of all.
I’m famous for questioning everything. Going back and reassessing. Whether it’s a technical solution, a business idea or government reasons. The only thing I never stepped back and questioned was me.
By chris sira successful serial investor and entrepreneur.