Founder, manage thyself

Founder, manage thyself

ON DECEMBER 30, 2013


Ben Horowitz summarizes the hardest job of CEOs as, “managing your own psychology.”  Until recently, I believed that I was pretty good at this. After all, despite not taking more than a few days off since I was 15 — even after I sold my previous companies I would immediately start working on the next thing — I’ve never felt “burnt out.”However, burnout isn’t the only sign of trouble. If you’re a founder/CEO/leader, you’re probably strategizing and worrying during almost every waking minute. This can lead to a condition calledchronic stress, characterized as, the “response to emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period.”

Chronic stress caused me to be irritable throughout the day. For example, I would get into confrontations with shitty San Francisco motorists, when I wasn’t even in a hurry to get anywhere. It was absurd. But getting out from under a chronic state of stress is much easier said than done. It’s not as simple as “sleeping well, exercising, eating healthy, having sex, and having great friends/mentors.”

As such, I knew it was time to seek professional help. After seeing a psychologist and learning about the brain, I begun practicing “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is being aware of your present emotions, and choosing how to react, if at all. In other words, it’s “settling in the present.”

To make this tangible, here is an example: Let’s pretend that your biggest customer terminated its contract because of internal politics. You’re probably disappointed, stressed, and maybe even angry, and frantically start working on salvaging the deal. Before you react however, sit up in your chair, take a few deep breaths, then acknowledge and rate your emotions. If you’re stressed, say, “I am feeling stressed right now.” Take another deep breath. Then, rate the stress on a scale of one to ten, with ten being something really stressful, like having to terminate all of your employees next week. Chances are, most emotions are probably no more than a five.

Before practicing mindfulness, I knew that I was really stressed. However, I failed to make any strides towards improving my stress, because I wasn’t attentive to my feelings at the moment. Nowadays (though I am very far from being mindful 100 percent), I have realized that most things aren’t as dire as they may seem, and that stressing/reacting over even the serious issues often does not make it better.

But mindfulness isn’t just about mitigating stress. Even when things are going well, it’s important take a deep breath and live in the moment. Focus on how you are feeling right now. Maybe you are thankful that you are healthy. If so, you should tell yourself that you are thankful that you are healthy. Or maybe you’re grateful for the nice weather, if you don’t live in San Francisco. Think about it: How many pleasant things do you think you’ve overlooked while you stress about your company’s next financing round?

Mindfulness to the brain is like exercise to the body. If you don’t keep it up the benefits start to deteriorate, but starting is still the first step. I started the journey by designating a few times during the day (on my calendar) to take a “mindful pause.” Slowly but surely, I have become mindful even without the reminders, though I still have them to avoid slipping.

By respecting the moment, your future will respect you.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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