From the March 2000 issue of Startups

"If people actually took a look at what goes on during my day, it would probably give most of them a heart attack," says Scott Painter, 31, co-founder and CEO of CarsDirect.com, a Culver City, California, company that enables consumers to research, price, select, finance and order new vehicles on the Web.

And it's easy to see why. This guy heads a company on track to reach $400 million in sales in its first year (that's $1.5 million a day) and had more than 400 employees at press time. (Painter projects that number to exceed 750 by the time you read this.) All this generated by a site that's only been formally "live" since May 1999!

But Painter downplays the intense pressure that comes with his company's insane growth. "The things that give me genuine stress in life have lit-tle to do with the job or the office," says Painter. "Rather, they have to do more with personal things, like whether my wife is unhappy with me or someone I care about is upset with me. Very rarely in business are there times when I get really stressed."

Painter's cool under pressure is typical of many high-achieving entrepreneurs--and it's a skill you, too, can acquire through experience. Here are six steps to convert stress into success:

1. Listen to stress. Often, when you feel stress and the negative emotions associated with it (such as worry, anxiety, anger or frustration),they're telling you some-thing's wrong. So, listen to your negative feelings instead of trying to silence or ignore them. You may find that your frustration about late payments from clients, for example, is the result of flaws in your billing or collection processes. These are little things you can change to ease stress far into the future.

2. Identify the pressures. What are the issues stressing you out right now? List your answers on a sheet of paper as they come to mind. By writing your stresses on paper, you'll begin to feel that you have some control over them.

3. Prioritize. As you review your list, rank the stresses in order of importance and urgency. This exercise will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed by focusing on the most pressing issues first.

4. Brainstorm solutions. Starting with your highest priority stresses, ask yourself "Can I do anything about this?" If the answer is no, ask "How must I change my attitude about this stress so that I can accept it--and stop worrying about it?" If yes, ask "What can I do to improve the situation?"

As you brainstorm, you'll suddenly realize you don't feel as stressed out--freeing your mind to generate solutions you'd never think of under duress.

5. Schedule action steps. From your list of possible solutions, choose the ones you think would be most effective and decide when you're going to put them into action. This way, you hold yourself accountable for implementing your ideas in a timely manner.

6. Learn from your experience. "The key to handling stress is not to go through the same stress twice," says Painter. So review everything you've written. Then ask yourself "How can I keep this from happening again?"

"I've gone through 10 years [as an entrepreneur] of almost hitting the dirt, having wild successes, then almost hitting the dirt again," Painter reflects. "And I got thumped a couple of times. I resigned from a couple of my own companies because I had given up too much control to my board."

What did Painter learn? "When raising money, don't raise too much from one person. Otherwise, the management team focuses on meeting the expectations of the person who gives you the money rather than on what's best for your business." He's applied this lesson to raise more than $280 million for CarsDirect.com--with minimal stress.


Sean M. Lyden (seanlyden@mindspring.com) is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues. What psychological obstacles to success are you trying to overcome? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneur.com.

Keep Your Cool

Don't allow your fears of starting a new business tie your stomach in knots. Here are three Web sites where you can find how-to articles and other small-business resources--fast!--to keep you from getting stressed out: