Stories

Coping with pressure in tech: why a support network is vital

London-based entrepreneur Sokratis Papafloratos talks about why looking after your mental health is essential for a happy and successful career in tech.

Sokratis Papafloratos has probably forgotten more about launching businesses than most entrepreneurs could ever hope to remember. Lauded by TechCrunch as the ‘serial of serial’ European entrepreneurs, he set the ball rolling when he founded local reviews site TrustedPlaces in 2006. Snapped up by Yell Group for an undisclosed but reportedly hefty sum, it was the trailblazer for every review site that followed. He also founded the family-photo-sharing platform Togethera (now shuttered) as well as members-only luxe travel firm Secret Escapes, and was one of the first investors in the billion-dollar mindful sleep and meditation app Calm.com.

In short, Sokratis understands the highs and lows of entrepreneurism better than most. He’s learned many lessons along the way but none more valuable (or necessary), he says, than having a strong support network.

Now, he’s putting that philosophy into practice with his latest venture, male health and wellbeing platform Numan, whose current focus is on providing advice for men with erectile dysfunction. The brand has big plans to provide a support network from which all men can benefit.

We caught up with the start-up savant to find out how he keeps his head in the game…

I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years now, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: when it comes to coping with pressure, you don’t need a complex coping strategy. The best things are to exercise, eat well, sleep well, and to go easy on the alcohol and partying. And above all, stay close to your loved ones.

Every successful entrepreneur needs a support network. Because if you’re working in a very high-pressure environment for a long time, you can’t let worries fester. That leads to trouble. You need to be proactive about the things that bother you.

Start small and keep it simple at first. That’s what I say to anyone who wants to create a support network. In other words, just talk. There’s still a lot of resistance around talking, as if some men feel it’s unmanly. At Numan, we want to change that thinking. Because small steps lead to new habits, which lead to big changes.

Meeting other founders is invaluable. Or fellow travellers, to use the term. It’s very hard to relate to someone in business, especially tech, if you’re not going through the same thing because the challenges are fairly unique. Some conversations are just too difficult to have with your team or your loved ones. Sometimes it’s best to be surrounded by people that are having the same problems.

There’s no one typical network. I have a number of them, including my family, my friends, people I’ve known for 15 years or more, and fellow founders. And my fiancée, of course.

The more you share, the more you’ll get back. Honestly, there’s nothing I wouldn’t share with my networks. Trust is important. And like any relationship, the more you hold back, the less you’ll get out of it.

You can listen to advice, learn from others, read books. But you won’t find the silver bullet by somebody just unlocking the door for you. That, I’m afraid, you have to find by yourself.

I’ve come close to disaster many times. My first business ran out of money to the point our overdraft finished and a cheque I’d sent out bounced. It was mortifying — a really low point and beyond stressful. But we stuck with it and eventually managed to come out the other side. We grew the business until it became profitable and were successfully acquired by a much larger business in our space. Keep calm, carry on.

My best advice? Don’t panic. Always try to keep things in perspective, stick to a plan and have the perseverance and energy to see it through.

Launched in February this year, Sokratis’ new venture Numan is on a mission to help men lead richer, fuller, happier lives. We asked Sokratis his thoughts on the modern male psyche…

Men need support. I don’t think we’re always very good at identifying emotions, or dealing with them internally. We’re not always great at communicating them with others.

There’s this notion that we have to perform a certain kind of role, but things are changing — we’re getting smarter. Although I sometimes wonder if there’s a small risk that in some cases, we’re replacing one set of pressures and stereotypes with others.

At Numan, we provide men with the knowledge, tools and solutions to take better care of themselves.
These come in the form of advice, pharmaceuticals, or access to experts through content they can engage with.

We wrote a book on erections. That may sound flippant, but it actually goes into a lot of detail about what goes on in your mind and body to produce and maintain an erection. It’s about providing that knowledge in a way that’s more digestible and entertaining than traditional medical content. I think we’re making a real difference in how men can face challenges in that area.

Talentful’s quickfire questions

Your ideal team member?
Somebody who’s passionate and puts the team first.

The integral element you look for in a new hire?
Passion.

What do you think it is about you that’s got you this far?
My magnetic charm and affability.

The biggest barrier to finding the best talent?
Competition.

The most important ingredient in a successful team?
Honesty.

The best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Don’t put off difficult decisions that you know you’re going to have to make eventually.

The buzzwords in tech you can’t stand?
They’re all good. Let’s not be cynical. They’re there for a reason.

The book all entrepreneurs should take to the beach?
Shoe Dog, the memoir of Phil Knight, creator of Nike. It’s fun, fascinating and not too heavy.

When was your last holiday?
Last week, actually. I went to the Italian Alps. It was lovely.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That’s tough to answer. My life feels pretty balanced to me, so I’m not sure what work/life balance means. But I love my work so I don’t feel the need to find a balance.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Just celebrate success more and appreciate the moments you have. Though, I’d probably give that advice to myself now, to be honest.

All stories