Anxiety is something all investors feel at one point or another. Investing is a mix of greed and fear. When things aren’t going great, anxiety sets in.
In public equity when you get nervous about a stock, you can usually sell the position and move on.
In private equity, you are stuck with the investment. So anxiety sets in.
Entrepreneurs might mis-diagnose anxiety as something else. If your investors are all of a sudden meddling in the business, you might be seeing anxiety. If your investors are asking for endless amounts of data, you might be seeing anxiety. If your board meetings have become tense and difficult, you might be seeing anxiety.
You can’t just suggest they take a pill and chill out. Though I’ve seen entrepreneurs do that before.
Here are a few suggestions for managing anxious investors
1) Increase the frequency and duration of the communication. There is nothing that amplifies anxiety like a lack of communication. So do the opposite. Overcommunicate.
2) Have a frank and candid conversation with your investors about the source of their anxiety. Getting them to articulate what they are worried about will help a lot. Then you can address the issues directly.
3) Get more face time with the rest of an investor’s firm. Often the anxiety comes from the investor’s relationship with and place inside of their firm. This is particularly true of junior partners or associates. Offer to come talk at the weekly team meeting. Or suggest that an investor bring one of their colleagues to a meeting. This one can backfire because if things are truly messed up you might amplify and multiply the anxiety inside the firm. But if you believe the anxiety is misplaced, this approach can be helpful.
4) Get some independent directors on your board. If your board is full of investors and you don’t have any independents, you are setting yourself for an anxious board. Get investors on your board who are less susceptible to get anxious when things go wrong and the dynamic of your entire board will improve.
5) Fix the problems in your business. Nothing helps to reduce the anxiety level in an investor than strong performance.
I am an anxious investor myself. I was worse when I was younger and everything was riding on my performance. I’ve eased up over the years. But I still wake up in the middle of the night anxious about a particular company/investment. It’s how I’m wired up. And I think its part of what makes me a good investor. It is also what makes me potentially a problem. I try to be self aware of the anxiety and manage it so it doesn’t impact our portfolio companies. But I know it can and it does.
Entrepreneurs need to learn how to manage anxious investors. It’s an important skill that will come in handy many times.