when your startup is struggling

19 Mar What To Do When Your Startup is Struggling

One of the hardest things any entrepreneur (including myself) has to be able to do is admit when they are struggling. Nothing can be more embarrassing and self-defeating than saying, “this isn’t working.” However, without the ability to do so your chances of failure increase significantly.

ben-horowitz-head-and-shouldersFamous investor and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz wrote an amazing blog on this very topic describing “The Struggle” in more detail. Ben wrote:

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.

The Struggle is when food loses its taste.

The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company. The Struggle is when you know that you are in over your head and you know that you cannot be replaced. The Struggle is when everybody thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you. The Struggle is where self-doubt becomes self-hatred.

The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word that they are saying because all you can hear is The Struggle.

The Struggle is when you want the pain to stop. The Struggle is unhappiness.

The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.

The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.

The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where your guts boil so much that you feel like you are going to spit blood.

The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.

Most people are not strong enough.

Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is The Struggle.

The Struggle is where greatness comes from.

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All entrepreneurs at some point in their career face this issue. You must understand that there is nothing wrong with failing, in fact, it is the business we chose by launching a startup. Being behind the 8 ball is frustrating, but normal, and somewhat necessary to the future success of your business…if you can drop your ego to see it.

So what do you do when you are in the struggle? Below is a very simple checklist of things to do when your startup is struggling. I hope they help.

Track Your Data

It should go without saying that you need to track as much information about your business as you can. This is the 21st Century and it has never been easier to track data. Use it to your advantage all the time, not just when investors request data from you!

Get Out of Your Own Way

As any good entrepreneur would, we all seem to press a little harder when things get tough. We think that through more work and effort we can change the future. We stay up later, send more emails, read more articles and focus on short term nonsense that simply gets in the way of real progress. It is best to admit you are in the struggle and then get out of town for at least 24 hours, preferably by yourself so you have solitary time to just think. Shut off your phone, find a quiet place and reflect. Get a clear picture of your vision and re-identify it.

spartan-helmet-best-transparency-webGo Spartan

This advice isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. When things go wrong I start to deny myself simple pleasures until I get back on track. I go Spartan. As in living a Spartan lifestyle. The Spartans were notorious for living a simple, frugal, minimalist lifestyle. They ate only what they needed, kept their bodies fit, did not spend money wastefully. They prided themselves on simplicity and thrived in times of combat and adversity.

A few months back, in the midst of a struggle, I felt like I was in combat…and I was losing. It felt like every move I made was a punch in the face and I was too weak to fight back. It sucked. I even noticed that during this time I was gaining some weight, watching too much late night DVR and feeling physically weak. I wanted to be able to fight back, mentally and mentally.

So, I bought a heavy bag, hung it in my garage and started training like a boxer, every single night. I did it late at night when my work was done and my brain was spent. I put myself in a dark and dungy place with a concrete floor and I learned to love the pain of the training. I was able to just think while I pounded out my aggression, it was liberating.

I also denied myself things that I enjoy like television, eating out and soda. Much like Rocky in Russia, all I wanted to think about and do was get back on track. Soon, I found myself 15 pounds lighter with tons of energy and a fresh new attitude and a company back on the right track.

Admittedly this is a little bit crazy and only a certain percent of people would even think about this, but it was worth it and I haven’t changed since. Simplicity is king, especially when you live in the chaos of a startup.

meetingCall a Meeting of the Minds

All you should be thinking about is gathering ammunition for the fight ahead of you. In the case of most startups, this means brainpower. So pull your team of co-founders, employees, advisors, mentors, supporters and anyone else that has an IQ over 100 into a room and tell your story of where you started, why you started where you want to be and where you are right now.

Reiterate your goals to the group and ask them to think about where things are going wrong. Give those you trust as much info as you can so they can begin to think of ways out of the struggle. Use the power of collaboration and teamwork to find out why you are where you are. 95% of the time this unit of people will have tremendous insights on how to build the company back up.

Note: This exercise is also the best way to avoid the struggle, use it early and often.

Set the Course, Be the Course

Once you have some ideas on how to get back to form, start mapping them out. Look to find action steps to take in intervals of 3. By this I mean items to complete in the next 3 minutes, hours, days weeks and months. It will make your comeback much more digestible. Don’t look too far in the future with this plan, it needs to be done ASAP, so think a bit more linear and short.

Creating this plan is great, but you must remember that the only thing that will bring you back from the depths of the struggle is what you DO next. Take on a model of action. BECOME THE HERO in the movie. Let no stone be left un-turned or task on a to-do-list uncrossed. Your mission is to MAKE things happen, not plan for things to happen. Get inspired again, get on your phone, get in front of people and get the plan moving!


Eric Rice