What I see CEOs at struggling start-ups do:
– Go dark
– Lash out
– Tweet about lots of things non-work
– Invest time on tiny expenses
– Argue internally
What should do:
– Be Present
– Be Honest
– Be the Rock
– Be Realistic/Optimistic
You just plain grow faster that way
— Jason ✨Be Kind✨ Lemkin 🇮🇱 (@jasonlk) November 25, 2023
Hopefully, you’re well funded enough to ignore all the VC and public market drama these days. Hopefully, things are going great. These are still the best of times for SaaS and Cloud, after all.
I hope so.
But the reality is, a lot of you have had or will have a rough year. Even a Year of Hell (more on that here). We all have at least one. I sure did.
And for most of us, there’s one natural reaction: Hide. At least a bit. Put your head down, and grind it out. Try and get that one more customer in the door. Push harder. Analyze that data more. Cut everything quietly. Lay low and just “focus” until you can get growth back on track. Stare at that monitor, until you figure it out.
It’s natural, but please, don’t do that.
As a startup, there are few things more important than Being Present:
- Your customers need to believe. They didn’t just buy your product once. They repurchase it every month, every year. And more importantly, they are invested in you. They run their business on your platform. They need to see you out there. In the media. In the news. On a Zoom. At your (now digital) customer event.
- Your second-order revenue engine still needs to work. Even if sales cycles have slowed down. OK, you missed the plan. But ultimately it’s your customers that beget you more customers. Don’t cut here. In fact, do the opposite. The worse the miss this year, the more you need to go talk to your customers. Do 20 Zooms a week with customers. Make sure that the $2m or $5m or $20m you ended the year with at least renews as a cohort, even if for not as much revenue as you’d planned. Make sure net negative churn is at least covered and invested in. Even if the rest of the revenue funnel and process broke a bit this year. You at least know how to make your customers happier. Everyone at least knows how to do this.
- The team knows it’s not all Daisies and Unicorns. They know. Startups are a journey. Yes, we read about Zoom and Slack and all that. But even Slack the company had a few years challenging years before it became Slack the product we know today. Everyone knows there will be ups and downs. They are looking to the founders and CEOs to guide them through the rough patches. You probably should hide some of the very worst news in some cases, at least. But be direct on what the new goals are, the new plan is, and how you are going to get there. And engage everyone with their best ideas.
- Your investors need to know you have a plan. Maybe they can invest a little more, maybe they can’t. But they know things are hard. What they need to know is there is a plan to get through it, and what that plan is. Don’t stop sending investor updates. Share a plan forward, and they will most likely follow you there.
- Lead from the front. If you aren’t the first one out there … no one will believe. It’s hard when times are tough. Find a way.
- It’s your job to make your company remain as much of a leader as you can — at least to your customers and in your vertical and industry. It does matter if you are seen as a leader in your industry. It makes everything easier. If you’ve never run a hot startup, or worked at a hot startup, you may not get this. But everything really is easier if you are seen as a leader. Hiring, marketing, retention, fundraising, everything. If not easy in these crazy times, at least easier. So do whatever you can to keep momentum going, even if revenue has cooled off. Show up to that webinar. Keep doing PR. Do all the podcasts you can. Keep the positives of your brand up, even if there are a few more negatives than there were 12 months ago.
We’ve all been there. I hid a few times.
But I tried at least to always still Get Out There. Win that Award (even if it was kind of a stupid award). Get on that TV show (even if no one would really see it but my team). And close that Important Logo that the team loved (e.g., Google, Facebook, Twitter) … even if the revenue itself wasn’t that material.
Be Present. Bridge the gap between one great year and the next year at least in part by getting out there. Even if today, you have to do that somehow from inside the house.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)