I know it may not be what you want to hear
But the answer to how to get through tougher times is generally to work even harder
At least for a while
— Jason ✨Be Kind✨ Lemkin (@jasonlk) February 11, 2023
Q: How do low times look like in startups?
Even lower than they really are. It’s not that they aren’t low. It’s just, especially in the earlier days, there’s so little cash, so few customers, so few teammates … that any body blow feels like it can end everything.
And you’ll almost fail indeed during some low times. But you’ll look back and see you got through those with tenacity and commitment. And actually missed other things that were most important to really worry about.
Near-death / low-time examples:
- Running out of money. This is indeed scary as heck. But somehow, someway, the best founders find a way. Many almost run out of money, however. I did. A bit more here.
- Losing your #1 customer. This is terrible. But it also teaches you how not to lose the next one. A bit more here.
- Having to go without salary. This isn’t fun. I’ve had to do it twice, once for a year. But later, it will recede to the past, and won’t really matter — if you can push past it. A bit more here.
- Your key VP / co-founder quitting. This is also terrible. It can really set you back. But somehow, the rest of the team rallies and you are often in a better place in 90 days. Aaron Levie shared at SaaStr Annual how he thought Box wouldn’t survive when his first VP of Engineering left. But it did, in the end. A bit more here.
- A downturn hitting your core customer base hard. This is happening to many today, e.g. in sales and marketing verticals. It’s brutal. But SaaS and Cloud overall are still growing at jaw-dropping rates. This too shall pass. You just gotta brute force through it.
What you’ll really look back later and regret, and realize mattered more than the classic “low times” body blows was how you reacted:
- Not pushing through tough times. You’ll look back and see you could have pushed through almost anything. A bit more here.
- Settling for slower growth. It’s one thing to go through a tough patch or two, almost all of us have. But once you “settle” for low growth as a permanent state, all the energy just flows out of a startup. High growth never re-accelerates if you settle. More here.
- Selling your company too early. Many founders that sell post-traction are haunted when they look back and see they, in fact, had a 10+ year run ahead of them. A bit more here.
- Taking too much money from the wrong lead VC. The distraction here can be enormous. Battles, disagreements, lack of support in the next round, and much more. A bit more here.
- Hiring a terrible core VP, COO, etc. This ends up being much worse than losing someone. A truly terrible VP you keep on for too late just leaves a wake of damage, poor hires, missed goals, and unhappy customers behind. A bit more here.
- Toxic cofounder conflict. Sometimes this can’t be avoided. But while it rarely kills startups, it ends up wounding them far more than a lost customer or term sheet. A bit more here.
- Alienating your VCs and investors. Don’t do this in tough times. Even if they say stupid things, You will need them for something later. And it just makes your life even harder as CEO. Don’t send the email. Brush off the harsh criticism. Even … turn it around and see the grain of truth in it. More here.
- Putting off tough decisions. If you have to cut, cut.
Published on February 12, 2023