Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Earlier this month, I had lunch with the founder of a startup from Europe that is at a point of maximum stress. I was joined by another one of his mentors. He was at a point of maximum stress. His company made a significant pivot in October 2019. It wasn’t a small course correction. They realized that the problem they were solving for their customers wasn’t the right problem. They knew how to solve “the right problem.” But changing course would put them on a very dangerous path.
Almost every founder has what I call a “near death experience.” At some point they are confronted with something that has the potential to kill the company. It could be fight with a co-founder. It could be the loss of a big customer. Or it could be the you are running out of money and all attempts to raise additional funds have failed.
When the founder sat down at the table, you could see the stress on his face. But as he began talking, I could sense something else. Fear. You could hear it in his voice. In this founder’s case, he was dealing with a co-founder issue AND dealing with a cash emergency at the same time. They had less than 3 weeks of cash left. But all the news wasn’t bad. They were in final contract negotiations with their first big customer for the “new” product that was a result of the pivot. And they had an acquisition offer on the table for the “old” business. The founder was almost paralyzed. He was ready to give up.
In early October our blog discussed the fact that entrepreneurs need to manage stress (“Managing the one thing all entrepreneurs share – STRESS!”). I was reminded of that blog post as I listened to him talk. But it struck me that our previous blog post was too narrow. Founders have to deal with an incredible amount of negative emotions:
Fear (and sometimes terror)
The list goes on. For the next two hours, we sat and listened. Then we started talking. The first thing we did was help him pull back from the negative emotions. We allowed him to voice what he was feeling and shared with him our own stories of near-death experiences.
By the end of the two hours, the founder had a new perspective and a plan. He was motivated to keep going.
Why do I share this? Mentors are one of the most important resources you have in managing all of the negative emotions you will have on your entrepreneurial journey. If you don’t have a good mentor, find one – and use him or her as both a sounding board, but also as a therapist.
It is also important to build relationships with other founders who are on the same path as you. They may not have answers, but they can help you manage your emotions and feel less alone.