Great article. Our startup is launching...first product out and we have had the develop quit (10% into project): biz partner go dark and then leave; soft launch and product stopped working. I often think of the British saying. Keep Calm....
Thanks for making me feel that I am not alone!
The near fatal events are around customer acquisition. Sometimes I feel we're on fumes and about to run out of money before a client decides to work with us.
One or two big client deals puts us in a really good position to line up other business but when they delay, I'm gasping for air. I second guess whether our strategy or sales and marketing process is working effectively.
The best council I get is from my wife, you actually tells me to take and deep breadth.
I think your advice is great, but it's hardly usable.
One of the problem with "freaking out" that it's an emotion. And humans are quite bad with controlling their emotions.
My advice would be, do more smart risky stuff. This will lead to number of complex situation and this will make you less sensitive to really bad things.
Thanks for reminding us all that we are not alone in fighting the freaking battles. As a technology startup, we have had several such situations, especially when we did an online demo of the software for an out of state propspect and within a week received a letter from one of the big law firms alleging patent infringement along with screenshots captured during the demo. Our world came crashing down and could not sleep at night We thought it was all over for us; too small to fight it and no money to get them off our back. Post freaking, we reacted exactly the way you described. We haven't solved the problem yet but we are not freaked out anymore.
Hey people, don't underestimate the power of freaking out. We do it because it's a natural reaction to adversity. It's our body's way of letting off pressure. The trick is to manage it. Be realistic and understand that you may need a moment or two to freak out, and some more time to feel like you're the worst businessperson on earth. But then you know you have to get back on the horse, wrestle your calm and dignity back into place, and get back to it. Most important: NEVER make a decision when you're emotionally upset. It will almost always be the wrong decision. So take the time to freak out -- it's good for you!
Just this afternoon I received an email from one of my clients going through a valley.
I'm hoping he hits the pause button and chill for a few days. As you say easier said then done.
What I've learned is things are never as bad as they seem nor are they as good as we might think.
Im not gonna freak out, Im just gonna get on with it.
This was a great article. Fun, helpful and very interesting. It actually made me want to join Startups on Facebook. Which I will. Jack
"When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going." is all you need to keep moving despite all odds. If you don't have the courage to walk alone, don't start a company.
It helps to know that as an entrepreneur, it happens to the best of us. When things don't go as planned for me or derails, I go for a run or take a yoga class. Time is elusive for a startup but sometimes you just need to get away for an hour to refocus...it has really worked for me so that I have a chance to put things in perspective.
The hardest think about freaking out is listening to the critical remarks of others. When starting a new business, the time for that is over, and I mean it. The time giving others your full ear to this actually inhibits your movement. It is better to let the ball roll and get a few pins knocked over rather than a strike and get nothing from the effort. I passionately protect enthusiasm and personal energy, and freaking out can sometimes tare this apart and kill enthusiasm.
Great advice, Dharmesh.
I look at startups a lot like a living organism, full of vital organs.
If a vital organ (like any of the items you listed above) fails, the organism cannot survive.
So if a vital organ shows early signs of a failure, you want a surgical team that can calmly stabilize you and start you on the road to recovery.
People interested in startup risk management may also want to read an article I wrote a few years ago called What Kills Startups
Thanks Dharmesh! I read this article more as encouragement than advice, both bring value to your article. Starting a company is real hard work, and boy there is no school or training that prepares you for the deep valleys you encounter along the way. I'm glad I'm not alone. In the end it will all be worth it.
So, so true. And I think it really speaks to a fundamental law of startups, and business, and life. We can't very well predict the future - a business plan is more like a compass than a map. Especially in business development, I've found that the "sure thing" often never turns out to have legs, and the firm-saving project comes out of left field (but due to accumulated effort of planting many seeds).
It seems that this entrepreneurial habit is invaluable: don't treat the highs as any higher than they are, nor the lows any lower. Just keep plugging.
It's oddly reassuring hearing that other entrepreneurs have been in the same boat as you at some point or another.
Thanks for the great posting
It's more frustrating when you have exhausted all your money in building something that works and still your startup gets unnoticed by techcrunch, mashable and so on. Then some give-up, some keep trying and some get so frustrated that they set out to build their own mashable.
Got a good one.
We were 6 days into our first major marketing campaign and our credit card processor calls up and says:
Hey, we didn't approve you to make this much money and we have to close your account!
I laughed and said, "Am I being punk'd?". Then when I realized I wasn't, I panicked real bad but there was a way out of it an we persevered.
I read an article recently on how the most important key to success, more than IQ or education, is just sticking with it and not quitting. This was a great reminder of how important that trait is.
Good article, Dharmesh, and good advice.
This doesn't only happen to startups. After eight years, we went from boom to almost destruction in monthly steps.
There are many things you have to do, but as you say, panic is not one of them. Panic is for people who haven't weathered through a few crises before. Once you've had a few, (or maybe if you are older) then a crisis is just one more thing to overcome.
There are many different pieces of advice you need at such times, but most are dependent on your situation, so I will only add one here.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket - if you let one big player control your destiny, you could be setting up for your own failure, because big players generally don't care that much about you - they have their own problems - or they could be flakes.
Only an entrepreneur can relate to these things. Very reassuring!
Thank you so much for your article. Yes it helped to know how others overcome 'freaking out' so happy to know that I'm not alone.
With 8 start-ups in 25 years under my belt - I still FREAK OUT over things (and this is from a guy whose early career was that of a Dallas cop. And even when I try to remember that in business - no one usually dies or tries to kill you...so why freak out...doesn't work).
And I know why:
It's a freak out chromosome in our entrepreneur genes.
Freaking out is O.K....but there is a right way to Freak Out and a wrong way.
1. Freakout alone
2. Don't fire anyone
3. Don't fire off an angry email
4. Don't piss off anyone who still holds your balls in their hands (i.e. vendors).
1. Pop open a beer, then another and another.
2. If you are into it - light up a fatty
3. Have sex.
Then, wake up the next morning and get back in the fight...but be nice.
I agree with Michael. It is reassuring to know others are going through the same challenges. And good advice Dharmesh. Keeping a clear head is most vital. Sure, we can panic, but the important thing is not to react until the head clears. And keep on track by seeing every challenge, as just that, a challenge to be solved rather than an end to a road.
My biggest freak-out moment was when a former client wrote to the state licensing board and tried to get my counseling license revoked. Fortunately, I had a great support system of people who talked me through the appropriate response and everything (eventually) blew over. Whew!
Great article and great advice. Rational thinking is very important, particularly at a time of crisis. And the advice is valid for established organizations as well as startups.
We work with all kinds of organizations, from start ups to those that have been around for 100+ years. They all have freak out situations from time to time. Sometimes the sense of urgency that is created is just enough to encourage someone who supports your idea to invest more -
– more money, more time, more expertise, at a time when it is critically needed. So, think about how you can use the new sense of urgency to your advantage to leverage someone on your team who can be more helpful than s/he already is.
Running out of customers, in my opinion, would be a lot of start up owners greatest fear. There was a couple of times were I felt my own start up was headed in that direction, but we always managed to pull ourselves together. These near deaths were able to bring us closer and were great learning lessons going forward
Thanks, such an encouraging posting.
Nice read... When I freak out, pad some cold water on the back of your neck... Medical research says, it automatically sends a signal for blood circulation and releases stress giving you a clearer mind. :)
Failed launches. Too many to mention.
Breathe. Laugh hard. Work out hard. Some wine.
Then get your ass back in the saddle!
A nice piece. And there have been many great comments made. I want to add my perspective... Once something has happened, panic will not undo the "very bad thing". It's time to look for solutions and that is best done when you can take a moment to really think about your options with a level head. Ask yourself 3 questions:
(1) What is the real extent of the LIKELY impact of this event on my business?
(2) What options do I have to adjust to this event?
(3) What do I need that I don't have to execute a solution?
Since these things happen often to entrepreneurs, you actually get better over time at responding without panicking (although you may still have a moment of freak out at the moment of impact!)
Great article and I love the humorous tone too! That's important because in the scheme of life and the universe, these things we can freak out about are infinitesimal.
This is a great reminder to not sweat the small stuff (it's all small stuff) and actually look at potential freak-outs for what they are: learning opportunities.
This article couldn't have come at a better time. So on point!
I couldn't help but smile as I read through each of your scenarios. Thanks so much for the encouragement and admonition to stay calm. It's a good reminder that you don't have to get side tracked and respond immediately when things go differently than you anticipated.
Ben Horowitz wrote about a conversation he had with Mark Andreesen when he was freaking out at Opsware and Andreesen's response was "the great thing about entrepreneurship is that you only experience two emotions – euphoria and terror." Remembering that this is the natural state seems to calm me down when I'm on the edge of a freakout (lord knows why).
My experience has been that the reality with startups is rarely ever as good or as bad as it seems in the moment. In most cases, the best response is to just keep grinding.
Great article. I would like to add: Don't freak out in front of your team. A freaked out founder can rattle the entire team leading to loss of focus and 'compounding bad events'.
Do your deep thinking and freaking out behind closed doors, then become the level headed person supporting the team when you step out.
If you are not the type of person who can compose yourself in the face of uncertainty you wouldn't be in the startup game, right?
Wonderful article and thanks for this valuable advice, Dharmesh! In last 8 months journey of LoginRadius, we had few near-fatal events and I am sure, we will face few more :)
By the way, no. 2 is quite scary though, never thought of that!
Great article, and good that i am reading it at the right time. EzeeSolve is my startup
@Kevin Konczal that was a good and useful comment ;)
On the same line of advice ... don't worry about these things potentially happening either. There are very few things you can control. Worrying only creates anxiety.
Very true. All the points that are highlighted holds true to any early stage startup. At some point in time or other all of them would have come across atleast half if not all point to encounter. I know its dirty but its true :-)
Great post and great comments. All of them are all too familiar or should I say doubly familiar? I have dual start-ups, one beginning to generate revenue and attention, the other really nascent. Taking a deep breath. Renewing one's determination. Going for a walk, ride, or swim. Having a beer-fueled vent session with a fellow entrepreneur. Eliminating negative people and "friends" who sabotage you. Not being afraid to replace team members who aren't really team members. Not being afraid to tell a white lie when necessary. Not hesitating to pivot when needed. Holding my tongue when someone asks what's wrong with me and that I should just quit, particularly since I'm a non-technical founder while secretly telling him to go fuck himself if he can find it. These are a few of my "favorite" things.
Very comforting article. The comments of other members are quite educative.
Nice article Dharmesh! The best way is to take a day off after the disaster happens, cool off (some of the replies had some suggestions for the same:-)) and get back to work with full vigor. Iam sure then the impossible would become possible!!
So true! I can actually relate to it as i am today standing at one of the cross-roads mentioned. It just instilled more confidence.
Thanks so much! Working on a very dynamic startup for about a year already we have faced a number of near-fatal events. Thank you for the great mention that such events not always require to be responded immediately and that it's a good idea to take some break to return back to it later, tomorrow. Thank you!
Thanks Dharmesh and to all other valuable comments, this encourages start up entrepreneurs like me to never give up. Just have to keep in mind that you have to be pessimistic about the path and optimistic about the goal.
After 40 plus years in business. I retired. Started loosing big money in unrelated fields. I felt battled and tired.
Next. I am 74 (good health, mental and fysical) and I am fighting my way back. Difficult but not impossible.
Thanks for your article and all the comments.
Hi, its really a nice post.Have been experiencing few with my one year old start up.
I would also want to add my point: When you are expecting any payment from your vendors, DO NOT plan on what to with that amount before its in your own pockets. We never know, by what time that payment will be in our pockets (the point to FREAK OUT).
Also never take it for granted on any employee. How important is raising a start up, is equally important to a strong team who actually helps us to perform better.
Very beautifully written. It happens some times but one learns a lot from these kind of lessons. So one have face it as a facts of life Brave lady
Good article. Recently saw the movie Gone With The Wind. Your reference to the movie is spot on and conveys the message. Hang on and keep fighting.
Nice article, thanks for sharing all these! Bad things sometimes hurt, but we get stronger if we get througt them.
Thanks for the thoughts...the bad news is that the freak out moments never stop, even when you are technically not a 'start-up' any more!
Its what makes business interesting and us entrepreneurs, the ability to take the punches on the chin and keep on going!
Thanks for the article Dharmesh. In fact, many people freak out even before having a startup. It is just the idea and competition that makes one to freak out....
Great article, OK maybe no to dos in the event of but the don't i.e. freak out is very relevant. Nice to know others suffer as much. I lost a partner and experienced the deeps of depression, anxiety, and stressed for a long while. Doing it on your own is withering. A tip; learn to laugh on your own at nothing. My trade is as a Laughter therapist, I know it works gowww.laughteryoga.org
and see for yourself. Laughter brings the light back on, it is a tool to be learnt and kept just like fire extinguisher or first aide kit. The problem will stay but the way you look at it will change.
#3 is why Technical Startups need Strong Technical Leadership such as a CTO not just a Developer or two. I also hate it when at a conference someone says I have this great idea for a software product, or website, where do I hire a Developer to get it built.
Thanks Dharmesh for the right perspective. You have said it rightly more than any other damage these events cause emotional damage. Once we train ourselves saying that this is not the end of the world and just move on, everything will work out.
Great article ...This reminds me of the proverb "This too shall pass" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_too_shall_pass
Very good article. I've done two start ups thus far but crossed over to the Econ Develop side and am creating programs for both start ups and growth companies. I chuckled reading the article as most of what you ran into I did as well. Believe me, there was little to chuckle about at the time due to being in the middle of the war but now its good to remember how you worked through it. Calmness is the key, as well as a mentor or peer group to bounce ideas off of.
# 2 was really funny. Laughed a Lot!!!
# 2 was really funny. Laughed a Lot!!!
Here's what entrepreneurs have taught me in my 20+ years experience with them:
1) What happens in the business is a physical manifestation of what is going on in the entrepreneur's head. We create what we think about and according to our beliefs...there is no other rule.
2) Entrepreneurs get stuck when they react to what they see and convince themselves there is no available solution. Solution: keep your eye on the objective and leave the "how" open to creativity. Most of the potential solutions don't exist yet.
3) Learn to calm the negative mind chatter that fuels your fear and creates more of the same negativity.
4) When faced with a "freak out" level problem, list all your assumptions and test them one by one. Some of them fall down.
Really interesting article!
I had to reshared in LinkedIn!
...I am pretty sure I will reuse the phrase: Remember, if the pain doesn't kill you, it only hurts a lot.
YIKES, I really needed this...I was starting to lose my "risk quotient" 'cause it seemed like everything was turning to ----. Now I feel more than a tad better!!!
I've had so many near misses in the years I've been in business that I've lost count too. Even with all of that behind me, it's still hard to think of new "Bad Events" as "near fatal" rather than "fatal". They sure seem "fatal" at the time, don't they??
One thing I've learned is how to size up the "potentially fatal event" in the context of past near fatal events. It helps me to realize that this potentially fatal event isn't NEARLY as bad as some of the others I've managed to overcome. The reasons I managed to overcome the others was 1) a refusal to give up, and 2) a resolution that a solution has to exist and that I was bound to find it. So I resolve that that's how I'm going to surmount any new "fatal" event too.
Great article. All the way through reading it I'm nodding my head or saying, "Yep, did that."
Good article, useful. Events in a start up that unsettle it keep varying and usually are not the same. However, as you have said a lot of patience is needed to ensure success in a start up
Interesting artice to read and may be understood by all as this is what each one has gone through. The points are not just near fatal but they are deciding factors for your next course of action..say for example the co founcder has left and picked up a job might indicate you should also look for options other than what you are sticking to. A practical analysis and understadning can be of help in times when you have to use your steering to change the course of your voyage..No fuel would also mean come back to the shore and refill than to be audacious and try to sail without the fuel
Good advice shared!
Entrepreneurs need resilience, to consistently go for deals and market themselves and their business in every way possible!
I went through all of these in my last startup. It didn't make it but I only freaked out when it was over.
Good stuff...keep it coming.
This was a great and timely read. Resilience and the ability to maintain accurate perspective is a must. Thanks for dropping these words of wisdom.
Great advice. To see the struggles we faced getting FedEx started, check out my book "Changing How the World Does Business" available through Amazon.
great advice Dharmesh. Puts my problems into perspective.
Simply awesome article, I had number 4 happen very recently for one of my projects, "keep rollin'" is practically always the best course of action.
Great article. While I agree with keeping your cool during the worst of the times, ignoring warning signs and constantly heading in the wrong direction and sticking with it might not necessarily be strategic all the time. Sometimes, you might have to just pack up and move on...
I have had two large freak outs in the past two weeks! My lead developer left and my co-founder(who was my boyfriend) left too because we broke up. Definitely learned a lesson there. So now it is down to just me and I am in the middle of trying raise a seed round. Trying to stay positive and focus on the end goal, but it has been so stressful. I am a fashion technology startup so we are in a hard market. People either understand or they do not. But I love what I do and am not ready to give up. Great article!
experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.
over the past 5yrs my passion turned start-up has consumed me. if there is anything standing in the way of success it is definitely me freaking out. it paralyses me and the growth of my company. i want to thank you for this post and for everyone's comments. being an enterprenuer is an enlightening experience and it helps so much to know that freaking out is just part of the process. and that success depends on conquering these fears.
Thanks for sharing your story. If there is one thing we all learn as budding entrepreneurs is sometimes we will fail and sometimes we will succeed, but either way you need a team around you to get through the bad times and enjoy the good times!
Humans are designed and modified in a particular manner and they best left to be what they are. If one can control emotions the world will be at ones feet.
this article came on the right day, at the right time. Thank you. Reminds me of what I remind myself....what a difference a day makes. Takes the freak out down several notches...it all takes courage and blind ambition...
Ours is a 30yrs Old business. All along we have been keeping ourselves floating an breathing just above the water level. In all these years have faced almost every possible reasons to put the business assets on "SALE" and Quit, Even today a Large customer has refused to pay on flimsy grounds and a Second one says that you don't match the market. Thanks to you Dharmesh - To let go the time and solution will be found. Buddys 30 years is a BIG-BIG time but joy is that we could light many a homes of those who worked with us.
I like the phrase which you said in the article "if the pain doesn't kill you, it only hurts a lot".. yeah I completely agree with you.. there wont be any gain when there is no loss..
How could i disagree with you Dharmesh? i am exactly going through this right now with our rather successfull and profitable company, but seeking crucial funding from either "silent" or "slow-motion" business angels. I have to deal daily with none cooperative bank, a business partner who prefers to hid away from the problems instead of dealing with it, and suppliers following up on their past-dues...
Well...i know as U said that if i hadn't been mentally strong and keen to panicking...we would be dead already !
like it. The do it portion is brilliant!
Not freaking out is the key. You will be under a lot of stress and worrying about a lot of different things but you need to be calm.
Great article Dharmesh !! Could identify myself with the near situations you have mentioned. Another important reasons why startups fail is 'coz the promoter after tasting initial success gets in to "i,me & myself" syndrome & fails to recognize that its a team effort & the team is equally important for the startup to succeed. And also recognize the need to be humble & the fact that there people much more capable than them !!I've seen this scenario playing out in couple of start ups known to me.
Great article Dharmesh !! Could identify myself with the near situations you have mentioned. Another important reasons why startups fail is 'coz the promoter after tasting initial success gets in to "i,me & myself" syndrome & fails to recognize that its a team effort & the team is equally important for the startup to succeed. And also recognize the need to be humble & the fact that there people much more capable than them !!I've seen this scenario playing out in couple of start ups known to me. suhaskatti
Great article Dharmesh! It is an educative read for all start ups, big or small. It is quite obvious that you will face hardships when you begin your journey, but eventually as and when you gain control, you get up to speed. On that note, I would like to share with you and your other readers another article that I read on the internet: http://smallbusinessindia.intuit.in/starting-business/common-problems-business/...Since this read talks of the problems, we learn from these mistakes.
Well nice to read this and additionally would like to share an experience of mine when for the first time a started a venture In a small town of India.
As you know there is scarcity of electricity in India, I developed an emergency light which was cheaper as compared to invertors.
the best part came when we were able to incorporate a CLAP switch into it.
The CLAP switch was very useful at night when it was pitch dark and when the user clapped his hand the Light went ON. This was an idea which sold like anything initially as it was really unique at that time..I am narrating this incident from 1992. Now this is going to show how we failed and freaked out. This CLAP switch got activated when the dogs barked in the day, or a milkman rung the bell. and when the light was actually neede at night by then the battery would have been all used up.
The entire lot we manufactured had to be corrected at expense of ours, bringing it back from customers place adding an extra on/off switch for activating the CLAP witch and also at the expense of we further stop making new ones .
Relevant article. Whether its a job or start up, freaking out is natural and an emotional outburts....the difference is that in a job you can blame the others, while in a entrprenuership you blame it in your self...a big thing that seperates the boys from men...
I think when things go wrong as they most of the time they will..its best to step back...a great point being made in this article is not to react immediately when the problem occurs... i practiced that to cool off or go the gym, watch a movie or do some heavy breathing excercise...
Great article, well I bookmarked it so i can revisit this as often :)
Well yes, I agree if it does not kill you, it would still hurt a lot
Great article and definitely on point. I've been working with start-ups for a little over 12 years now and "putting out fires" is to be expected. We can plan for the downside risk, but ultimately it becomes a "letting go" process that helps us deal with the emotional side. B.Marks
Freaking out, especially in front of others, shows lack of self-control & that definitely does not help. It will help to maintain ones composure and try to find alternatives to the problem at hand rather than freaking out over what to do.
In such a situation, it could help to contact friends and family, whom you trust and seek their opinions and advice on the matter. You never know who can give a divine advice that can pull you out of the problem. So don't freak out. Instead, focus on getting things done and everything should go well.
It seems to me the entrepreneurial culture can overly romanticize the late and sleepless nights, or the "freak outs" that only years later and with success become good stories. These are real, and the advice to build a great support network (emotional and advisory) is of course solid. But another goal of an entrepreneur can be to create an environment in which serious impediments to start-up success are mitigated through financial conservatism, willingness to allow projects to fail when they have run their course, and confidence that with failure the entrepreneur (and his or her team) is then one step closer to success -- with the next idea.
If you get a divorce and your x goes to war, takes all the development material, your computers, drains the bank accounts, uses the money to pay for a really expensive lawyer. Next thing you know you’re sleeping on your uncle’s coach spending the night at Kinkos and trying to resurrect your business plan though e-mails.
Then, take Kevin’s advice and freak out alone alongside a case of your favorite brew.
And start all over with a prenup...
Great article. As with anything you build though, it matters about the foundation you first build.
As a Christian, I tend to make time at the beginning of every project to really press into God on how He wants me to build it, then really listening to what I hear back - through other people, the written word, the Holy Spirit. There is a confidence gained through that experience that is hard to explain, one that really helps provide peace when something like what you mention happens. That is process we coach start-ups on at Go Ahead, Launch.
It really does matter where your focus is. Matthew 6:33
Thank you, it was a really encouraging post. Having an idea is not enough if it has not been executed. I was reading another article on similar lines about what start-ups should not skimp about. Sharing it here: http://smallbusinessindia.intuit.in/starting-business/startups-skimp-startups-skimp/. All the best to all start-ups!
Well said, startups are a slow very slow progression, to make a logical stable decision on fixing the issue.
Otherwise, if you let stress induce impulse decisions they cause a butterfly effect making things way worse. Also potentially ruining your self image of your product and your reputation.
A very good post.. We just had one while I was reading this.. LOL.. We will now spend couple of sleepless nights to get out of this rut..
I hate IE.. very rightly said, IE is used only for downloading other browsers, but then irony is 60% of the users are still on IE.. :-)