When Founders Melt

Posted on January 8, 2013. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

Between my own experiences, those of my friends, and those of founders who I have invested in, I have seen many startups go through difficult times.  A product flops…a cofounder leaves…the company gets sued…a financing falls apart…an acquisition falls apart…an api gets cut off…the money is running out…the money ran out…

In these times, if you are a founder, shit gets very dark.  More often than not, you start to worry about your team.  You worry about your employees losing faith in the company.  You worry about your investors.  It becomes hard to answer that question from the market and your friends: “how are things going?”  Between the social pressure, self inflicted pressure, investor pressure, and market pressure getting out of bed in the morning is not pleasant.  In my experience, there are two states a founder can exist in when such a situation arises: 1) depressed/stressed/exhausted and 2) melting.

Both blow, but the single greatest predictor of a company’s demise or resurrection is which of these two states a founder is in during the time of duress.  As an investor when I’m asked to bridge through this period, as a friend when I’m asked if it’s worth fighting through, and as myself when I look to calibrate how I’m dealing…the question I always ask is “is the founder melting?”  Once you’re melting, it’s over…there’s no coming back, no bridge will help, no new product effort matters…your going one direction and that’s down the drain.  You know you are melting when you start lying to people…you know you are melting when you lose confidence in your decision making…you know you are melting when you are pretending to execute as opposed to executing…you are a shell of yourself…the outside remains solid, but the inside is soup.

If you are melting, don’t ask for the bridge.  If you are melting don’t ask for your employees’ continued loyalty.  If you are melting don’t tell your family it’s going to be ok.  Be responsible, recognize that you need to exit this situation, and preserve your relationships with your team and investors, do right by them…

More importantly, however, is not to melt.  I know it sounds absurd, to ask someone who is depressed/stressed/exhausted to hold it together…but that’s the job of a founder.  Even when it appears that you have no outs left and no moves to make…the one move that you can always make as a founder is to keep your proverbial cool…to not melt.

There is a reason airline safety demonstrations always instruct parents to place the mask over their own nose and mouth, before helping secure the mask on dependents.  Leader has to stay coherent for anyone to survive. Your first move as a founder is keep yourself alive and functional…if you melt…company is gonzo…Do whatever it takes to keep below melting temperature…don’t just stare at a screen, hoping things will change…go to the movies, go on a date, talk to a shrink, open up to a friend, or advisor, or spouse, go on a week long hike in the mountains if that’s what it takes, whatever it is you need to do to remain in solid form…do it. When founders melt, a small hole forms in the trough of sorrow, and the team and investors and product and company drain out the bottom into oblivion…stay cool

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2 Responses to “When Founders Melt”

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love this post.

daily gratitude for the small things – like breathing on your own, having both legs, a beautiful sunset, the profound silence of a late night under the stars alone, healthy children – is like salt for boiling point elevation or anti-freeze for freezing point depression. you have to use it for it to have the desired impact but once you do, you can manage the elements (of yourself) better.

not doing what you feel compelled to (like losing your shit at the peak of critical mass instead of riding the crest to shore ) is easier to achieve when you practice it.

everyday, i give a little thanks out loud to no one or nothing in particular for three small things.

on days when it’s hitting the fan, i make myself find ten.

and i write those ten down.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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