Founder’s deathly silence

I say it over and over again, founders lie 50% of the time when you ask them how they are doing. “I’m doing great. How about you?” It’s a great way to avoid trying to describe what’s in our heads: “Things aren’t going that well. We’ve been working harder than ever before. We’re running out of ideas and see no indication of it working at all. Users love us and yet they stop using us. I can’t sleep well and I forget to eat. On top of that my visa expires in less than 2 months.”

If we were doing great, trust me, we would tell you right away and you would see it all over social media too. In my personal experience, there’s been two main reasons why I go silent: I don’t want anyone to see their fearless leader unsure of what to do. And, there’s been so many times in the past that I’ve felt this way and we’ve always found a way to make it happen, so why bother telling people now?

The fearless leader syndrome

Founders, and especially CEOs are truly fearless and unstoppable. The ones who are not, will probably give up within a year when they realize this is not a good lifestyle for them. Every time there’s a big challenge ahead we prepare by talking to our co-founder, advisors, teammates, users and by looking at our data and research. We prepare a great strategy for the most spectacular execution. Then we succeed…partially. So we have to rinse and repeat to push again and again, climbing the mountains as fast as we can. But what happens when the push takes you nowhere? You start stalling. But you try again. And nothing. Then is time to go silent.

Mistake #1: Only say what you need to say to the people that need to hear it but keep the big scheme of things to yourself until you figure it out.

But you’re optimistic and you know you will figure it out. You know that building that one more feature or reaching that specific group of users is all you need to be on the path of success again. Why would you bother (or even scare) people with problems that are about to be resolved? No reason to put that kind of pressure of them, just on you, cuz you’re the strongest.

Mistake #2: You don’t share your fears, concerns or even thought process with anyone because you know you’ll figure it out like you’ve done in the past multiple times.

For me the solution became very clear about 6 months ago. Our team size was cut in half since the beginning of the year, so I had responsibility for the most important tasks my former teammates previously had. I found myself talking a lot with myself (and sometimes with my girlfriend who’s also a startup CEO) about problems, concerns, issues and possible solutions. It made me realize that what I needed was to talk to someone. Such a simple and natural human activity, and I wasn’t doing it at all in very important moments in my life. I still didn’t blast out my issues to my entire network (don’t do that), but instead I picked the right people to be completely open, without hiding anything, but focusing on the matter they could help me the most. I started with my co-founder and I share with him what I was feeling. I continued with my investors and with their expertise they helped me see things I hadn’t seen before. I talked to founder friends and just listening to them helped me come up with different paths to find solutions.

Keeping things to yourself could be quite dangerous as a startup CEO because on top of your personal problems you have startup problems, which, since you’re a founder, they are in fact, personal problems. If you know a startup CEO that has gone silent, please approach them, they might have a lot of things they want to say. They just might think they shouldn’t.