I started my digital marketing company in 2009 against the backdrop of a global financial crisis. Most people thought a young university graduate — like I was at that time — should play it safe and wait for the business climate to get better before starting a company. I’ll never forget the middle-aged business owner who approached me at a trade show and suggested I was “very courageous” to start a company in “the crisis,” and wished me well as if I were taking a trip to some dangerous place from which I would never return.
My youthful ignorance turned out to be a blessing, although the first two years of bootstrapping were painfully humbling. My business card read “CEO,” but in reality, I was sleeping on an airbed under my desk. Two years later, armed with the proof of concept for our business model and bolstered by the tailwind of the improving economy, I raised my first round of financing. Eventually, I assembled a fantastic team of hundreds of people and later sold the majority of the company to a media conglomerate. It was a great ride, and I now believe that starting my company during a recession was the best move I could have made. …
Dear startup CEOs: It’s time to shift your mindset.
Last week might have been about growth and funky new initiatives. It could have been about hiring employees and closing that new financing round and launching that new product. Last week was about shiny things. Growth was your religion, and your North Star was closing deals and booking revenues. Amen.
In the early years of my company, we did not extend an employee’s one-year-long contract because their performance was okay, but not outstanding. Also, we were in the middle of a financing round and had to save on cash. It was a perfectly rational decision. However, since it was the first instance that we had let go of somebody under such circumstances, the rest of the team was confused. I had been calling our companies’ culture “family-like” many times before. That didn’t help at all in the situation.
“How could those monsters in management cold-heartedly fire a family member?” was the question written over the faces of the staff. The mood of the team was down for weeks, and we probably lost more cash on unproductive time than we saved on the employee’s salary. …