Surviving the Climb (in Your Head)
Part 2 of 3: What went on in our heads as a company without a product…
Everyone else has already written more, better posts about the head-fuck that is starting a company. I’ll spare you my $.02 and focus on what it’s like being a company without a product, because we’ve lived it.
The decision to shut down was not made lightly. We knew that we were forsaking the battle to win the war, but there was also significant risk in killing what momentum we had at the time. As founders, Dan and I knew we had to commit to this wholeheartedly and we did. But to execute it effectively, we made sure to involve the team in the decision making, as this was a TON of hard work that we were putting to rest. Through several very transparent, honest conversations, we agreed as a team that we were going to “burn the boats,” building for the future and not looking back. I’m really proud of how everyone on the team handled this. If anything, it really gelled us together and I think it’s a testament to everyone as individuals and as team players. It was clear that we really care about one another and about doing great work.
While we made the decision to shutdown, we also chose to be clear with our investors on what we were doing. We saw larger opportunity in retooling our infrastructure. They knew that would take time, probably longer than the runway we had, and liked what we we had accomplished thus far, so they doubled down on us. That’s tremendous support and we’re lucky to have that from Rich and Brady at Avalon Ventures.
We also decided to be transparent about our shutdown and share it with the press/public. In our experience, it’s always better to tell “your story” then to have someone else make it up for you. Plus, we had real users who would be bummed about the shutdown, so we didn’t want to just leave them in the dark.
Overall, I think the shutdown itself played out nicely. We made our announcement, the Earth kept spinning, and we went back to building. That being said, the next 12 months were tough.
To start, it sucks to not have a product in the wild. You’re just toiling away on this thing without any real feedback. Sure, we did user testing and started private betas. Hell, we even launched some stuff without announcing it just to see how people would react, but it’s not the same thing as having your flagship product out there flapping in the wind for better or worse.
“So how’s the pivot?” friends asked. Ugh. I don’t blame people for thinking it would be a pivot, but man I came to detest that word. The next question was inevitably, “So when’s the relaunch?” First, it was “soon.” Then it was “we’ve got some new stuff soon.” Then it was “Q2 next year. Definitely.” Then it was “when iOS7 launches…” Now, here we are in November. Point is, it sucked to keep moving our timeline. It’s demotivating, even if it’s the right thing to do. I can take the blame here, as I was never ready to commit to relaunching without the product being strong, but we also took a bunch of hits that we didn’t expect.
Also, as company priorities change, so do the tasks at hand. The problems being solved and the excitement of the “ride” shifted and some personality types handled it better than others. Sadly, we parted ways with a few people over the past couple years for a number of reasons. Some we lost, some we let go. Either way, that stuff is never fun. Everyone, past and present, at Shelby is a great person, capable of great things in the right role, on the right team, at the right time.
Lessons Learned for the Mental Game
- Honesty and transparency go a long way to build trust among a team, and that will help gel the team together toward a single mission.
- If you must shut down your product, you need to find ways to keep momentum going. Be it a company retreat or internal hackathons, they give the team a way to be creative, let loose, and build up some energy.
- You can’t control how everything will play out. Whether it’s how people will react to your announcement or how bigger forces will affect you, you just have to be as nimble as you can, internally and externally.
I don’t have any one formula for how to survive all of this shit. I certainly can’t take credit for Shelby’s potential survival, as I know I went through my own bouts of self-doubt and existential crises. That being said, there are a few things I know that helped me and likely helped the team… https://medium.com/@reece/surviving-the-climb-enjoying-it-even-ba1a260578b
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