Waiting for the Perfect Storm
We hit the brick wall around the same time. Our situations were completely different, and the outcomes weren’t similar either, but the process of realization was relatively alike. There are so many factors that must fall into place for a situation to be perfect, and this relates to business, relationships, opportunities, and life.
Being an optimist can be painful at times. We often force situations upon ourselves, or we force ourselves into situations because we believe that the time and conditions are right. Yet in reality we choose to ignore obvious signs that something in the current state is not ticking properly. This is why it is so painful being an optimist, we develop expectations, hope, and when things go off track we’re hurt more than we should be.
For the past few months I’ve been running the operations of my company on my own. This led to many challenges, mainly regarding energy, skills, organizational capabilities, marketing, time management (working a day job doesn’t make it easier) etc. If you’re running an operation by yourself, kudos to you. Being your own cheerleader is so hard when times are tough. Motivating yourself to continue delivering and working on the same process over and over without any support is draining, both physically and emotionally. There were days where I literally couldn’t get out of bed. And didn’t want to. I will not say that I failed, far from it. The fact that I was able to deliver most projects with an almost 100% satisfaction rate (the only client who wasn’t satisfied I didn’t charge money from) says a lot, and the skills and relationships that I’ve developed have been and will be invaluable as my career progresses. I have also created a lot of partnerships globally so when an idea will rise everything will be in place to start up a lot faster than previously.
This is one of the greatest benefits of trying: you try, you fail, and you try again — (only losers don’t try again) — the knowledge gained can always be recycled and used in a better and more efficient way.
These past few weeks I had the chance to talk to three friends who also ran their own businesses. These friends were all involved in various types of businesses, and were in a different stage of their business’s lives, but had to call it quits, each for a different reason(s). I really admire their business savviness and the guts they had to either leave their company or shut down operations. The reasons they chose to do so vary, but there are a few common themes — team, investors, timing, product, market fit, pricing, etc. Since we all went through difficulties and challenges, I’ve had many conversations with them in the past and wanted to share some insights.
Product and Market
D has been involved in the realm of security for years now. His company provided government agencies, media outlets, multi-national companies, and international organizations live updates and reports about current hazards, trends, and analysis of events occurring in the Middle East. He’s incredibly charismatic, had 8 employees on his team, and he’s also an excellent writer and speaker (he’s well published and featured on TV on many news outlets). Recently D and his company hit a brick wall, his company wasn’t advancing as quickly as he hoped nor was it getting the traction they had planned. The business model was off. After several months of deliberation, D decided to shut his operations down. It’s better to burn out than to fade away Neil Young once sang, yet how long should we fade away for before we decide to burn out? Or get burned out?
The decision was not an easy one to make for him, he had people on his payroll whose careers depended on his actions. Yet, money wasn’t flowing into the company and the services that he offered, many potential customers felt they can get for free in this day and age. It seems it was hard for him to create that added value that will draw clients to open their wallets and spend money. When I told him I was sorry to hear this, his response was: “don’t be. I learned so much from this and it’s a step closer to where I want to get to in the future.” After working on his company for nearly 3 years and investing most of his resources and time on his company, while at the same time sacrificing experiences with his family (his wife just gave birth to their 2nd child) he will most likely accept a role in an international organization, working under a manager. Yet he’ll be able to punch his time card at the end of the day and return to his family without the stress of whether or not his decisions will leave his employees without a job. I am curious if this signifies the end of his entrepreneurial days, the thought of raising a family with 2 kids combined with the uncertainty of a steady income can be daunting. But for him I have the feeling that he’ll back at something new, if not now, then in the near future.
E. has been an entrepreneur for several years now. He’s always felt more comfortable running his business rather than working for someone else. This wasn’t his first roll-out as he’s been founder of another company that did really well. After working on a disruptive SaaS solution in a traditional industry for over a year, he recently became aware that his vision didn’t align to that of his fellow co-founders. This was a real difficult decision for him to make — his startup just graduated from a prestigious accelerator and they’re looking to raise additional seed money now — but ultimately the differences between co-founders couldn’t be reconciled. For him this is now a good time to take a breath and re-strategize.
Sometimes you have to stop your GPS navigation route to reposition and realign yourself.
He sees his current situation as a beneficial one, he just got married, can take a few months off, and is thinking about maybe getting his MBA. The past few weeks he’s been approached by multiple startups of all sizes, but he feels like those opportunities will always be around, so he doesn’t need to rush into a new adventure. Last time we spoke he said that “in a sense I can see myself settling down a bit, maybe working for a big company, pick up additional skills and earn a steady paycheck, but then again, I’ve never really done that before and I’m not sure I’d want to start that now.”
Funding and Investors
G received his LLM a few years back and began working as a lawyer in a firm, he wore a suit and tie. Pretty fast he understood that this wasn’t his calling and along with several other founders decided to create a platform to eliminate the “middle-man” in real estate purchases. The startup was doing really well, had thousands of users, they raised significant funds, and were expanding to several other countries. It couldn’t have been scripted better for his team. And then it happened. One of their main investors began making claims and requests that did not fit the founders’ vision or goals. After nearly two and a half years of hard work, countless meetings, endless nights without sleep, and trying to raise a family at the same time, G was facing a serious dilemma — conduct a significant pivot, cut ties with their investor, or going back to the suit and tie. For G all of these options had their own advantages and disadvantages. After days of deliberation G decided to take off his entrepreneurial hat. This wasn’t easy for him, obviously. But the risks were greater than the reward. In the meantime he’s taking on some part-time legal cases to polish up his skills and test the ground to see if legal is still a fit for him. “Obviously there is a great amount of disappointment that things didn’t work out as we (the team) planned. But right now, I’m in a good position to make the right choice for me, my family, and my career.”
As for me, I’m still hitting my head against the wall… But I’m wearing a helmet. Some days are better than others. Clients still knock on my door, some I let in, others I don’t. It’s better to be selective and harness energy in the right areas and know when to cut costs and losses. If in the past I said yes to every client’s inquiry, now I’m a lot more selective and calculated. I’m reminded of a saying from back home: the difference between a wise person and a smart person is that the wise person knows how to get out of a situation that a smart person wouldn’t get into.
Eight people died during the Everest expedition disaster in 1996. A lot of people know this story. The climbers had multiple signs on the wall (and in the sky) pointing to why they should turn around and not attempt to reach the summit. What often goes overlooked is this — close to 300 meters from the top they saw a climber descending, by himself. His name was Goran Kropp. The solo climber was attempting to reach the summit for the first time by himself, without Sherpas (local equipment carriers), and without an oxygen tank. 100 meters away from the summit he noticed warning signs: the weather was changing and it was getting dark. He decided to turn around. It would be too dangerous for him to climb to the top and descend, as he wouldn’t reach a safe area in time. Imagine being so close to your dream, literally almost touching it, but being calculated enough to turn around. That takes a lot more guts than to continue climbing. The 8 climbers continued despite this. Those climbers did not get another chance.
Three weeks after the disaster, Kropp made another attempt to reach the summit. This time, he was successful.
The perfect storm is coming.
Shlomie Singer is the Founder and CEO of uBranded, a company that specializes in personalized branding and marketing. uBranded creates the highest quality of content, visuals, and products needed for personal career growth, and for businesses expansion.
Visit www.ubranded.co to see how we can help you grow.