When Things Go Terribly Wrong

I’ve seen several terrible situations lately in the startup scene: founders splitting up unexpectedly, companies failing to structure operations, entrepreneurs getting sabotaged by their investors and many others. We’re not used, trained or ready for those situations in which we are either Guilty, Responsible, Actor, Spectator or Collateral Party. But we must cope with them.

I would not say that those events are easy to deal with or that they don’t affect me but they are part of our journey and we must just handle them, each one of us, the best we can. The problem is that by default, like in any other difficult or complicated situation of this sort, chaos rises up through asymmetrical views, irrational behaviors and a fragile balance of power. The paradox being that it is when things go wrong that everyone should be supposed to do her best to see clear and act accordingly.

Those who appeared to be strong show weaknesses, fearless pirates become fatalists, founders loose their leadership, investors loose their mind, employees loose their faith, communication is broken… You go from a real problem to a complex one, from a critical situation to a game of thrones.

People fail. And a lot of startups collapse. But miscommunication and misbehaviour are always a bad idea, often leading to a bloodbath instead of a constructive (yet brutal/hurtful) approach, at worst to a fatal destiny that could have been avoided. Every situation is unique but just put your misplaced feelings aside and try to apply simple rules:

  • Prefer meetings over emails or calls;
  • Make sure information is fully shared, on time;
  • Bring out loudly all potential conflicts of interests;
  • Understand that your interest is not the best interest;
  • Whoever you are, be the leader, the listener and the teacher: you might have to lead the situation, but also to listen to everyone and understand them, as well as to lead them to behave accordingly… A tricky, bitchy but necessary mission sometimes;
  • Make sure everyone takes her full responsibility (not just a bit…).

At the end of the day, what matters is that as a CEO, Investor or Advisor, you must have done whatever is in your power to both fully understand and handle the situation, with good faith and not (only) from a biased, unique or partial point of view.

Put aside your ego, your misplaced feelings and so called principles. It’s not only about the money, it’s about the people. This is not a movie. The shit just got real.