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How to weather the storms of a startup

Fact: Running a startup is not all sunny days and clear skies.
By Cynthia Johnson |

Storm 1

Running a startup is not all sunny days and clear skies. In fact, first-time founders and serial entrepreneurs alike will tell you, there are weeks and months of struggles, minimal hard-won successes, daunting lessons, crushing pressure, and financial instability involved in running a company. That is why it takes a certain kind of person to believe in themselves and weather the sturm und drang that may wash over them. For an idea of the unwieldy weather to come, read on.




A rain on your parade

In the earlier phases of a startup, hiring time is always a phase of mixed emotions and excitement. You should be happy that you are turning this partnership or solo project into a team, and you are excited to see your progress. On the other hand, you may not really have the funds to hire the best talent you can find—often you may even have to outsource your biggest responsibilities, or offer the new hire equity and experience (which does not look as impressive as a bi-weekly paycheck). This turn of events can cause a slight disparity in passion: You see your startup as your reason for living, and this person may see your startup as another job. You are on that grind every waking minute, and they are part-time players.


But do not let that get you down. If you can win over your employees with an awesome product and your sheer ambition and energy, then you can surely win market share.




Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

Nothing quite highlights the loneliness of quitting your day job to be a full-time entrepreneur like riding solo, without a cofounder. A cofounder in the operation you are trying to run is more than just a friend, more than just a “business partner.” Your cofounder helps balance your skillset, open you up to a new network of important people, flesh out your ideas, and even help you get funded, since investors often look for a more secure team dynamic. It is important to remain patient and not rush into finding just any partner. Flying solo lets you expand your skills while you look for the Bonnie to your Clyde. You may even find that you can handle the operations all on your own.


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Rain check

Developers and engineers can be notoriously hard to find, especially if you are operating on a tight budget and are based outside of Silicon Valley and Boston. Yet, there is little you can do without these angels. You may try to snatch some budding engineers out of university, but it is still a gamble. If you can afford an A-level programmer, you may not be able to afford many others. When it comes to hiring developers, you might not need top-level experience, but you should make sure they are obsessive about their work ethic, willing to learn, and excited about your startup. After all, a newbie can be supported and grow to A-level status.




Storm 2


Rain for 40 days and 40 nights

Most startups, as much as the movies would have you believe, do not run like clockwork. Products do not get built in a garage in an uplifting montage and immediately wow influential members of industry. Especially now that everyone pictures themselves as an entrepreneur. Most of the time, the last thing to come through is the product itself. Often, a founder will make the rounds at conferences and hear, again and again, “This sounds like a really great idea; please come back to me when you have a working prototype and we can talk money.”



On top of that, you have to consider when is the right time to ship to market, and calculate how much you will have to compromise financially. It is like waiting for the storms to end, and for the sun to come out—only you do not really know when that will be—especially because the chief technology officer you just hired right out of grad school in exchange for equity is shaping out to be a horrible meteorologist.


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Isolated showers

You have finally launched, and you are ramping up your campaign to full force. However, for whatever reason, your numbers are falling flat. After the initial bump in early adopters, you have not been getting much hype, and your subscribers have not really turned into customers as you had predicted they would. Maybe you launched your product with a few bugs still left in it, or maybe you got it all together, pristine and exactly as you want it, but you arrived late to market on the heels of one of your closest competitors. Or maybe people who had thought it was a great idea when you talked to them think it is just that: a great idea, but not a bankable business.



Whatever the reason, it is important to have an open mind about this situation and go back to the drawing board. Think about potential features you can roll out, or get your marketing team together to craft a unique social media campaign. Timing is everything, so watch the market. These are the days you should be praying for a rainbow to appear.



“We got cows”

So while you were still mapping out your projected timelines (which are, inevitably, running behind), you decided, “now is a great time to hire a marketing team.” There is a blog for a product that does not really exist yet, a growing number of early adopters who are waiting, like you, for the app to come out; you are commissioning great content and paying out of pocket for it, and shopping around for an office space because your data is telling you that as soon as you get the product out, people will be positively chomping at the bit to get to it. Maybe you have just raised a million on Kickstarter, and you are making up for lost time by hiring a few new employees.



At this point, it is important to stop what you are doing, take a step back, and maybe take a quick look at the hurricane that is about to descend at your footsteps—premature scaling is the number one definable cause of startup failure. Whether your company has too much of a good thing and is falling behind, or it is not ready for such large changes, premature scaling is something to be aware of. Even if you have been blessed with a windfall of money and a bump in sales, you should still consider which of your efforts are not necessary and scale at a rate both you (and your business) can handle.



The calm after the storm

No matter how rocky the last stretch was, know that you are in good company. A startup failure— something that happens to 90% of companies—is only the first milestone toward success. Albert Einstein himself said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” You’ve just found another couple of ways that would not work. Maybe you are actually relieved that the struggle is over, that you have cut the cord and now you’re taking the time to go over all the storms you have weathered. Now you know more about yourself, know what to avoid in the future run, and, finally, you can see clearly now, the rain is gone.



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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editors.


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