Startups Anonymous: What Startup Failure Feels Like
[This is a weekly series that brings you raw, first-hand experiences from founders and investors in the trenches. Their story submissions are anonymous, allowing them to share openly without fear of retribution. Every Wednesday, we'll run one new story chosen by Dana Severson, who operates StartupsAnonymous, a place for startups to share, ask questions, and answer them in story-length posts, all anonymously. You can share your own story here.]
It was the morning after our failed launch, I had just dropped off my kid at preschool as a rush of emotion hit me like a sledgehammer to the nuts. At that moment, I thought it was because of my 4-year old's struggle to leave my side, which never failed to draw a tear. As I bawled my way to the car, I quickly realized it was much greater this time. His tears were just the trigger that set me off. My "everything's great" tough guy exterior was cracking. Everything was not ok. I wasn't ok. The company wasn't ok. I cried on and off for the next seven days. This was my first experience with company failure and it was devastating.
Fortunately, at the time, no jobs were at stake and no investor money was on the line. Just a whole of lot of people who were let down. Life and business continued.
I used it as motivation. I still had a passion for the company and that was all that I needed.
Micro failures continued for the next two years. Nothing catastrophic, but also not inconsequential. Bad decisions, bad hires, bad communication, bad product, bad results. All of those things began to add up. Mornings became more difficult. Days were dragging on. Emails were daunting. Distractions became welcomed. My productivity went to nil.
What was this?
This was failure setting in, although I couldn't see that at the time. Looking back, I had two choices: 1. Do something. 2. Don't do something.
Without being aware, I chose option 2.
Shortly thereafter, the time had finally come and here's how it went ...
You realize that you are out of money and out of options. You try to hang onto hope for one simple reason — because you don't want to be seen as a failure. Although you're sad, you're also kinda relieved (although you would never say so). After the decision is made, there is a tremendous weight lifted off your shoulders.
You spend the next several weeks (sometimes months) doing nothing productive and call it reflecting. Really, you're just licking your wounds, moping around looking for a pity party.
After your "reflection" period, you begin to come to terms.
You're sad for reasons that you wouldn't expect. At first you think it's because you loved your business and you couldn't imagine a future without it. In reality, you're sad that you let down those that believed in you. You're sad because you lost someone else's money.
You're sad because you have bills that need to be paid and you're broke. You're sad because you think you've lost the trust of others. You're sad because you don't know what you're going to do next. And, you're sad because you think your tarnished your image.
The only thing your not sad about is losing your company. Why? Because you finalize realize the hard truth — you lost your love for the business, otherwise it would not have failed.
You finally figure out that you were the reason the company failed. You lost your drive and passion for what you were doing and nothing else mattered. It wasn't lack of sales, lack of funding, lack of product/market fit ... or any other excuse you could come up with. It was you. Plain and simple.
Eventually you get back on your feet and you fall in love once again. And, the cycle continues.
I've finally come to realize the obvious — if you lose your will to survive, you'll die.
If you don't want to fail, find your will to stay alive, everything else will follow.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando.]