What It Feels Like When Your Startup Fails.

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.

True story.

  • Quoting from your post:

    “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.”

    While I have gone through your experience, I disagree with this part of your post. Although startups often fail because of lack of passion from the founder(s), they also often fail because they’re just bad ideas.

    A founder can either continue to pursue a bad idea and waste years of their life, or choose to pivot to something else. I was stuck working on a bad idea; it was a good idea in theory but in practice it was a bad idea for the simple fact that the sales process and sales cycle was so grueling and long for such tiny profit that it wasn’t worth it.

    I had checked out mentally after a while just like you did while still lying to myself and others that I was passionate about the idea. Eventually I called it quits, then after a few months of moping, I moved onto another idea and this one has enabled me to generate lots of revenue easily and I’m much happier as a result.

    In retrospect it seems like I should have quit much sooner but my stubbornness and refusal to look like a failure were what kept me going on that first, terrible business.

    So, my point is that just because you quit on a business doesn’t mean that you’re quitting on being an entrepreneur; you’ve just gotta find the right idea. Bill Gates failed several times before creating Microsoft. He even had a business that would try to measure traffic data and sell it, and it failed.

    Bill Gates is a smart guy and it seems like a decent idea, but often times the execution is too difficult to make it worth it. So, put 100% effort into your idea but if you realize along the way that it’s not a good one, then pivot to something else.

      • Yup(It’s the guy you’re responding to btw). The trick is to realize when the reason why you’re not getting traction is due to your own lack of skills or passion, or when it’s due to the idea itself not being a good one.

        Also, sometimes people have high expectations for a mediocre idea. If I open a hotdog stand, even in the best case scenerio I will only be generating six figures a year, and that’s the best possible outcome.

        I can’t open a single hotdog stand and expect to be generating billions in profits; that’s unrealistic. So, while an idea might be a decent one, it might not be the one that will make you the millions or billions that you seek.

        I would say that 90% of the companies that I see being written about on TC or other places are not very good ideas, which is why it’s not surprising when I see articles announcing that they’ve given up or been bought out for tiny sum so that the founders can work at some other company, which means that they were bought for their talent and not their idea.

    • Yeah same here. Spent 8 years on a POS idea I thought was the real deal. A lot of people (yours truly included) get hung up on the Calvin Coolidge quote about persistence and believed that persistence was the end all be all and positive thinking would carry the day.

  • First things first, once you realize you are not making money from your venture, you need to ask yourself why, is it because of the product, the quality of service delivered, lack of finance to compete, lack of drive from the owner or other external factors such as big corporates trying to squash you.

    Everyone has different scenarios, mine was the big dogs trying to squash my business, then came the “small fries” who were trying to take the little that the big companies were leaving behind, the competition was tough but i had to look deep within myself, i had to motivate myself and get creative again, it worked! i finally saw a loop hole which the big companies wouldn’t even attempt to indulge themselves in.

    like the writer said, if you lose your will to survive, you’ll die. You must find the will to survive, reinvent your business, learn from your previous mistakes.

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