This is the first post in my new series of blogs related to the challenges of startups and entrepreneurship. This post isn’t for everyone. If you had a startup company that was perfect and wildly successful, what I will discuss here may not resonate. If you are a small business owner or other type of entrepreneur, this may not be the post for you. If you started something, raised venture money, and ran it for years, then this is for you. If you are considering a startup- read this, but don’t let it dissuade you from trying. If you are a former investor or stake-holder, consider this food for thought. If you are an enthusiast or anyone else – please enjoy.
First of all, recovery isn’t something you “do” rather it is a process that you go through. What shocked me the most after my startup was the mix of emotions that I felt; the pride, the irony, the shame, the relief, the sense of loss. My first startup had a good run for about 15 years. We endured the financial crisis, a year-long government shutdown (The US government was our main customer), employees with terminal illnesses, layoffs, never enough money for anything, and all of the other ups and downs of a startup.
When the roller coaster of a start-up abruptly ends, take time to recognize and process what you just went through. Start-ups are hard. Soul crushingly hard. They are hard in so many different ways and when you put yourself through something like that you lose yourself in it and you need time to recover. I found these steps helpful:
Create some space
Maybe you need to mourn, maybe you need to not have an agenda or a to-do list, or perhaps you need to reconnect with the other parts of yourself that you neglected for so many years. However you do it, I found every day that elapsed allowed me to see myself and everything I did in a different way. That went on for almost 4-5 months for me. Sometimes it felt good, many times it made me cringe, most of the time it left me a little bewildered and amazed as I thought through my experience. The goal is to let the thoughts come and then let them go. To sit with whatever discomfort that they might bring, but create an open space for yourself.
Try some self-reflection
Who was that person that started the journey and who are you now? So much of a startup shapes our identity, it was who we were. When it ends, you begin looking for a way to redefine yourself. We are haunted by the legacy of our successes and failures, but it is important to remember that you are not your experience. You are that which HAD the experience. Who are you? Give yourself time to experiment and shape who you are going forward.
Carefully look for constructive criticism
When you have the capacity to think objectively on both the good and bad, try to assess the experience. What worked and what didn’t work. For me this a collection of moments of clarity. It was helpful for me to journal these thoughts, because the moment would be fleeting and easy to forget. Find safe places to have open discussions.
Reconcile the different parts
As you go forward, it is the collection of those moments of clarity, synthesizing them with an understanding of who you were and who you are, that will give you power and wisdom as you take on the next challenges of your life. As you move back and forth through these phases, you get a sense of what you gained out of the process, what could have been better, and that your employees and stakeholders are going to be just fine.
Ultimately startups are like relationships. They are messy, they take time to unwind, and they rarely end cleanly. At the end of your venture-backed startup you can say- you did it! You got to play the game. For me it was the realization that my life wasn’t my startup. My first startup was part of my life, but it didn’t have to dictate my life. There was a whole world out there that could benefit from the skills I developed and the experiences that I had. I believe that it is when we have internalized that realization that we experience the true recovery after a startup by rediscovering of our self.