𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁, 𝗥𝗲𝗰𝘂𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗥𝗲𝗻𝗲𝘄
Updated: Mar 25
Sometimes startup life will kick your ass.
As a founder, you’ll often get mentally jabbed by vicious customers, overbearing investors, and disruptive employees.
What should you do at these moments? How do you prepare?
Let’s focus on three actions for moving forward: fight, recuperate, and renew.
There’s planning. And then there’s the fight.
“Everyone has a plan until
they get punched in the mouth.”
– Mike Tyson
Once the challenge starts, you may still rely on your vision and values to guide your communication and decisions.
Sometimes, the fight is brief, like when an employee quits and proceeds to attack on social media. In these cases, you take a breath and formulate a thoughtful response. Others will look to see how you treated that customer as a measure of your professionalism and character.
In these times, rely on your team and people you know to gauge your response. Find people who do not feel personally attacked and ask their opinions.
Other times, the fight is protracted, like an aggrieved former employee determined to sue your company. You need to respond firmly while not letting it interfere with other aspects of the business.
In these times, you may need to talk with advisors or experts. Find a human resources leader or another founder who may have encountered a comparable situation. You want to consult an attorney about the best way to respond.
During a long bout, seek help from others in your corner. Whether you need specific advice or are tending to your wounds, don’t ignore the damage.
Even if it’s clear when you need to keep fighting, it may be foggy when you need help.
When the fight is done, you may be tempted to move forward as if nothing happened.
The fight may cost you time and money—the observable symptoms—and may leave you feeling doubtful and anxious—the underlying damage.
Take some time to face the damage. While our instinct is to turn from pain, try to address it directly.
Imagine getting a cut. You could just apply a bandage. But first, you should sterilize the wound to prevent an infection, even though that will sting.
After you face some rough rounds, acknowledge what happened by talking it through with others, journaling, or processing the stress in other ways. Next, address its impact by ensuring you are taking care of yourself. For instance, you may need to take a short break, to perform a relaxing activity, or to talk with a professional.
Taking the time to recuperate may feel unproductive, uncomfortable, or both. Recognize that taking the time now will help you recover and reach peak form faster.
After taking the punches and addressing the damage, you are ready to move forward. A good fighter and a good founder learn from their mistakes and apply those lessons for resilience and growth.
Follow these steps to prevent a recurrence of the situation you came through and to scale the business:
Reset. Run an honest assessment of what happened to determine the root cause. Plan to revise your infrastructure if needed.
Reorder. Shift your business operations. If the fight exposed a weakness in your systems or team, adjust processes, roles, and responsibilities.
Re-imagine. Although the fight may seem like a vulnerability, it actually reveals an opportunity. Many startups and small businesses found success after a disaster caused a pivot.
How One Incident Catalyzed Scale
At one company where I ran business operations, an employee accused another employee of sexual harassment. It happened in my second week and impacted the whole team (which happens at small companies). Initially, I was completely stressed because my first introduction to people would be through the lens of the harassment claim.
However, I realized that this situation allowed me to set standards and expectations for everyone. The business was growing quickly, and I could use this crisis to set the tone as we shifted from a group of people spending time together to a formal company.
I had to pull in many people as witnesses. Each time, I made it clear that while I would not give details, this type of alleged behavior is unacceptable and will be addressed. I emphasized that as the company grew, we would face much stress in our work and didn’t need any additional stress. The accused person agreed to change their behavior, which was agreeable to the accuser.
The incident became a catalyst for working together productively. The company would go on to double revenues and team annually and be acquired by a Fortune 500 company.
Pro Tip: Feeling fatigued and anxious is normal, but those feelings are heightened after a tough bout. Use your wounds to motivate the change needed. After a fight, how you respond and adapt will define your future much more than the immediate damage.
Key Takeaway: Face any fight with the confidence that you will persevere and likely even grow if you take the time to carefully handle the situation and the damage. To speed too fast through the fight or recovery can lead to greater problems down the road.
Photo by Ron Lach who can be found here.
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