Tips on how to bounce back after startup failure
Mon Nov 30, 2015
The last 3 months have been nasty for early-stage startups. Easy funding is no more available. If your startup was not profitable and had little money in the bank, it either asked most employees to leave or shut down. As a laid off employee or a founder, where do you go from here?
Deal with failure: Losing a job is bad enough. A startup fail is worse if you have to live with naysayers who criticised your past choices. You will need to accept, acknowledge and live with this temporary failure. Make life easier by reaching out to friends and family to pour out your sorrows. Next, find people who have been through similar situations. Discussing your experiences and seeking their perspectives will make it easier to embrace this fail. While you do this, neither be ashamed of your failure nor wear it in pride, else the bounce back will be tougher.
Write it down: Once you have calmed down, do a post mortem of what happened, what didn't work and where you went personally wrong. Not just the business facts, but also emotional aspects. How did it feel when you were investing your time and effort and did your emotions lead you to poor decisions and outcomes? Seek inputs from others in your startup on what failed and why. Their responses may be different from yours. Finally write it down because it helps you synthesise learnings, cut out extreme emotional responses and let go of residual pain through the cathartic act of writing.
Take a break : Take some time off. This is critical, irrespective of how guilty you feel about not earning or not contributing to the world. You could read, go off on a vacation, watch movies or play games or even visit your folks. Switch off your cell, social media accounts and all other drama that will pull you into the past. A clean break helps you get tuned to what really matters and what doesn't. Then, your comeback is stronger.
Take stock: When you are back, draw up a balance sheet of where you stand. What is your current financial, social and emotional status? What are the constraints imposed by liabilities? For instamce, do you have a huge home loan to service or had you promised your spouse that you would take up a regular job if this did not work out? Given these boundaries, what are your new dreams? Often you may be torn between conflicting aspirations or be held back by your baggage. Here it helps to define your core values and use them to figure out your long-term goals.
Decision time: Now focus on the short term decision—do you want to work in a startup again or take up a regular job? If your situation and risk appetite permits, you can jump right back into an entrepreneurial setup, much wiser. If you are choosing a non startup job reluctantly, remind yourself that your decision is not permanent. You can earn, save, regroup and take the plunge again. If you want a regular job but are not sure which one is for you, opt for a temporary gig, a short-term contract or even an internship to figure out what works best. You now have multiple skills at your disposal from your experience and can invest time to figure out which skill you enjoy the most.
Work your network : The shortest route to a new job is through your network. Spend time catching up with past colleagues, industry contacts, old clients and vendors, friends of friends and even distant family. Find out what they are doing, share what you are looking for and seek introductions. While deciding between potential sectors and roles, focus on learning over money and you will be better off. Once you have identified specific opportunities, seek to meet the decision maker. Going in through the regular channel increases your chances of being rejected before you get a fair assessment, whereas a decision maker is likely to have a balanced perspective of your current failure and can take an intuitive bet on you.
Tailor your pitch : While you are meeting people, practice your pitch in advance. Make sure your pitch briefly captures 3 reasons for your recent failure, 3 learnings and the value you bring to the table. Similarly, tailor your CV for the opportunity. Though you may have handled sales and operations for your startup, focus on sales achievements while applying to a business development position. Present your career path like a story highlighting the top wins, lessons learnt and skills picked up during the journey. Let the story sell a solution.
Keep at it: Invest time in brushing up rusty skills. If you are applying to be a consultant, but have not done much excel work at your startup, take online courses to get to speed. Next while you might have had a couple of good interviews, keep options open by meeting other people regularly. While you may be desperate for a job, cultivate patience and you will be rewarded.
Starting up again as a founder
Get up and smile
After you been through the depression, anger and selfrecrimination, get back on your feet. Focus on correct decisions taken and achievements to get selfbelief back. You need to exude confidence for the world to believe in and work with you again.
Be ruthlessly honest about why you failed. Take complete responsibility for the outcome and identify what actions you would take differently if you had a second chance. What behaviours do you need to change in yourself to get to those actions? Change them.
Answer three questions
For your new startup idea—answer 3 questions. Is there a desperate need for the product or service? Is the market gigantic enough? Do you have a cost effective way to grow quickly? If all 3 answers are YES—you have a better chance this time.
Fill up weakness
Having changed behaviour and identified the new business idea, do an audit of what you need vs what you have in terms of skills and money. Fill up for skills by getting co-founders, employees, advisers or training yourself. Save or raise cash required.
Sell, sell, sell
Start selling. Sell yourself and the potential of your plan to excite people to join you. Sell your confidence to your family and friends for support. Sell your product need and the potential for growth to investors to get them to back you. Enjoy the wild ride yet again!
(The writer is Director, Executive Hiring at QuezX.com)