The Tough Times

How do you react when the going gets tough?

I find most people fall into one of two categories. The first (and far more common) is a reaction of great distress. When your competitor comes out with something amazing and new, when you have a bad month for growth and stats are down, or when you have trouble raising money and things start to get tight, many people respond by getting depressed, giving up, and/or stressing out. “How are we ever going to compete with this, we might as well close up shop”, “With a month like this, and numbers like these, we’re never going to get the distribution/revenue we need to survive.”, and “How can we make any progress when we don’t even have the money to pay our current bills? If we can’t get some more money together now it’s all over.” are typical responses to these types of situations.

The other category of people respond in the exact opposite way. When times are tough they become more motivated and see the adverse situation as a challenge to overcome, as opposed to a death sentence. These people respond more along the lines of “Our competition might have the leg up now, but we’re going to destroy them when we do….”, “The numbers might be down now, but it just means we need to push a little harder next month and take things to the next level”, and “Money is tight, but that just means we need to trim the fat and figure out what we can do to make a better case to potential investors…we know there’s a business here, we just need to figure out how to convey that to them.”

The truth is every startup is full of ups and downs…it’s unavoidable. The question is, how will you, and the rest of your company, react? When the chips are down, the last thing your company needs is someone reinforcing the bad situation with depressing attitudes and loss of passion. A team full of these people will create a downward spiral of dreadfulness as each member reinforces the rest of the team’s “loss of hope” attitude. Trying to recover from a bad situation and simultaneously rebuild company moral is a daunting task that many don’t overcome.

Instead, the company needs people who will see the current adversity as a challenge to do better. This not only eliminates the need for a team cheerleader to boost company moral, but actually creates a deeper drive to push the envelope. A team full of this type of person actually has a positive feedback loop, as members feed off the energy and ambition of the others to ensure that you beat the competition, have better numbers next month, or close the resource gap. This category of team rises to surmount a challenging situation instead of letting it destroy them.

Admittedly this trait can be tough to spot in an interview. Many people might not even know themselves which type of reaction they’ll have to a situation until they’re actually in it. That being said though, this has become clear to me to be a key determining factor in the performance of a team and can’t be underestimated. The difficult times are what really determine a company’s fate, and having the right personality type on the team is a factor completely within our control that will have a huge impact on this outcome.

So which type of person are you? How would you classify your company’s culture in this respect? It could very well mean the difference between the success or failure of your company.

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2 Responses to The Tough Times

  1. Wow, great post Jon. It reminds me of Intense Debate. It was at times a rough ride, as any startup will be. You stayed positive and made it work amazingly well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on positive thinking and positive action.

  2. Jon_

    right on.

    i would add that start ups are all about being more innovative and bringing new and disruptive tech to market. when times are good, the 800 pound gorrillas in the category may also be investing in similiar innovations. when they are bad, they typically shelve these new initiatives and stick with products that are producing revenue now. this is the best time for a start up to invest heavily in everything they need to get market share.