From the August 2000 issue of Startups

Investors haven't taken to your idea as quickly as you had hoped. You've drained your savings and are now maxing out your credit cards. Both your family and friends are advising you to "get real" or "be responsible" and find a job that pays the bills.

Wow! What seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago-that is, giving up your dream-appears to be the only rational option. Well, you're in good company. Understand that most successful entrepreneurs have endured dark days before achieving their goals. You, too, can achieve great things out of your struggles, no matter how bleak it all may seem.

Take, for example, Steve O'Neal, 35, the founder and CEO of ThinkLink Inc., a San Francisco communications application service provider that offers Internet-enabled integrated messaging (voice mail, fax and e-mail) to major Internet portals and wireless providers. Since starting ThinkLink in 1997, O'Neal has grown the company to sales of $5 million and now has 110 employees.

But success hasn't come easy for O'Neal. He recalls three "crisis points" he experienced that almost forced him to close shop:

  • A changing market. "After almost 18 months of work, I realized that our marketspace was rapidly changing with the growth of the Internet," O'Neal recalls. "Retooling the business plan took months-during this time, half the company's employees were let go. It was incredibly painful."
  • No cash. "I had reached the limit on an obscene number of credit cards and had overwhelming debt bearing down on me," says O'Neal. "The finances were so tight that we would buy new computers each month and reluctantly return them before the 30-day money-back guarantees had expired."
  • Investor presentation nightmare. "We were days from bankruptcy when a highly anticipated meeting with a well-known private investor was a complete disaster," says O'Neal. "Among other things, our laptop broke, and we were unable to utilize our demonstration. The meeting ended when the investor stated that he felt our business model didn't have a chance. Fortunately, a second meeting that day with an even more prominent investor went so well that we walked out with a check sufficient enough to close our first round of outside funding."

What did O'Neal learn by persevering? He mentions four lessons-tips to guide you through any obstacle:

  • Listen to your gut. "The little voice in the back of your head generally knows what is right. It will tell you when to ignore the naysayers and when your plan or idea needs further thought."
  • Learn from your mistakes. "Don't rationalize or brush off bad decisions. You'll make plenty of wrong turns-recognize them and make smarter choices the next time around," he states.
  • Avoid arrogance.O'Neal believes "it will blind you to your own company's weaknesses, make vital changes harder to implement and almost always lead to underestimating the competition."
  • Be persistent. "Even if you have a lot to learn, persistence is the single best quality a budding entrepreneur can possess," shares O'Neal. "Most people would credit ThinkLink's success to a solid business model, a commitment to quality, a long-term focus and old-fashioned persistence."

When you find yourself ready to bail on your business, remember O'Neal's experiences. If you really want your venture to get off the ground, know that you have the power within you to make it happen. Sure, you may need to change your business model significantly, like many others, but if you have the deep-down, burning desire to succeed, who or what can stop you?

Stop!

Before you do anything drastic, read these encouraging, advice-filled books.

  • Mastering Your Moods (Fireside, $12, 800-223-2336) by Melvyn Kinder, Ph.D.
  • Plan B:How to Get Unstuck from Work, Family and Relationship Problems (Perigree, $14.95, 212-366-2000) by Stephanie M. Asker

Contact Source

ThinkLink Inc., (415)252-6200, www.thinklink.com.