After the Honeymoon...
You've built a successful startup--now everyone lives happily ever after, right? Guess again. Here's what to do when the honeymoon is over and the shiitake hits the fan.
1. Problem: The product's late.
- How you got here: Probably inexperience, wishful thinking and buckling under the real or imagined pressure of investors to ship by a certain date.
- What to do now: Gather the team together and discuss the project's real status. Ruthlessly decide on changes in people's roles. Scale back the scope/complexity/coolness of the product. Plead guilty to your investors--admit you screwed up. Sandbag the investors--tell them a ship date you know you can beat--and I do mean "know," because your neck is on the chopping block. Then shut up and get to work.
2. Problem: Company sales aren't meeting our projections.
- How you got here: You thought customers would adopt your curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting, patent-pending innovation. You never anticipated their hesitation to buy an unproven product.
- What to do now: Other gurus would recommend you stay the course and pursue the big, strategic accounts. But this guru will tell you to get any kind of sale you can. My reasoning: You never know who'll turn into a big account; closing smaller, easier accounts is good practice; these little successes build confidence in the sales organization; and beggars can't be choosers.
3. Problem: The members of our team aren't getting along.
- How you got here: Businesses are messy, and people don't get along. Welcome to the real world.
- What to do now: Work things out, keep talking and get an experienced outsider to provide a fresh perspective. This simply takes time.
Don't condemn people because you want to set a precedent, prove you can make tough decisions or get it over with. Give people a second chance--maybe even a third chance. Focus on the positive: how people can help an organization, not how they're hurting it.
You have a moral obligation to give everyone a chance to change and succeed. Otherwise, the unintended message you'll send is: "Anybody could be gone, so don't piss me off."
4. Problem: We're getting slammed by the press, analysts and blogosphere.
- How you got here: Arrogance is the most likely cause. When you start believing your product is so great that you're going to make Google look like a lemonade stand, you draw a nice target on your chest.
- What to do now: First, improve your reality. Fix your product so it's good. It makes no sense to seek press coverage if your product sucks.
Second, focus on customers. If you make customers happy, the press will always come around. They have no choice. For example, Apple Inc. gets great press because its customers are happy. When Apple's customers aren't happy, the press will turn on Apple like a pack of starving hyenas.