Why your low moments are your biggest blessings in disguise: startup war stories
There are no certainties in a startup’s path, apart from one: you are bound to have a roller coaster ride, and a bundle of war stories to recount. No matter how successful you end up being. It’s never a straight line to success or failure. Along the way, the true test of whether you have what it takes to make it is what you do in your lowest of low moments. When you are most vulnerable. For make no mistake – they will come!
In my experience you can almost bucket people into two: those who stay down when they’re down or drift sideways, wither and die. And those who jump back up stronger. My biggest successes, leanings and adventures always followed from such low moments. When I was weakest and most vulnerable. I’m one of those people who performs much better when things aren’t going my way. It’s like a slap in the face, it wakes me up, makes me more stubborn and determined to hit back even harder. Ben Horowitz put it perfectly in his last book ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’. He said ” there are two kinds of CEOs: peacetime CEOs and wartime CEOs”. Peacetime CEOs are those who do well when things are doing well. They are typically the people who you hire to take a business from B to C and scale it up. They are smooth, political and great at blowing the trumpet. But the journey from A to B is definitely a wartime situation. You need to thrive in the gutter.
My first moment of vulnerability was when my first business – essentially a ‘brick n mortar’ version of PeoplePerHour.com – wasn’t scaling. I was in my mid-twenties with no experience at all, no co-founder, partner or other senior member of the team, running what’s probably the hardest type of business to run – a service business. I was essentially the head of sales, delivery, quality assurance, and the person everyone called when things went wrong. Which they did! Often! And in weird hours.
Exhausted and demoralized, with employees and clients jumping ship at an accelerating pace, I had to figure a way out. Failure was not an option – I had friend’s and family money in the business and countless hours of sweat and anxiety. This being 2006 and in London where there is much more taboo around failure (decreasing no doubt but still much more than the US) I was petrified. To make it all worse my then long-term girlfriend decided to split up with me because I was working too hard, so the one person I had close to me jumped ship too.
I felt like a brick had hit me on the head. Fortunately my cost base was quite low (and getting lower as more people were jumping ship) so going bust would take a while, but that’s like dying a slow and painful death. It’s almost better if it’s a short sharp blow. I kept racking my brain constantly ‘how on earth will I scale this business up”. I decided to go away for a few days (in the beautiful Cannes I recall) steam off and think it through (and in the mean time try and forget this ex girlfriend who ditched me at the worst possible time!). It was in that trip that the idea hit me. Why don’t I turn the business on its head, circumvent my own self by turning a service provider to a platform business that connects service providers (like myself) with customers and take a cut instead of delivering the service myself? That way it can scale. It was the eureka moment I was waiting for. PeoplePerHour.com was hence born.