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Monday, November 2, 2009

Roller Coaster

I recently went on a California extravaganza, which began in the LA area and meandered up the PCH to San Francisco, stopping in at Carmel-by-the-sea (official name!) and the Red Wood Forest. Here is a picture of me in San Fran with some guy leaning up against me.

While I was in SF (that's what I'm calling it, hope it sticks) being whisked around by a cab I realized riding in a cab in San Fran is exactly like being on a roller coaster at an amusement park. Following this mental breakthrough, I started to raise my hands above my head and yell with glee as we drove down some very steep roads and made the "tick-tick-tick" noise of our taxi-coaster being pulled up by an imaginary chain lift as we climbed seemingly vertical inclines. The taxi drive did not make this mental connection, unfortunately, and refused to take part.

During this elevation-exploration I began to have thoughts about my experience with our start-up so far. Some days you are top dog and can do no wrong; while others look utterly hopeless and you wish someone had created a word that meant "lower than rock bottom" because you would use it liberally! A small company is an emotional roller coaster and learning how to manage this is paramount.

One thing our start-up has been focused on recently is sales and marketing. We have the idea, we put together the initial team, we built a product prototype, we defined our business model, and (in my mind, most importantly) we found paying members and established proof of concept. Don't get too excited in Good Dinosaur nation - when I say paying members I'm talking < 10. Our team agreed, what we need now is to improve our reach.

Sales and marketing can be difficult by itself. Selling and marketing a somewhat innovative or industry divergent product or service can be really difficult and can stick your start-up roller coaster in those low points quickly.

It is very easy to fall into a negative feedback loop when selling. For example, you have a bad sales call, which causes you to question your start-ups potential, which causes you to pitch poorly next time around, which causes even more panicky feelings, which causes your team to get into arguments, which leads to worse sales meetings, more in-fighting, yelling, screaming and ... OH CRAP WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

Now you are left with nothing but sadness and frustration, and probably no more start-up.

So, my recommendation, diversify your focus! It works for investing! It can work for your brain. Concentrating solely on Sales and Marketing yields the same pitfalls as focusing solely on Product Development or Capital Raising or any one thing. Budget your time accordingly, or make a "cycled schedule" where you do one sales and marketing action, one product development task, one business development oriented item, and one capital raising action. Only after you complete the whole cycle can you move back to the beginning.

For example, I was getting frustrated with our ability to find the right people to speak with, so I took a break and began making progress on our capital raising efforts by starting to collect a blog roll of authors that either own or work at possible seed investors. I wasn't seeing success during sales efforts, so I put the phone away, and jumped on the web in search of our next possible partner, advisor, or investor. I could have also gone and wrote some code. Or worked on updating our business plan. Or whatever else needed to be done. You get the idea.

I guess the main premise here is that you will have a lot of frustrations, let downs, and difficulties with any venture. Remember to not keep smashing your head against a wall that just won't move at the moment. Taking a step back can help you discover a way around the obstacle and preserve your dome-piece's structural integrity. Win, win.

At the end of the day, handling the roller coaster of emotions that come about at a small company is a required skill. If things get really bad and you find yourself burnt out, take a vacation! I hear California is lovely :)


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