Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough Companies Do
If there’s one solid learning that I have received in my entrepreneurial journey, it is this. In the journey of an entrepreneur, it is that tough times; tough situations will be your constant companion. Just as you think you have plugged the hole somewhere, another one will pop up and that too, in the most unexpected place. Take a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs, and you’ll know that they have mastered the art of failing and fixing.
My journey too has been no different. Like there have been highs, there have been the lowest of lows. In fact, there have been times that I have wondered if we would be able to survive the storm. Financial pressures, constantly shifting customer expectations, volatile markets, human resource issues, and intense competition were just some of the problems we had to weather. Well, I’m happy to report that we did and came out on the other side, not just alive, but alive and kicking.
So, what did these tumultuous years teach me? You got it right – that ‘tough times don’t last, but tough companies do’!
What should companies do to sustain when the going gets tough? Here’s a simple laundry list to keep things in perspective.
It’s never going to be easy
If it were, then everyone would be starting up and running a business, isn’t it? Running a business is no walk in the park, and the sooner you realize it, the better it will be. When things got tough, I always reminded myself that nothing worth doing comes easy. There’s a reason why so many startups run to the ground and fail. A lack of resilience when things get challenging is one of the main things that separates a company that makes it from those who don’t.
What should you do when your company is faced with adversity? Look at the data as objectively as you can. Identify where the bleed is, patch it, and keep moving ahead.
Expect the best, but plan for the worst
When you want to turn a startup into a successful company, you have to keep an optimistic outlook. Of course, there’ll be some challenges, but you’ll emerge victorious on the other side. But, there’s a difference between being optimistic and being delusional.
Optimism means accepting that challenges will be a part of your growth story. It means accepting and addressing these challenges that emerge. It also means being ok if things don’t work out the way you planned and believing there’s a better way to do things. Sometimes, things don’t work, but then you do what you have to and get them to work.
Delusion, on the other hand, is having a big, grandiose plan. In this plan, you expect the best and, hence, you plan for the best. You believe that if you keep an optimistic outlook, then everything will work out the way you planned. Spoiler alert- things don’t work that way.
In my journey, for example, I had an aggressive hiring plan. I believed if I have the best team in place, I could roll out this fantastic product in the market in no time. Guess what? I did not consider the time I would need to get this ace team in place. The result? Delays and failed plans!
Is this a marathon or a sprint?
You train differently when you are running a marathon from when you’re aiming to win a sprint. The motivations, planning, time, routine, diet – everything is different. The way you train is different.
Building a company is similar to training for a marathon. You have to be prepared for the long haul and keep all possible roadblocks and challenges in mind. Understanding how the money flows and what you need to do to keep it flowing, dealing with competitors, finding the right team, managing the staffing and manpower challenges, managing risks, understanding how to make your business sustainable, building a strong company culture, etc. are few of the things that you need to iron out to make sure that the journey is relatively smooth. I say, ‘relatively’ only because, in a startup environment, you have to be prepared for the worst. Always.
Learn to bounce back
By now, you must have realized that challenges and challenging times are as much a part of a startup as breathing is to live. But what happens when things go south?
I remember, when for us, a, extremely promising high-profile deal, fell flat. We were sure of this deal. The client was happy with our product. The finances would help us stay afloat for much longer and were, in fact, quite essential for our survival. And then one day, suddenly, out of nowhere, we didn’t have the client anymore.
Well, we thought at that time that this was the end of the road. Only when did we pause and think we realized that this was not the end of the road, but a mere bend in the road. Bouncing back from disappointments can be hard because, in the early stages, it is easy to take everything personally. And that makes sense because everything is personal. There are no shock absorbers here. The best thing to do is to wallow for a while and then bounce back with a plan because ‘everything is a learning’.
From our experience, we understood the value of the written word over word of mouth. We realized that even the best-laid plans fail. We understood how we needed to plan our finances better. And most importantly, it taught us ‘never’ to put all our eggs in one basket. There’s always going to be another client to serve, so don’t let the big or small disappointments unnerve you.
Don’t underestimate the power of goodwill
The startup environment can be like a dog eats dog world. You have to fight tooth and nail for everything – money, resources, breaks…you name it. While everything does manage to work itself out, there’s one thing that you must spend considerable time building – goodwill.
There’s immense power in goodwill and there are enough stories to remind us of that. I remember when at one time our clients could not pay us on time. The economy was tough, and they were facing some major roadblocks. We had the option of dropping them from our client list. But they were good people, on a journey similar to ours only just a little bit ahead. So, we went ahead and continued to work with them. And they went on to become one of our most loyal clients. Even when they were approached by competition, their loyalty never wavered. Do you know why? Because of this magic pill called, goodwill.
You will have a fair share of moments when throwing in the towel will seem like the most sensible thing to do. This is particularly so when you work very hard to get the traction you worked so hard to achieve. But in times like this, we need to remember, that being a business owner, running a company, being responsible towards so many people, is hard. But getting through these challenges is going to be worth it. At the end of the day, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. But it is the courage to continue that counts”.