Running out of steam
Startup steam depletion. I've been on the startup journey for a few years now. Isn't that crazy? GiftStarter won 1st place from a Startup Weekend hackathon and then by July 2014, we were incorporated and diving into launching our MVP (Minimum Viable Product - we called it a Minimum Viable Experience, or MVE.) in August 2014.
I'm standing now, with a totally different team, having depleted most of our steam - and figuring out how to keep going. Because honestly, I've run out of steam. We're going today mostly thanks to the heartfelt energy that came from Jin and Sean in the past 6 months.
What happened between August 2014 and today (April 2017)?
From 1st place at a Startup Weekend hackathon, we moved forward. I dove in, sprinting and grabbing every opportunity I saw to give us a chance. Decisions were made very swiftly. We launched as a B2B company. Our initial model was focused on growing relationships with partners who were ecommerce businesses, that drove consumer traffic to our web application (that would enable people to group buy any product.) Our goal was to sign on 10 businesses. We signed on over 27 in less than 6 months. Well, then the relationship with our co-founder/CTO ended very abruptly at the end of 2014.
Even with 27 ecommerce partners sending traffic our way - the referral business didn't pick up. Our hypothesis was proven wrong. The direct and consumer traffic was growing at a significantly faster rate. Decision made again. We switched to being a B2C company in May 2015. We rebuilt a slightly better consumer site - and even did a v2 refresh. Decision made to change out the team. I hired a whole new team (also went to a remote work structure for the company when joining 500 Startups in San Francisco. We were still CTO-less. Being CTO-less was a bigger challenge to the company than I realized at the time. My third co-founder also stepped out at this point to focus on family. This is the also the story about me being the first pregnant CEO (8 months pregnant) to pitch at the 500Startups demo day on October 31, 2015. We were the 7th fastest growing startup in our batch, gift transactions were growing 50% MoM. We also raised about $500K for our seed round.
I overestimated my abilities, overestimated the team I had, underestimated the magnitude of what being a first time mother would be like, and completely underestimated what it would take to run a fledgling startup company, with a remote team (and I can write more about to remote work as a company, or not later. My vote is don't do it. Remote workers care more about "me" than the "we". A startup's life and death is all about "we".) Hindsight, I should have asked for more help as soon as I found out we were pregnant. Find an executive. Actively look for that CTO. Ask our investors for support. Something. I did the best we could. Two weeks after the "Lentil" was born, I was back at work. That didn't go so well. At all. I was like a crazy person. I tried fundraising. I don't recommend doing that after giving birth. Giving birth to a human and all of the emotional, psychological, mental, hormonal, and physical aftermath is a really big deal. We lost steam. We ran out of money. I even second mortgaged our house to carry us as long as we could. Startup steam depletion.
Obviously, that was not sustainable. Another challenging decision made finally. I had to let go of all the employees. With full on postpartum depression, my depression sank deeper and deeper. I think I'm still working on recovering from depression.
Then at the end of the year, our current investors gave us some more funds to carry on and re-test the metrics we had achieved in 2015. I cannot thank them enough for believing in us. Then, we discovered some crazy new product/market insights that we need to think through and test further. And...
Lots of fronts that need attention and decisions: My baby is 14 months old and needs his momma. My husband is very busy with his job (and very supportive of me. Actually, the biggest supporter of me and our startup that I know of.) Current investors continue to be very supportive. And we are at startup steam depletion: of energy, funds, and people. The market has changed a bit since 2015. After 3+ years without earning a salary, I feel the need to start earning cash for my family. The product needs a major upgrade. In hindsight, I see some other items we should be doing. We need to rethink our strategies and roadmap.
So here we are. (I'm really tired.)
Now it's Arry + Sean left standing and rethinking through everything. More than anything, I've discovered, startups are a HUGE mental game. I feel like I'm a professional athlete competing in the Olympics.
Mind over matter.
Would appreciate any positive thoughts or support you can provide. I need your help to keep going. Many more decisions to make. Fast.
Thanks for reading.
I saw my "coach" yesterday.
I see him every so once in awhile these days. He's a wizard. I hadn't seen him in a very long time, at least a year. He asked, "so... you're depressed. You've been depressed for about a year and a half, huh?" Funny thing is, yes, I have been depressed. For that long. I'm currently depressed. My body aches and hurts, ALL THE TIME. So much aching. I've tried everything from massages to Advil. I've even signed up to try acupuncture to stop the pain. And yes, I definitely had postpartum depression. It was really hard. I wondered, "how did he know?" Then he proceeded to stress that I start taking 5,000 IUs of Vitamin D3 asap. ASAP. Take it every day for two weeks and I'll see a difference he promised. He insisted I walk across the street to Walgreens and pick some up right away.
So I did.
So today marks Day 1 --- I'll report back in two weeks (maybe before) on if I notice anything that I credit to the Vitamin D. I want to feel well again.
That's it for now.
Row, row, row your boat
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream
[Full lyrics here]
(I am late to publish my #postaweek2017 for last week.)
In general, when it comes to life, the best way to live, is to not expend more energy than needed to accomplish a goal. Rowing a boat against the current, or upstream is WAY HARDER, than just sitting in the boat and letting the river take you.
This "Row, row, row your boat" thinking can be applied to:
Lately. I have been applying the "Row, row, row your boat" principles to the topics that are coming up a lot lately in the ecosystems I am part of. The topics of "Women in ___" (be it in the workplace, in tech, in startups, in leadership, in the C-Suite, etc...", and "Diversity" (be in race, gender, etc...). My current belief is that we're missing a purposeful coordinated focus on identifying and influencing MIT in what'll really move the needle in a meaningful way. That's why the whole topic of gender, of women in ___, of social equity and many similar topics have been so slow to change.
Motherhood is hard. There's so many changes that I've gone through to list, and while not everyone has the same experiences, here are mine (not in any particular order of importance).
Motherhood is hard:
Often, I'll share and say something like, "wow, motherhood is hard". You learn a lot about who people are with the responses. Now having been in this for over a year, I've noticed a most definite pattern. I will always get one of two responses to that question. They go something like this:
Supportive fellow human being:
A) Yes. My gosh I can (or cannot) imagine. With the follow up of, let's go grab some coffee or I'd love to share more with you on this journey. I want to show you that you are not alone and I am here to feel shoulder-to-shoulder in life with you. I want you to know that it'll be okay.
Judging oppressive human being:
B) Of course it is. And, isn't motherhood the most rewarding thing you've ever done? Isn't it completely and totally worth it? There's only one right answer here and you better say it. Motherhood is amazing and that's the only thing any mother should ever say. Ever. Because it is completely worth it.
We get to be the guardian of a brand new fresh pure amazing human life, to guide him (or her) to grow up to be a kind, generous, strong, empathetic, respectful and respected adult. It is hard work. Both ideas can exist.
Quality. It's about the thoughtful thinking that went out before anyone did any execution. It's not just about sexy branding, pretty pictures or cool technology.
There may be something off about my approach. I'm open to that feedback. Former bosses have told me that I am very critical and hard to please, and that I am too demanding of people. While I've worked very hard to be more flexible, and accommodating of people over the years...
However, I still believe to get the real essence of understanding the quality of work being completed - there has to be some level of unprompted test-driving that needs to be done to assess the quality of the work being produced. My current process: 1) Generally, I enjoy discussing and sharing to create the desired outcome/goal of what we are about to do (pick a random side project, small short term goal, whatever). We agree on something. Then 2) on top of any action items I take away, I always stress that I am available to do whatever else is needed to help, support, work, give feedback. Literally. Whatever it takes to reach that goal. I will do.
Very few people take me up on that offer. Very few.
It's a weird "weed-out" move that showcases the ones that will thrive and succeed (in whatever they decide to pursue), and those that will not.
Those that thrive:
1) Reach out - proactively with status updates, quick check-ins to triangulate and see if we're still aligned with what the outcome/goal/vision was. They ask to meet up and trade notes on progress. They ask for me to do some of the work. They ask for feedback.
2) Build a top-down plan on how they are going to accomplish the goal. Sort of a process map or framework.
3) Get to it. Literally, they start brainstorming ideas filling in the steps needed to accomplish the goal. It starts to work, or it doesn't. What's important is that we know one way or the other, with real data.
Most people don't do anything at all. Nothing. I never hear from them. Silence. Weird, to me.
Others, they just start doing without any sort of planning. No strategy at all. Maybe they'll ping me to get me to do some part of what I had previously agreed to do. ... And then, they do. We might sync up randomly, only to find, they have been just mindlessly executing towards the end goal, not thinking at all about the process to get to that end goal. Also, weird, to me.
No matter what project, goal, program, initiative, job --- take the time to look under the hood and figure out if there is a high level plan, strategy, outline, hypothesis, ... anything. It'll literally show you if what they say they are doing, is really what they are doing. In most cases, they are not doing, or they are what I call, "spinning". Quality is not just about the outcome.
Quality involves the thoughtful journey and process. (This includes having a: Framework. Diligence. Records.)
Happy international women's day 2017
Happy international women's day 2017. Maybe happy isn't the right word. I'm observing this day. I don't know if we should quite be celebrating. The state of humanity is teetering on the edge of being truly broken. I don't know about wearing red, marching, resisting, or any of that. What I do know is the following actions we can do each and every day to honor women, respect women, and be respected as women.
18 Ways to celebrate women and each other on International Women's Day 2017:
and a pen. Take notes.
Having worked for over a decade in management consulting, and now having been running this startup marathon for over three years, I always am bewildered by people that show up to meetings completely empty-handed. Bring a notebook. Always. Perhaps the training I received in consulting was just that good. Perhaps it's training that everyone should follow.
An "Employer" perspective: I once worked with this bright engineer who would nod vigorously in meetings, actively and delightfully participate in product meetings, and then a few hours after the meeting, have no recollection of what the meeting was about. We suggested she bring a notebook and take notes during the meeting to help - she never did. We soon parted ways.
Here's an "Employee" perspective: One of my first memories working at a "Big 4" management consulting firm was sitting in a very large intimidating conference room with the CFO and my firm's Partner level "big wigs". I was an Associate sitting in the back with the other Associates all furiously writing notes. At one point during the meeting, the client pointed to one of our Partners and then to one of the Associates that had stopped typing. A few moments later, he (that Associate) was escorted out of the room because he was not "adding any value" just sitting there. I learned at that moment, never let your guard down in meetings and always strive to add value.
Simply put: Bring a notebook, and take notes = you will auto-magically become WAY more effective.
Always take notes in these 3 situations:
If you're not used to carrying around a pen/paper always, other ways of accomplishing the same effect are: 1) add calendar items toward the end of the day and take notes in there, 2) send yourself emails with the notes, 3) voice record the meeting (not recommended for many reasons.) If I'm at a party for instance, and a situation comes up where I need a quick note, I will send myself emails when I'm not with my notebook.
My favorite method now is to carry a large black artist's sketchbook filled with large sheets of blank paper. I write notes, I draw arrows and connect meetings and thoughts. I emphasize some notes with extra underlines, circles and asterisks. Always bring a notebook.
Not feeling so awesome these days. Started playing some Chopin Raindrop Prelude and got teary eyed from the music so decided to instead work on the blog post for the week. Too many things and nothing at all to talk about all at once.
I'm doing everything I can to avoid crying these days.
Music used to be my way of feeling and expressing my feelings in my childhood. This is a really beautiful piece.
It'sSomeone just asked me how it's going. Usually people, including me, respond with, "great!" ---> I didn't this time. Thought I'd share with you verbatim what I actually said and how I'm actually doing (and with continual appreciation to my dear husband Daedalus who's been my rock, so steady and unwavering in his support of this person that is me):
"My heart is heavy. I think I'm on the brink of tears at any given moment. I'm still hopeful (I don't know why). :)"
I posted this on Facebook earlier today. Yes, there's a smile-y face at the end of it. Both feelings at the same time, positive and negative, happiness and sadness, hope and despair, ... I'm feeling all scrambled eggs inside. It's been tough, especially this past week. My family is going through some very challenging times.
Well, it's the end of the end of the day, and out of nowhere, all these people, some close, some random, some far far away, and some acquaintances commented. I'm kind of in awe. Awe. ... or like, "awwww....."
So this is what love is, right? This is what being a community is about, right? Is this real? I feel like there's real hope for humanity. Conservative, liberal, green, blue, tall, old, young, city person, world traveler, small town, man, woman, ... we're all in this thing called life together.
I picked a really hard one to go after. Really hard. Every investor or advisor or whomever I meet with has told me so. I believe them. I'm 10 years in on this journey and we're still going. This is our story.
This is my first time telling this story - actually put it together from scratch the day before. And it was so refreshing to share it.
Thank you. Feedback welcome.