My own company is in a crisis right now… a real crisis with tough decisions to make, sleepless nights to endure and an impending sense of doom that is like a nasty hangover. A bit of bad luck, bad timing, some strategic mistakes and a global financial crisis have all combined into a witch’s brew of a startup company cash-flow mess. The squeeze we have gotten ourselves into is not all that uncommon for most small business leaders and entrepreneurs. A friend said “just get used to it… the bigger your business, the higher the stakes and the smaller your odds of survival”. Thanks for the depressing thought.
Now before you all start to worry that I am about to throw in the towel, shipwreck the business and go take a job flipping hamburgers at McDonalds, just relax for a moment. I am attacking this situation head-on because… A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste.
When I arrived in Trento, Italy on Thursday the first thing I noticed were the city walls. Since the medieval times they have kept out invaders from the north and conquerors from the south. When you are reminded of your ancient past each day, perhaps it makes it harder to understand that THE PAST IS NOT THE FUTURE.
I was a speaker at a venture event in Trento this week that was sponsored by the local government and businesses. This region is making a fantastic effort in their attempt to break from the traditional thinking of old Italy and Europe and to foster innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. While perhaps this may sound novel, the reality of changing peoples’ beliefs and even values is daunting. In almost every single meeting I had with entrepreneurs it only took about 3 to 4 minutes before they started by telling me how difficult it is to succeed with a startup in Italy. It was almost as if they felt it was their task to convince me that this was impossible!
A few weeks ago I was standing in line at the store behind two boys. They were probably 13, maybe 14 years old and these guys were really cool. They wore low-rider pants that constantly tried to slide down to their knees, big T-shirts advertising their favorite vampire heavy metal bands. One had a skateboard under his arm while the other had a ski hat tugged down over his ears in spite of the warm day. I overheard them talking about a friend of theirs who had recently quit the skateboarding scene and moved on to something else (I think they said he quit skateboards and started chasing girls…). As they talked about him, they both stopped, looked at each other and simultaneously lifted their right hands to their foreheads. Placing their thumbs against their foreheads and extending their index finger straight up, they had both created the big “L” sign. This stands for “Loser”. Having both agreed on this point and signaled what they thought about it, they smiled to each other and went on to talk about something else.
I admit it. I spend too much time on the web. Mostly I am searching to see what other people are doing to solve problems for entrepreneurs and early-stage startup companies. There are some really interesting things happening out there, but in today’s world of info overload you really have to do some serious searching. And then there is all the other stuff that you stumble over on your way down that rocky road…
European startup companies actually have a big advantage over US based startups and many don’t even know it. No, I am not talking about fat government subsidies or protected local markets. I am talking about “street smarts”.
My grandfather was an entrepreneur, just like me. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack at an early age. Big doses of stress and cigarettes were standard fare for entrepreneurs and shop owners in those days. Although I never met him I have envisioned that he would look at me with his ancient blue eyes, stare for a long, dramatic moment and then say “You´ll have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps son”. I expect that this would be his advice for my life. Little did he know that I would also have that entrepreneur gene (or is it an illness?).
If you listen too much to the financial news these days, you can put yourself into a deep clinical depression within about 15 minutes. Most of the experts are predicting global slowdowns and catastrophe scenarios, but how do you adopt a strategy to keep your small startup business afloat? Is it possible to even thrive in a recession?
To accelerate your startup during a recession you must have a STRATEGY for SURVIVAL and GROWTH.