What comes next? You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome. Wow. Do you have a clue what happens now?
– King George, Hamilton
Last month, I reflected on my experience in the UChicago New Venture Challenge. Hopefully that gave you a deep cut into what people actually do in accelerators, and what kind of programming can help fuel a business startup.
But something I am grappling with now is different: what comes next? After all the cameras are put away, the free food eaten, and the coffee meetings taken, you have to get back to the business of building a business. So, what do you do?
Here are some things that I’ve done in the last month (in no particular order):
- Ordered chairs and monitors
- Hired accountants
- Printed and signed more documents than I can count
- Seen Hamilton with my wife
- Gotten a haircut
It sounds silly to enumerate it, but I think it’s a really important topic that no one blogs about. There are literally oh so many blog posts about the joys of fundraising and #StartupWinning that it’s easy to feel like the path to success is always up and to the right. But did we all forget this?
The period of time after the New Venture Challenge is what a lot of people have called “the trough of sorrow” or “the trough of disillusionment”. Am I sad? Am I disillusioned? Not really. I’m very fortunate that I have a loving family and supportive peers. But, I am definitely in a trough. There is no way to sustain the breakneck excitement and pace of an accelerator like NVC. In fact, you wouldn’t want to. The point of accelerators is to temporarily accelerate development. You make a trade-off, sacrificing things like technical debt and incomplete financial models for current growth or capital.
So after your TechCrunch moment, it’s important to realize when you may have entered the trough. Being in the trough feels like checking emails multiple times an hour but your inbox doesn’t update. Being in the trough feels like sending colleagues emails that they don’t respond to until they return from vacation. Being in the trough feels like missing spontaneous phone calls that supportive peers and mentors might have made before.
Personally, I am dealing with this by reminding myself of things I have to be grateful for (not surprising, given the psychological research showing this is a vital part of wellness). But another important part of this experience is to admit that you’re in a trough and just roll with it. It does such a disservice to entrepreneurs nowadays that we expect everything to be #disruption, YCombinator, and massive massive massive fundraising rounds.
Building a business should, in my opinion, be about building long-term value for people for whom you want to change the world. That often comes with periods of intense dedication and sacrifice to get your startup where it needs to be. But the investor and entrepreneurial communities should present the situation with a little more balance. Instead of expecting breakneck awesomeness that never stops (which can only lead to inevitable disappointment and schadenfreude), we should expect businesses to be punctuated by intense periods of deceleration to complement hard work. Acknowledging that reality is the first step.