Things that Happen In a Death Spiral

(Part II of IV in the Journey)

When you’re failing – as we were-  things get fried.

First, you don’t apprehend the situation you’re in. It’s A Dunning-Krueger thing, maybe, or it’s a perspective thing. If you’re in a burning house, you don’t know how bad. You have had this business for a long time, and it’s only been struggling for a short time. Everything feels like a surprise.

Then, you have to do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like stall for time. Like send out work you don’t love. Like take a client that doesn’t share your values.

Like get testy when something goes wrong. Bite the head off of a good vendor.

Or indulge the need to tell someone who hurt you what impact they had.

Later, you’ve compromised (or capitulated) for the greater good. You believe if you get through this one phase it will all be worth while. That it’ll pan out and you’ll be back on the path to getting that BusinessWeek Cover Story. You’ll be an unfunded Inc 500 candidate.

You believe that your character hasn’t changed. That the swirling cycle of doom has happened and you are unscathed, underneath. That you’re not stalling someone’s check but you’re a good guy.

Little things become big things. A vendor hijacks you for payment in order to complete a job. They can smell the decay. You don’t have the money because he’s the second guy you had to hire on this job. Or because a client on another job didn’t pay.

You’re spending valuable sales time – time that should be productive – on dealing with penny ante nonsense. Small beer. And you can’t get out of small beer shit. Let alone work on your business.

What good are more sales?

That’s what a death spiral feels like.

And you’re no longer comforted by the start up hustle feeling because you have had success, man. Things were hoppin’ last year.

So you doubt yourself. Impostor syndrome sets in. Every decision you make, you question. You pull inward, you lose friends.

And you’re in the hospital with pneumonia, wondering if the cough will ever go away or not.

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Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is writing this blog. He's a startup veteran, having built a company called Simplifilm. This blog is about things that he's starting to - but may not actually - think yet. It publishes irregularly.

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