Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, April 20, 2020
I am a big fan of NFX, a venture firm in Silicon Valley. And today I am going to attempt the infamous startup somersault on the uneven bars — where (look ma, no hands) I conflate entrepreneurship with the coronavirus.
My guide (holding my hand) is James Currier, a partner with NFX. He recently shared some thoughts that I think apply to all of us right now. With all due deference to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who first defined the seven stages of grief, Currier has modified it to six, with a few substitutions. So here we go.
First, Denial. The entrepreneur’s first thought is only about himself. I ignore it or decide it won’t touch me. The virus might delay my dreams of riches by a few years, so for now, I will pretend it doesn’t exist. This pandemic is a mere annoyance, and I am going to keep blasting ahead. I won’t be delayed in my quest. This shelter in place stuff is for the other guy. OK, but viruses are not impressed by entrepreneurship, nor are they constrained by liquidated preferences or protective provisions.
Next is Anger. This virus thing has some nerve. I am rolling. My ARR (annual recurring revenue) is doubling every month, and then you show up, unannounced, throwing a wrench into my second-quarter numbers. It is not my fault, so I am going to rage against the machine, and then at my advisors, and finally at my co-founders. But, for sure, it ain’t my fault.ADVERTISING
Next is Bargaining. OK, let’s make a deal. I will take the down-round, I will cut my salary. I will do some layoffs. Nota bene: I assure you that our entrepreneur is not going to cut fast enough or deep enough. He will try to double straddle, and if you miss that particular move on the pommel horse, it is going to hurt more than you can imagine. There is a clear parallel here as to the impact of the coronavirus on different states and when they decided to shelter in place. Enough said. And late at night, when our founder wants to try to sleep, he is filled with guilt and disappointment. (I wonder if our politicians are sleeping well right now). Bargaining in the later stages is also known as begging.
Next is Depression. Our founder has lost two years on his path to riches. He is stuck in neutral, then being pushed backward. Can he just bail out and walk? Try that, and you will never get funded again. (Remember Leo Bloom in “The Producers” who when confronted with the fraud, cries out in his sorrow and his pain, “No way out, no way out.”) But wait, I have a plan.
Next is Acceptance. I admit it. I am a dead man walking. But for sure the sun will come up tomorrow. Yes, it will, but when you walk into the office, the blinds will be pulled, and it will be time to prepare for the infamous “recap”, followed closely by the revised business plan, which will clearly show that if you roll seven 23 times in a row, it should all work out just fine.
And finally, Creativity. New solutions, new pricing, new products, new practices, new markets and new partnerships. The fog lifts. You are soaked but not drowned. Survival of the fittest.
I am not sure where on the chart we are today as a country. But for sure, many of us have a feeling of powerlessness. I see the health care workers, but I am not a trained nurse. I see the food banks, but I am not a farmer. And so on. But at the same time, none of us is truly powerless. There are things each of us can do, and the media has done an excellent job of informing and mobilizing the troops. So, go out and do it.
I want to believe that the American Spirit is entrepreneurial and that life will return to some semblance of normalcy soon. I know that the new normal will be different than what we remember. The six stages of grief for our entrepreneur mirror pretty closely the stages in our country. Importantly, the last one on the list is creativity, and I truly believe in that one.
Rule No. 656: “What, me worry?”- Alfred E. Neuman