“Rock bottom” is often used to describe the very bottom of a fall; sometimes it takes a long time to get there, and sometimes it happens in a flash. Picture the ground giving way beneath you—you’re hanging on to whatever you can, but each move you make somehow triggers another sharp downward plunge. Sometimes you find stable footing temporarily, just to find that it crumbles away under the weight of events or decisions you’ve made—decisions that may be unrelated to the one that caused you to fall in the first place. You only know a true rock-bottom moment when you’re sitting on that concrete, nothing left to lose, and you’re ready to devise a “concrete” plan to stop falling, swearing to yourself you’ll never be in that place again. It’s a moment of clarity like no other.
The most important thing to realize when you’ve hit bottom is that it’s temporary. You’re not going to die; it just feels that way. You’ve failed. Life is over. Everyone thinks you’re a fraud, and your asshole friends and family are going to rub it in your face or, worse, talk behind your back. This is all momentary, issues that will last one month, or three months, or a year, but if you look at the trajectory of your entrepreneurial career over ten, twenty, or thirty years, hitting bottom is just a blip. Everyone is going to have moments of intense dissatisfaction. If you spend a lot of time and energy on those mistakes, you’ll never get yourself out of the hole. And all those nay-saying friends? Don’t worry, you’ll prove them wrong one day.
Find Your Superpower
We all have to find our real sources of strength, and utilize them to the best of our ability. Every one of us has something that makes us unique—a strength. The key in business is to figure out what it is, develop it, and play that strength to the fullest.
You have to start with whatever strength you have now, whatever you think you’re the best in the world at. If it truly is a superpower, it will grow into something else.
Ask your friends what they think your superpower is. What are you the best in the world at? Sometimes our strengths are more evident to other people than they are to us. (Or if you don’t feel you can trust your friends’ opinions, go to StrengthsFinder.com and take the test.) But don’t ask people what they think your weaknesses are—if you have to ask others what your weaknesses are, be prepared for a long list, because if you don’t see them, there are probably a hell of a lot of others who do.
Your Failure Quotient
Success rarely comes without setbacks, but the irony is that failure is probably the least talked-about aspect of business. Mark Zuckerberg had very fast success, but we don’t talk much about the crappy coding projects he was working on at Harvard before he put in enough time behind a keyboard to start Facebook, or the many missteps he’s made since they made a movie of his life. Thomas Edison isn’t known for the ten thousand ways he failed to figure out how a light bulb would work; he’s known for inventing the light bulb.
You have to get familiar with taking risks and sometimes failing. Embrace them, and figure them into the equation. What is your tolerance for failure? If you place a bet fifty times and it fails every time, will you still place the bet the fifty-first time? And bet it all? Every entrepreneur has to understand their failure quotient—the ability to fail and bounce back from it.
Before You Launch
Launches aren’t easy. By the time you’re ready to launch that new piece of software, your groundbreaking documentary, or the next great American novel, you’re tired. You put everything you had into the product, and maybe you’re broke—but you’re hopeful. You’ve had your head in the creation process, in the planning and the details. You have to shift your thinking from product developer to entrepreneur, and rally the energy around launching the product flawlessly so you can gain traction and make back your investment.
Here is an action plan to refer to for your next launch:
- Build your prospect list and sort it. Who is most likely to buy now? Get those sales and that early momentum.
- Soft launch. Identify those on your list who have influence. These mavens take the most work to win over. Call them and say, “I have a hundred people who just bought this. Take a look.”
- Attempt the cold market. Take out an ad, post shareable content, and drive leads.
- Optimize. Look at the data—were the consumers a different demographic than you’d expected? Does the price need to be adjusted?
- Make adjustments and market them.
- Target your best customers.
- Rinse and repeat.
We all have the same difficulties raising money; there’s a lot of competition. However, these days there are many options, and if you can’t find private investors, then you can crowdfund. A team at Marvel Comics recently raised a couple million dollars for a new character through crowdfunding, and now they have built-in marketing because the crowd feels a connection to the character. This team didn’t steal from their existing budget, they didn’t scrap the idea, and they didn’t go begging for funds from upper management—they figured it out.
Even the “Iron Man” himself Elon Musk had to put funding first to the point where he nearly went bankrupt during the 2008 recession after putting all his money from the sale of PayPal ($180 million) into his other three ventures, SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City. The truth about his financial situation came out, embarrassingly, during his divorce proceedings. He had to borrow money from his friends for his living expenses. That’s how hard he “funded first.”
So, there is no excuse why your company doesn’t have any money—unless you have a bad company that nobody wants to invest in. In which case, start a new company.
Build And Rebuild
Today, your business model needs to evolve at a more rapid pace than ever seen before. And the only way to do that is to iterate an experiment until you find success, meaning that your customers are happy and you’re selling your products or services at a profit. Then the moment that happens, you need to disavow yourself from your newfound sense of happiness and ask yourself—how can I tear this company apart? If I was my own competition, how would I take this customer from me? And with that lens you need to rebuild your business all over again.
The good news is that each time you rebuild it, you’ve added to your foundation more tools and resources, and more data, hard fought experience, and in some cases better instincts and a deeper understanding of your customers. But if you don’t rebuild your business, someone else will build one to take you out of business.
Who do you work for?
You’ve got about a fifty-fifty chance of making it on your own. Even the biggest rock stars have failed at their well-intentioned solo careers. You’re either Mick Jagger sitting on four flopped solo albums before returning to the Rolling Stones, or you’re Beyoncé, who I’m sure hasn’t once looked back at the days of Destiny’s Child and wished she’d stayed.
So, before you strike out on your own, here are some questions to help you organize your thoughts:
- What type of solo artist are you? What are you looking to achieve, and why can’t you find it in the environment you’re in now?
- Have you invested everything in what you’re currently doing?
- If you split, will it be based on personal motives, like a lack of chemistry between you and your “band”? Is this the smartest thing you can do for your career, or is this ego? Examine what’s driving you, and be honest.
- What if you make the jump, and you’re wrong? What will you do?
- What will your older self tell your younger self? Which is more likely, that you will regret not going for it when you had the chance, or that you’ll wish you’d stuck with it?
- Historically, are you better on your own, or are you the type of person who needs a band behind them?
The final answers to these questions can only come from you, because they’re likely to be different for every person. But hopefully, if you find yourself someday faced with this dilemma of going solo, and you’re considering making a big career-defining jump, these will be the questions that help you make the smartest decision possible.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to get hit by big, traumatic, potentially harmful, or life-changing events, sometimes in succession—the stress of being a father or mother, potentially running out of capital, being rejected by an investor (or several investors), getting slapped with lawsuits, or suddenly losing the public’s favorable opinion of you or your company. The only way you’ll survive is if you learn how to compartmentalize your life.
It’s very difficult to compartmentalize. Most people can’t open up a compartment, make a little progress, and then close it. They’re too emotionally attached to let go. These are the entrepreneurs that blow up their businesses when their marriages fail, or quit working when things don’t go their way.
Here’s a visual for compartmentalization. Pretend that something you’re dealing with in your life is in a room where, when you walk in, you have to solve an equation on a whiteboard. There’s a countdown clock showing less than an hour to get the problem solved, or take a single step in the right direction. Once you’ve done that, you shut the door and go into another room equally as important. Then you do this again, and again.
It sounds tiring, doesn’t it? The alternative is much worse. If you’re unable to isolate issues, and are letting traumatic life events affect your business, then you might not have a business for very long.