It is strange what comes to the fore, now we all work at home. I have been forgetting to keep hydrated, while sticking to the thing I have found most valuable in this brave new world — meditating.
But somewhere between those, I find myself thinking about founders. This is unsurprising; I work at a VC firm. But, in fact, I believe that, at this moment, we should all spare a thought for founders.
Being a founder is a very lonely place. And now, many founders — the value-creators of every economy — will find themselves alone.
When you start a company, you have this great vision, this outlandish dream — and you’re executing on that. Hopefully, you build a great team and together you build a great business. You obsess over how to make your product as good as possible for your customers, you keep building out the team, you build relationships with stakeholders… every day is spent bringing people together to move forwards.
This is back-breaking work. It requires all of you, all the time. But you have a team, you’re creating things and achieving.
But the thing nobody wants to talk about — even when times are good — is how lonely that is. Ultimately, it comes down to you. You are the person who has to make the difficult decisions. You listen, you build consensus — but the buck stops with you. And sometimes, you have to make really hard decisions.
Right now, you will be making really hard decisions. Numerous prudent founders out there are having to let people go who have made a contribution, cut budgets and make changes that will change lives.
And through all this, they can’t even put a hand on someone’s shoulder and reassure them it was a really tough decision. And they can’t take those that are staying down the pub for a quiet, soothing drink.
This is a doubly hard world.
But many of us will want you to know: we know, and we appreciate how hard it is, and all you do.
This might feel like the darkest time. Yet there are “buts” — and they are what you should hold onto.
Know that there will be similar moments of dark versus light in your life. These last few weeks have reminded me of a friend of mine, who spent years perfecting a smart clip-on for his mountaineering watches, only to become someone who, with the benefit of hindsight, found he’d moved just months before Tim Cook.
Rather than abandon years of innovation, a piece of engineering mastery, the team ploughed everything they’d learnt and built into the watch itself. The consequence was a far better core product — something that embodied the passion, precision, knowledge and understanding they’d angled at a clip-on that made the watch smart.
And the thing is, whatever kind of external shock comes along, you and your team always have some core competencies. Now is the moment to figure out what they are. Then, focus entirely on them.
You have some ability to choose light over dark. Right now, you have an opportunity.
You have an opportunity to build a solid platform and deliver something to those who remain. This is the chance to be famous.
The new world being forged today is not a growth-at-all costs world. It is going to be a world focused far more on value creation. The emphasis will no longer lie with rapid growth but with resilience, the quality of your customer relationships, your strategic importance.
And you may find the togetherness that is necessity now becomes the bedrock of the business that survives, and of your own life.
For software founders — the amazing individuals I work with — business will always need the best possible software to run on. So keep making sure you have a kick-ass product that people want to buy.
Support your team as best you can; lead as best you can. This is your opportunity.
You have an obligation to society to keep going.
You have an obligation to those you didn’t fire to keep going.
And you have an obligation to yourself to keep going.