Note from Marcus***:The following is a guest post from Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing. Danny has been working his back-side off around the blogosphere lately with some tremendous guest posts along with the great content he has been sharing on his own blog. I hope everyone enjoys this powerful personal experience of his and has a great weekend.
A bead of nervous sweat trickled down my forehead.
My heart pounded and my fingers trembled as my eyes darted across my online banking statement. My bank accounts were all empty, and my credit cards were maxed out.
I felt shell-shocked. My start-up company had crumbled, and my last employee was gone.
What was I going to do? Circumstances had left me with over a quarter of a million dollars of debt, and my consulting practice had completely dried up.
I had no money, no income, and no prospects… only debt.
How did I get here?
I wanted to make the world a better place, and I thought I’d do it with a start-up company.
We built educational software to help kids learn how to read. I bootstrapped the company through prototypes, proof of concept, a product launch, and market testing.
The product was great – kids loved it, and so did the experts in the field. But I was young and inexperienced, and I made a mistake. Parents and teachers – our actual customers – didn’t get it.
We were bleeding money, but managed to pivot the product to an educational virtual world for kids. Feedback was spectacular, and all we needed was money to make it happen. I spent every penny I had to keep it going long enough for an investor to write us a check, and just as we were getting tantalizingly close…
The markets crashed. Game over.
I was so far in the red that I forgot there were other colors. I had to let my employees go, and wind the company down. Meanwhile, I had been so busy with my start-up that my consulting business had been neglected, and the pipeline was dry.
I was terrified. I felt trapped, cornered, and completely out of options.
How would I ever pay off that kind of debt? How could I face the people who had supported me, and were expecting great things? Who could bail me out of a mess this big, and how could I live down the humiliation of even asking?
I had invested so much of myself and my identity in my start-up company – could there even be a life after its death?
I’d come this far… how could I bring myself to retreat?
Retreat is not in my vocabulary…
Two words changed my perspective.
Back in the days when I wore a soldier’s uniform, I was trained never to use the word “retreat” – that word does not exist in the military. Sometimes you have to withdraw, or regroup, but it’s never a retreat. So what do you call it?
Back when I first learned this, I brushed it off as military bravado and posturing – macho wordplay, nothing more.
Fast-forward to the disintegration of my start-up, and these words became profoundly meaningful. Yes, I had been routed by circumstance. Yes, my goals were thwarted, and I felt titanic pressures weighing on my shoulders. Yes, I had to put my dreams of start-up success aside for the moment, and focus on rebuilding the foundations of my life.
But it wasn’t retreat, or surrender. It was just a “strategic relocation” – I was taking a step back to put myself in a better position to achieve those goals.
I began to put my life back together. At first, it seemed that it would be an undertaking of impossible proportions, but as they say, there’s only one way to eat a cow… one bite at a time.
So bit by bit, I ate that cow. I rebuilt my consulting practice, repaid my debt, took on new projects, and built new businesses.
The first step is the hardest one…
When it’s dark and stormy, and you’re staring at that road that stretches so far ahead of you that you can’t see its end, it can be terrifying to take that first step.
There’s only one thing to do, though. Take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and take that step. With every step that you take, the road gets a little shorter, and pretty soon you find forks and surprises in that road that you never thought would appear.
As entrepreneurs, our businesses are so much more than a job – they’re almost like our children, and extensions of our identities. That gives us drive and passion to take on risks and achieve wonderful things , but it also makes it that much harder for us to deal with the biggest setbacks.
Take heart – even the most difficult experience contributes to a brighter future. Speaking for myself, a lot of the things that I learned through my start-up have become the lessons that I share with my consulting clients, and to our marketing students at Firepole Marketing.
It isn’t just me, either – every great success that I know got there through a series of “strategic relocations”.
Can you relate? Do you remember a time when your “strategic relocations” led to success? Or are you facing a “strategic relocation” right now? Please share it as a comment…
Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. He regularly helps small businesses navigate or avoid their own “strategic relocations”.