I have had the (mostly) good and (sometimes) bad fortune of being involved with creating new ventures as an advisor, early executive, co-founder and CEO. Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of internal and external forces at work that can disrupt your vision as your business grows and evolves.
Externally, the market you originally went after might have got up and left, putting pressure on your initial business model. A top client might have changed their strategy suddenly, leaving you high and dry. This may screw up your quarter and mess up your plans to close a financing round. The funding market for your business might have dried up, because a public company in your sector got hammered. Growth may be slower than you projected based on macro issues (and your investors or stakeholders are likely on your ass about that). Investors with limited experience in your vertical may want you to act like a “star” in their portfolio without understanding how that might happen.
Internally, a product might not work well on launch, or scale as fast as you hoped. You may hire new talent that wants to take the business in a different direction which doesn’t align with your vision. You may have fought to make a key hire, feel invested, but realize you made a bad decision. You may have founders or early employees who aren’t as great a fit for the business anymore, or whose roles have outgrown them, but you feel loyal to them and rationalize the value of doing nothing.
I’ve seen all these things happen to me and/or others in different businesses, and they all will throw you into a tailspin. Digging deep for the emotional strength to deal with this dynamic is a big challenge that shouldn’t be underestimated as a leader and chief executive. A thick skin is required, and sometimes your passionate resolve to achieve the big vision is the only thing that gets you through these difficult times. You might have to fight to stay on track with your vision, and make hard decisions to keep it in focus. You may have to modify your vision to keep the business moving ahead in the face of changing macro factors. You might have to change out loyal members on your team to reflect the new needs of your business. You might have to raise money at tough terms. At some point you may need to change your own role to move the business forward.
What You Must Do
If you still feel the vision is sound at these points, and you can dig deep for the energy to push ahead, then making some hard choices to keep it in sight may be the only path forward. At these times it’s incredibly helpful to lean on mentors and peers you trust to get good independent opinions. If you have a Board with experienced investors or entrepreneurs they should be there to help you, especially your independent board members. You should also find a few trusted CEO’s/executives who can give you their unbiased opinion on the issues at hand. You’ll find they are probably very willing to offer opinions for you to consider (they have been there before too.) Socializing your plan of action to a few trusted advisors is a great tool to tune it up and psyche yourself up to get it moving.
Once you have a good handle on what needs to be done, stay strong and push ahead on your plan. Your goal is to get to the other side before it hurts your business. If you don’t make the hard choices someone else will make them for you and that likely won’t go well. If you do push ahead, the feeling of resolution and renewed energy that sits on the other side of those decisions is well worth the effort. Put your shoulder into it and know that others have been in your shoes. I promise.