Look, if you had, one shot
Or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
[Eminem, Lose Yourself]
I’ve often said that to run a startup you almost have to abstract yourself from the daily stresses and grind just to exist. You almost have to have an out-of-body experience as though it’s not really your life but it’s just a game you’re playing in order to not be buried by the burdens of your decisions.
If you raise money the game continues. If you don’t you may have to lay off staff in eight weeks. How can you process that?
Even more difficult. You have an offer to sell your company. Should you? You might net $1 Mn and that would change your life. But everybody is telling you not to sell and instead to “go for it” and you don’t know whom to listen to.
One. Million. Dollars.
I know it’s not what it used to be, but news flash — it’s still a million dollars!
How can you wake up every day and process that decision. Five million? Ten?
Upside scenarios. Downside scenarios. Raise a big VC round — yeah! Now I just have a 3x higher exit price if I want to sell one day. Ah, well. At least I have more resources.
How do you process your company’s biggest decisions? How do you live with uncertainty and stay focussed?
I’m a visual person as many people are and I need to be able to see things visually to process them.
I’ve talked before about how I use visualisation to drive my creativity.
I also believe in visualising results as a means of achieving them. I know it sounds crazy and new age-y but it’s not as crazy as you think. I think you’d acknowledge that athletes use visualisation techniques for focus and motivation and we don’t find that crazy at all.
My secret is that I used music and running.
When I first got my offer to sell to Salesforce everybody around me told me not to sell. They told me that we had a chance to build the next great Internet company. After all, we were building DropBox before DropBox existed and we had really good early traffic. In hindsight we know the market was sure there (whether or not we would have captured it is a different story).
VCs even offered me to cash out seven figures personally not to sell. But I had been down this road in 2000 and I saw how punishing markets could be when you didn’t sell and had an offer.
Once I accepted my fate I had to stay extremely focussed. I had foregone my VC term sheets to accept an offer yet I knew it wasn’t 100% probability to close — it never is. I was also deeply paranoid that a bad recession was coming (this was early 2007). I know that sounds like Monday-morning quarterbacking but you can ask anybody around me — especially my wife.
He won’t give up that
He won’t have it, he knows his whole back’s to these ropes
It don’t matter, he’s dope
He knows that but he’s broke
He’s so stagnant, he knows
He better go capture this moment and hope it don’t pass him
I ran daily back then. What a luxury. I lived in Palo Alto and had a 6-mile loop I would do in the mornings to get me motivated. I know, it would have been more apropos if it were an 8-mile loop but it wasn’t.
I blasted the music. He won’t give up that easily. His whole back’s to these ropes. He’s broke. Capture this moment — don’t let it pass.
I would self-talk. This is your moment. Stay focussed. Get stuff done. Get through your disclosure schedules. Make sure the acquisition is still on target. Talk to your teammates and make sure they’re still good with the exit. Make sure they’re still planning to move to San Francisco. Work through issues and problems.
Maybe this is actually going to happen. Maybe it isn’t?
Corp Dev is rapping my knuckles because I had planned to speak at the Under the Radar Conference. They say I can’t go. They don’t want me around other buyers. But what if they pull out? Then I’m stuck and didn’t foster relationships?
This sucks. They can’t tell me where I can go and where I can’t!
Just a game. Fuck it. Who cares!
If this doesn’t happen it wasn’t meant to be. Don’t worry about the financial security — it’s not yours anyways. If you get it, you get it. If not, plan B. Don’t visualise money in your bank account. Don’t mentally spend it. Don’t assume your life is heading that way or you’ll never get through setbacks.
What is Plan B? Not sure. But we’ve built a great product — we’ll find a way. Yahoo! was interested. SAP was interested. VCs were interested. Plan B, fine. Later. Right now, Plan A!
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo!
This world is mine for the taking
Make me king, as we move toward a new world order
A normal life is boring, but superstardom’s close to post mortem
I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed
It was a stressful period that ended well. There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t obsessively looking at my to-do list, calling people to move the process forward, checking the news for any signs of market problems and then sleeping and doing the same thing the next day.
I felt hugely pumped up and motivated by the music. By the lyrics. But the reminder that “this was my shot” and failure wasn’t an option.
Did it control my outcome?
Probably not. But if I would have had a setback in the M&A deal I felt emotionally ready to spring to action and solve any problem. Having a healthy mind is as important as having a healthy body and we pay very little attention to the former.
I think more people should.
Find ways to motivate yourself. Find ways to not see this situation as actually affecting you even though it obviously does. Deal in today’s problems not in tomorrow’s possible ones.
Have options, sure. But don’t sweat every single one and visualise the downside scenarios. That’s emotionally unproductive and you can deal with those stresses if you get the bad news and roll with the punches then.
Music motivates me when I need it. I find lyrics that resonate and grab the message in my own world and context. It helps me focus.
I don’t know what motivates you and allows you to tune out all of life’s distractions in your moments of need but you need to find it the way athletes do before a big game.
I know some readers right now will have no clue what I’m even talking about. I suspect that’s just because you’ve never had to be a startup CEO and deal with the incredible insecurities, uncertainties and stresses. Surreal, it definitely is. But
Success is my only motherfucking option, failure’s not
[This post by Mark Suster first appeared here and has been reproduced with permission.]