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How it felt when we shut down our startup [or, at least, mothballed it]

Did it fail? I mean, we could pivot. But, do we want to? "Quo Vadimus."

January 9, 2017.Finn.0 Likes.0 Comments
Home/Blog/Startup/How it felt when we shut down our startup [or, at least, mothballed it]

I just sent off the first round of letters notifying people that we’re mothballing BiziPorts – our enterprise level CMS system. Now, while we haven’t agreed to fully shut it down, we haven’t done much work on it for quite some time. The last change commit in GitHub was dated fall of 2014. We haven’t even had a meeting about it in just over a year, and in the last year, our communication couldn’t have been worse. Since our darkest days on this project in Spring 2016, we’ve talked and made good things come about, but when you go through enough damage, the question remains: how much do you really want it? It’s a question both Chris and I have asked ourselves. Thus, the mothballing.

You start the project as young men, and you come out old men. And all the equity you were hoping to have, sacrificing revenue for it, is now a pipe dream, a tale of woe you hope to pass onto your kids so they can do it better.

Or so it feels. Honestly.

How it feels to shut down a startup that didn’t meet your expectations?

It sort of feels like this:

It starts with a burrowing, radiating inflammation pulsating on the left side of your chest. This consuming, paralyzing, rything sensation that you’ve been shot at point-blank range while, simultaneously, something you hold dear is being taken from you and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Hopeless never before felt so, hopeless. Just a perfect storm, this tossed-about sensation filled with the horrors because you couldn’t protect that which was taken. You failed your family. You lost your loved one on your watch. But there’s nothing to lunge for. ‘Nothing to look at. ‘Nothing tangible to cling to or watch in dread as within a blink, your progeny enveloped into the aether.

One moment, your startup is consuming every aspect of your life, a paralytic masking as the best legal [if the children ask] drug. You’re high on hope and potential and the shiny-happy Botox rhetoric from those before you who have successfully walked the path and encourage you to do the same – so long as you spend $19.99 to read about it in their latest book which is nothing more than an edited, refined mashup of their last year’s blog posts composed around ideas taken from undergrad marketing and psychology textbooks all the state school kids only remember when they’re as stoned as they were the days they crammed for those multiple-guess exams.

And that’s assuming those pamphlets weren’t ghostwritten.

Then, the next, your startup is, just, fuckin’ gone. All your triumphs and decisions, ideas fostered from endless whiteboard sessions in back rooms of bars & breweries that treat you like Norm & Cliff, and successful entrepreneurs’ three-seasons rooms, all of it just withers away like a sunflower before a snowstorm.

You weren’t good enough to save it. You weren’t smart enough to make it successful. You didn’t take enough risks, or if you did, you took the wrong one. You just weren’t good enough. There are Zuckerbergs, and there are you. You fucked up. You weren’t strong enough. You weren’t fast enough. You weren’t mean enough. You didn’t sacrifice enough for it.

And gave it your all? You swear you did? Ha, then you fucking suck as a person.

There are people better than you. And, today, you found that out. Enjoy mediocrity, where the beer is domestic and steaks are lathered in butter-garlic sauce and no one knows how to serve a baked potato without gang-pilling shitty, fried onions. ‘Turn on the TV, pull up the game, because I’m going where everybody knows my name tonight!

And 30 years slips by.

I mean, that’s how it feels right now.

I didn’t say any of it was froth with logic, understanding, and growth. But that’s how it feels. You put your all into something, and it falls by the wayside by things unforeseen. What? You’re supposed to be happy about it? Some days, you should be proper and mature, and some days civility can fuck off.

“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

– The Doctor [Tom Baker. 4th Doctor. ]

What to do when you shut down a startup platform

Give them options

I hate the ones that shut down and don’t provide options, like Jawbone just shut down their health monitoring bracelet line, like the one Katie wore for a year before if snapped in half. She can’t even get ahold of customer service. So, I didn’t want to be like those assholes. So, we made sure customers had options. In some cases, they’ll be better off than with what they had. Others at least know how to get there.

Give them a little time

We’re giving about 3 months. Others would give 6, but we also followed the first step to help ease the process.

Watch that burn rate

One of the cool things about BiziPorts early on was that it was successful and had a burn rate of next-to-nothing. We didn’t give away equity like candy and we didn’t go begging for startup funds. We didn’t want it to feel like a Welfare project. So, when it’s time to mothball it, go in a corner, and contemplate our lives, we won’t be burning bridges or credit ratings.

Make peace with it. Closure or something. Probably. Ehh.

That’s what friends out here on the edge of Silicon Valley continue to remind me. They point out successes and failures of those around and note that not everyone got it right on the first try.

It doesn’t stop me from wanting to throw shit through a wall right now, but, well, fuck it. I’ll think about it then, when “then” means I’m cooler-headed.

Don’t read any shit about “How to get over a startup” until you stop wanting to throw shit off a wall. Probably.

Like, I tried to read this one from Forbes. The moment it tried to cheer me up and make me, “reload,” I about blew my load on it.

No. Let it out. Be pissed. Don’t be afraid to be fucking upset about it.

Zen is a methodology. Zen is a part of the human experience. Peace is the thin line between madness and sadness. The only thing you really ever have to know is that forward is ahead of you, and the rest of the “peace-finding” rhetoric is just poor attempts to deny survival instincts and sleep peacefully at night.

Avoid the domesticants for awhile

When you finally start feeling the kind of anger that makes you want to do something productive, to prove a point, or self-validate, or seek revenge or justice, then you’ll know it’s time to start thinking about your options. But, shit, some of the best things in the world came out of fits of rage. Some of the most creative moments in human history came when folks like us were this pissed and grief-stricken. So, don’t bottle it up as part of some sense of civility. Civility is to ease the domestic minds, those who survive behind the fences of society and not their own wits to make it through the day. They’ll stifle this moment for you.

They’ll anesthetize it. That could be worse than losing your startup.

Now, don’t necessarily go burning bridges, or houses, or dumpsters…

Because that gets you into legal trouble and just creates a holy host of time-wasting complications that can rob you of this precious prime in your life. Avoid being that stupid, if you can.

Ain’t nothin’ more precious than sweet, sweet time.

Because, in the end, rich or poor, successful or mediocre, all of it falls by the wayside when your time is up.

Because you can’t buy back time, and ain’t no one yet proved otherwise.

So be mad. Go hard, but go fast. Because nothin’s worse than wasting time being upset because you feel your time was wasted.

Will it ever feel better?

Oh, I hope not. Because if it does, then it wasn’t worth getting pissed about. In that moment, you’ll realize you’ve wasted time over nothing.

If you’re lucky, if you’re really, really lucky, this will forever hurt like Hell.

And when you’re ready to read something, try this one from Inc. It’s not nearly as hokey. This one from Y Combinator might provide some “you’re not the only one,” support.

I think I’m finally ready to ask myself, “Quo Vadimus.”

Now, where can I find a good Delmonico Ribeye at this time of night.

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