When your startup feels less like a hockey stick and more like a hip check

hockey-check

Hip check. Photo via Dirty Dangle

We all love to talk about the “hockey stick” moment for a company, referring to the point when users and usage really starts to take off.

It’s fun.  It’s exciting.  And  it’s so elusive we all want to dissect what the specific company actually did to achieve the stratospheric growth.

But what about the hip check?

What’s that you say?  Never heard of the startup hip check?  Well, take a look at the accompanying hockey image and I think you can get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Pretty scary huh.

This head-over-feet feeling can happen at any moment of a company.  Sometimes it happens within the first few months of a new idea as the honeymoon wears off and founders realize the pieces don’t fit and they don’t have a starters chance of even putting something together.  Other times (like mine) you get up and running – even get some initial customer wins under your belt – and then it hits you when you least expect it.

BAM.  “What the hell was that!?”

Getting hip checked throws you and your company completely off your feet.  There is a good chance an injury has occurred and you may never recover.  It feels like what I imagine the hockey player above must have felt as he was brutally checked right onto his a**.

And you know what?  It happens to EVERYBODY.  All athletes.  All entrepreneurs.  Everybody.

So what do you do once you shake the cobwebs out of your head and realize you just got taken to town?

Pause

Simply pausing and taking account of your status is the first thing you should do.  Do not let tempers or emotions get the best of you.  Athletes ask themselves questions like: Do I have all my limbs?  Are my legs situated in the right direction?  (Anyone watching this years NCAA basketball March Madness tournemant will know know you should now check all your limbs after a bad fall.)

Rather than get emotional and retaliate, athletes need to assess why it happened.   Was I too slow?  Did I make the wrong move?  Was he just flat out better than me?

Entrepreneurs need to ask similar questions:  Why did that just happen?  What did we miss?  And what is our financial status, how much money do we have in the bank?  What do the others on the team think and feel about our situation?  Are they hurt and need to go recover, or can they keep at it?  Also, who else knows we just got hip checked?  Was it reported in the media and did we take a PR hit?

Through these questions you will determine if the company can and should continue, or if indeed it’s best to step off the ice.

RICE

Rest.  Ice.  Compression.  Elevate.

check

Photo via Jason Bain

My education taught me RICE was the simplest injury treatment protocol, basically placing it in a state of limited movement and maximum preservation.

Same for a startup.  If continuation of the company is desired, I am suggesting taking a similar approach with your startup.

You have to stop the bleeding (financially) and start the healing process (working) as quick as possible.  If needed, go get a paid gig as quick as you can, so cash starts flowing into the bank account.

I waited way too long on this one and can tell you it wasn’t pretty.  Cash really does solve many problems and helps to open the creative process. A huge pressure valve is released.

Open the communication lines with your team. Have long discussions about why the hip check happened so you can start the healing process.  Through these discussions, the weaknesses will be revealed and the ways forward will emerge.

Elevate yourself.  A strange (albeit predictable) thing happens when founders get hip checked – depression.  It takes a certain chutzpah to start a company, namely audaciousness and ego. But I have noticed those also work against the entrepreneur once they find themselves face first on the ice.  Of course, this isn’t what you expected as you started out and most definitely not how you wanted others to see you.

But there you are.

You must get up.  You must inflate that ego (figuratively speaking) back to where it was before, when you believed in yourself and your team.  A positive and forward looking perspective is the only way to recover from the hip check.

Skate Again

hockey-puck

Photo via Five Hole for Food

If you watch a hockey game it doesn’t take very long to notice how often hits and checks happen to all players.  And you know what?

They get back up and shake it off.  They try again.  It’s quite the same in the startup world.  Everyday, founders are getting hip checked to founder hell and back.  Yet, the ones we end up reading about are the ones who got back up and tried again.

Elon Musk has probably been checked more than most other successful entrepreneurs out there.  Did you know there was a time he was literally broke as he was building Tesla and SpaceX?

At one point he put the last of his millions he had made previously into his companies so they wouldn’t go under – personally financing them and risking everything he had worked for  - and then lived off loans from his other millionaire friends.

Yes, and now people say he has it too good as a billionaire and CEO of two incredibly innovative technology companies.

Hmm, well there’s a reason Musk refers to founding a company as “eating shards of glass and staring into the abyss of death.”

It’s true.

I simply say: Just get up and keep skating.

Nick Hughes is the CEO of Seconds, a mobile payments startup located in Seattle.  In his spare time he inspires entrepreneurs to build meaningful and enduring companies through his writing on SoEntrepreneurial.com.  Follow him on Twitter @jnickhughes.

Previously on GeekWireStartup Jedi: How to get through the sh*t times

  • mermeid6

    4 players in the North American Hockey League surpassed the 100 point plateau during the 1974-75 season. The NAHL served as a farm league for the World Hockey Association for four years from 1973-74 to 1976-77.