5 Tough Decisions that Startup Founders Take for Survival

3889545-gladiatorThis guest column is by Nidhi Agarwal, Founder & CEO,

A startup is never a smooth ride – guess that’s the number 1 reason any Founder chooses this path. It’s not boring, it’s full of challenges and no two days are alike. So when a “nasty patch” rears its ugly head, these are probably some of the cruelties that Founders have to inflict, ironically to keep their dreams alive. So here’s a perspective of what may happen, exaggerated even, since it is a journey of passion not just purpose!

  1. Round up your Quarterbacks

    Roundup your quarterbacks, so you can admit that a “nasty patch” is ahead. These signals may come to you sooner if you have allowed your Quarterbacks (your Advisors) to look out for you. This would require a Founder to create these relationships by giving such Advisors the space and right they need to show you the flags, perhaps hit you with it for you to take notice. Once you are near or in the “nasty patch” it takes a self aware leader to admit that the situation is tough and some emotionally crippling decisions will have to be taken. Beware, these decisions may scar your perspective of “how to run a business” for life.


  3. Shoot the puppies

    When “nasty patch” comes the going gets tough and the only route to sustenance is conservation. So you put all new initiatives on hold, kill the 1-2 outrageous experiments you had initiated to humor your vision of changing the world and try and keep the cash cows healthy. This helps focus on what has proven traction/ outcome before, so there is a “certain no-loss path”


  5. Separating the soldiers from the boys

    In such a situation your organization, your village, has already started to see ghosts and senses anxiety in the Founder’s eyes, especially the A-Team which functions like family. Much like one would shoot puppies the villagers are rounded up, checked for health, the boys are separated from the men and sent back home, the sickly are killed in order to keep the rest of village adequately nourished. A lucky Founder will find it’s A-Team become Gladiators at this time of need and do or die at every cost.


  7. Sacrifice sales for sustenance

    This may give most Investors IBS but then again the truth is that driving sales required investment, specially of the Marketing sort! So no money means no high sales growth unless you have truly created a brand that has high reference and repeat rates. And then again, you never know when the industry changes its mind about valuation being related to GMV! Hence for sustenance, you may need one to swallow their ego and adjust to drinking hot water instead of English Breakfast every morning even if English Breakfast may make your brain work better.


  9. Nit-pick

    No one has fun picking nits but just as every itch has to be scratched, every cost in a “nasty patch” has to be cut. This is when a two step approach helps preserve confidence in your Gladiators and preserve your entity as their leader. (1) Tell them to gym out fat knowing very well, since they are like family, what their first trimmings will be (2) Summon Pareto and deep dive first hand into the 2-3 things that are high cost and high impact once your Gladiators are done trimming their cantonments.

A “nasty patch” interestingly is like a nagging Hindi Soap tragedy rolled into the brutality of a War. Post event trauma will only hopefully lead to a better cadet and leaders of a caliber that no Business School class can cultivate. A better sense of humor is guaranteed irrespective of the business outcome of “nasty patch”!

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