The Day My Dream Died (for Now)
When you found yourself reading The Struggle multiple times a week and thought it was resonating, you knew something was wrong.
It was September 21, 2012. Something terrible was about to happen. After three years of hard work, my startup ran out of runway forcing me to shut it down.
Given that every entrepreneur starts her company with a clear vision for success, no one can truly prepare for the emotional needs of a failure.
To be honest, I was freaking out emotionally. I was on the hook for more than a hundred thousand dollars in personal guarantees I had signed with my angel investors (Yea, I know. Countless people told me this was not usual practices). And I had no idea how I was going to pay it back.
More importantly, I couldn't face the reality that I've let my team down. All the promises I made became lies. To build a world-class startup together? Who cares anymore. As a founder, that was a tough pill to swallow. Because, at the end of the day, it was my responsibility to steer the ship. I logically knew that I had tried my best to save the company, but I guess emotions aren’t always logical.
It was a long journey and I felt burned out with the ups and downs. Aside from the emotional trauma, a startup failure may lead you to doubt your own competence. You may even wonder if you are good enough to do this.
At that moment, I realized I needed a break to think about what to do next.
“Failure is sometimes the best option if you view the process of entrepreneurship as a lifelong journey.”
- Brad Feld
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have supported me along the way.
To my cofounder and team: Delivering the bad news to them was the most difficult part in this process. I cried a lot when I knew I had to let key members go. My first instinct was to apologize because I felt shame, guilt and embarrassment as I couldn't turn the company around.
While I still feel uncomfortable to keep in touch with them, I enjoy following their career development from afar and feel happy when they got great opportunities.
It has been an honor to fight the war beside you guys. Thank you.
To our users and customers: Thanks for taking a chance with us. It's the most amazing feeling when people enjoy using your product. Thank you.
To my wife: To sacrifice our finances and my health for this journey, but to still come up short, it really hurts deeply. Thanks for your patient and support along the way so I didn't have to deal with extra stress from personal life.
To my family: Thanks for giving me the freedom to chase my dream. This is not something I'd take it for granted. Really appreciate that.
To my mentors: Thanks for all the people who have took the time to give me advice. I especially want to thank my best mentor (tier 1 SV entrepreneur) who gave me a once-in-a-lifetime offer at my darkest time (to join his newly startup and become his apprentice) which I had to turn it down for personal reasons. People often said the pay-it-forward culture is the secret sauce of Silicon Valley. By sharing my failures and lessons with fellow entrepreneurs, I hope to keep this culture going, even if it's just in a small way.
Hard lessons learned
Besides talking about all the mistakes I made, I want to share a few hard lessons I learned in this final chapter of my first journey (I'm sure this is not my last journey), so that other entrepreneurs can strive where I stumbled.
First of all, I’ve learned never, ever to sign a personal guarantee, unless you can afford to lose the entire amount. This is one of the worst mistakes I've made in my life when looking back. Doing it with amateur angel investors makes things even more complicated.
Secondly, get some help because you are not alone. When you are in The Struggle, you usually felt like there was no one you could turn to. But for whatever it’s worth, you’re not alone. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel just by talking to people about the struggles you’re facing. Talk to friends, family or experienced entrepreneurs, just don't let yourself to get into the downward spiral of depression. Like Brad Feld said:
“When you accept the complete and total unimportance of suffering, you can actually enjoy The Struggle. It’s just a step along the way, another experience in life, of the cumulative experiences before we ultimately die. Suffering, The Struggle, disappointment, failure, and self-doubt - these are all part of being an entrepreneur.”
Finally, find a way to try again. Failure doesn't limit dreaming and innovation - shame does. Once we pull shame out of the equation, we can eliminate the drag on innovating and gain the lift we need to accelerate back into the game.
To be honest, I still haven't figured out what I will do next but I know I need to find ways to improve myself and to better prepare myself for future redemption.
I'll be back.