Knowing When to Fold ‘Em

Posted by Jessica Alter /March 6, 2013 / FounderTalk

This FounderTalk post was written by Micah Baldwin. Micah is repeat entrepreneur and advisor. He started his first company at 9; currently he is CEO of graphicly and a mentor at TechStars. He can be found hanging out with his dogs (Billie and Taylor).

I was done.

There comes a time in every startup where you have the thought about whether it was time to fold them or keep on trucking.

I know we tell each other that failing is ok. I know that there are books and blogs written about the importance of failure.

But that didn’t mean that I didn’t think it wasn’t because of me.

I think thats the hardest part of being a founder. Of believing so much in something that it keeps you up at night. That when you start talking about it, your words begin to stumble over each other in a hurry to get out of your mouth just so that others can share in your excitement. And, the moment when you think it might be all over, you realize that the spark that fueled that energy has just…poof.

I can remember the exact moment that I decided that I was done. It was the early morning. I had just fed my dogs and cats and I was sitting in the backyard smoking a cigarette. I looked at the cigarette, and realized that I had quit smoking years ago, and I didn’t feel bad about starting back up. As I finished the cigarette, I remember the only feeling I had was that I wanted another one. Just one.

There was no sense of relief. No sense of completion. No sense that I was even doing the right thing. Just complete and total acceptance of my decision. I finished my cigarette, grabbed the full ashtray, walked into my kitchen and tossed the butts into the trash followed by the box of American Spirits.

I spent the rest of the day just completely unmotivated. I watched tv. I played Xbox. I chatted on IM; read Facebook. And as the afternoon rolled around, I grabbed my basketball shoes and headed over to the local park to shoot baskets with a buddy.

I played hard.

Basketball was glorious. I just played, and I played hard. The missed baskets didn’t seem to bother me, and I remember laughing. As I wrapped up the game, I felt the soreness in my left ankle begin to grow.

Fuck. I thought to myself. How am I going to get my Fitbit steps in?

As soon as I got home, I stepped on the treadmill and started to walk. Limp really. My left ankle was on fire, but it seemed that my desire to get my FitBit steps was burning hotter. So I walked. And walked. And the pain increased, and increased. And finally I started to cry.

It was maybe thirty minutes in or so when I started to realize something.

Here I was, willing to destroy my ankle to get some arbitrary step count, but I wasn’t willing to take my company to the end? Seriously? How big a pussy was I being? How selfish was I for not fully committing to seeing the company through?

How could I be okay with destroying myself; but not okay with driving the business?

I stopped the treadmill (after I got my steps) and limped over to the couch. I sat quietly and wiped my tears, and then I opened my laptop.

Perhaps the answer was to look at the business in a different way. I pulled out our pricing model and revenue projections and started to muck around with them. I looked at the P&L and found areas that we could cut cost.

I rejiggered the product focus and vision. And, I called every company that we were talking to about buying us and told them no.

They say that when you can only get sober by hitting rock bottom. Perhaps that is what I did. I forced myself to hit the bottom of being a founder. I peered into the abyss and realized that it was not time for the company to die.

Now, its funny.

Folks comment on how calm and zen I am about the business. I tell them that it comes from the belief I have in it and the people working on it, and that sometimes failure is something we should not accept as our reality.

I think daily about that time on the treadmill. I remember the pain and the tears, and I know that the company will never be the cause again.