How to turn things around when your start-up is shutting-down

Look, you had big dream and high hopes. That’s great – but it’s not enough. You have to have a couple fundamental principles down pact before starting any new venture or implementing massive organizational change in an existing company. There is a colossal difference between what you need to succeed to be a small business, and what it takes to succeed as a large company. But whatever you’re trying to do – these ten factors are going to make or break you.


This is a fast-read user’s guide to You. A How-To for You-the-Leader, coach, mentor, manager, entrepreneur, and blood-to-tears investor in your struggling organization.


1. Leadership. The simple and widely misunderstood fact of leadership is what you are supposed to do in that office. Do this:

1. Don’t stay it; get out and see the folks.

2. Stay in it; let them do their thing.

You are there to inspire others to be the best they can be. You are not there to be better than them. Again, you are not supposed to prove you are the SME, you are supposed to inspire others to be SMEs. Inspire, don’t perspire, your employees. Your obsession with the nit-noids of the production process can get in everyone’s way. Change brushes… use broad strokes… leave the details to the next group of leaders. See, leadership is largely interchangeable. In fact, and history proves this, an SME leading SMEs in the same field is a blinded mess. They call it “General Manager” and not “Micro-manager” for a salient reason. Leadership’s main qualification is understanding leadership. Before being CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally was person of the year in Aviation Week & Space Technology in 2006 for his work at Boeing. The current commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bruce Bettman, started in 1993 after leaving being the SVP and General Counsel for the NBA. Leadership is not the same type of doer-ship it took to earn the post as leader.


2. Get your failures right. If you get this right, everything else will be right. Do you know what failure looks like and how to talk about it? Failure is a signal that something went wrong, not necessarily someone went wrong. If you cannot separate the two, your staff will not separate the two. Learn from failure. Debrief it. Grow from it. Do you have a culture where failure is part of growth? Do you have blind spots of loyalty for people or processes that have failed you time and again? Once or twice, good… A habit of always late, wrong, over-budget, full of excuses, finger-pointing, etc?… after the 4th time with no correction by you, their failure is yours alone. Yet, do not discourage failure (that’s how people learn). Do you punish failure (this can be stated as: Do you discourage innovative thought)? Last thing on failure – talk about it. The failure to communicate effectively -and often- has been the downfall of leaders since the beginning of time.

3. Stop treating your Marketing staff like the Arts & Crafts department. The onset of the internet has changed the way your clients and partners can access information about you and your products. No longer can you expect them to take you at your word that your product is the best, cheapest, most awesome whatever it is out there. You can bet they have already, or will before signing, look it up on the web and find out what to ask about and what to pay for it. Your marketing department knows how to handle this challenge, beat it, and push your team in a direction where those web searches conclude in your favor. Do not be so keen to engineer a solution that you forget to ask Marketing if someone is asking for it. Do not be so eager to build a design that you forget to ask Marketing if it is marketable.

R&D and Marketing should Red Team your ideas before any rivets start being popped.


4. Network or don’t work. Yes on LinkedIn, but more importantly network within your staff. Collaborate to innovate. Allow cross-pollination of disciplines across the employees for maximum effective use of talent. This will increase corporate loyalty, buy-in, retention, and lower risk of un-checked designs and decisions getting further than they need to.

5. Read. Read books. You’re not alone. You’re not inventing the problems you have. You’re not the only person to deal with what you are. Reading other perspectives will check yours. You’ll either solidify your resolve, or you’ll gain insight into another way which may be more effective. Do not spend your free time poking through 140 characters at a time. Read books. If you are against reading business books, read mysteries and crime novels. The cognitive process of multi-layered stories and problem solving are the closest thing to the cognitive skills you’ll need at work. Your brain can get a pot belly too. Work it out. Suggestions at:

6. Work-out. You have more time to work out than you have time to spend in a hospital after a mental breakdown or heart attack. This is not a paper that kind of mental health, but the short of it is you need water and blood in your brain. Drink a lot of water and increase the circulation up there daily to clear out the plaque (yes, you get plaque in the folds of your brain like you do between your teeth and in your arteries). The plaque build-up in your brain is linked to stress, depression, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s, mood disorders, and all kinds of other bad stuff that 20 minutes of accelerated heart rate can combat (ask your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise routine).

7. Be an example. If you get this right, your people will be eager to perform for you. Make sure you are consistent with what you expect from them, persistent and credible about it, and create an atmosphere of trust where they truly believe that you believe in them. If they can’t tell what you expect, you won’t get it. If they can’t see your enthusiasm, where will they get theirs from? Why should your staff wear the company polo if you do not? Why should they be in early if you are not? Why should they… and on and on. You get the picture. Practice what you preach. But don’t preach: show.

Leadership is not a title; think of Judge Reinhold in Beverly Hills Cop. Every time he got a promotion, his title got bigger. By part III he was the DDOJSIOC (Deputy Director of Operations for Joint Systems Interdepartmental Operational Command) and still played a yutz.


8. Communicate. It cannot be over-stated: communicate. Communicate your vision, goal, process, praise, and problems. Do not politically pick and choose whom to tell; you’ll leave someone out. Trust your people to be trusted in carrying out your vision. Do not treat information like currency; they will get the information somehow anyway, but your failure to trust them will engender bias against you as their leader (mentor, trusted coach, etc).

9. Appreciate your people. Just as in marriage, if you fail to appreciate the person you are with, someone else will. The days of “earning your stripes” are over – your new hires expect to be brought into the fold immediately and to be allowed to contribute immediately. If you, or your senior staff, treat them like they are not important, another company will. You will essentially be training your competition’s next wave of experienced employees.


10. Focus. In all this mess, don’t forget why you got into this business. Don’t lose sight of whatever it was that inspired you to get this far. As things change, and they will, take a couple steps back. New Day, New Problem, New Plan needed. Do not lose focus on the goal – and the goal wasn’t 84-hour work weeks, poor health, an empty house, staff that resents you, and a product you can’t sell.



– Dr. James J Frey

TWITTER: @jamesjfrey