Everyone says that starting a company is hard. But if you want to get a sense of exactly how hard, talk to Sean Green, Steve Miller, and Ray Nguyen. Today, they are the successful co-founders of Arternal, a CRM solution for art dealers and galleries. But they had set out to found a very different type of company.
In the spring of 2015, the team was working on building the product in the NewINC incubator, with a plan to launch that summer. But in the midst of development, they realized it wasn’t driving the level of sales that they needed. Something had to change, and the trio soon found themselves transforming their initial concept of a consumer-facing product into the company’s current back office solution—a journey that brought the team close to the edge of collapse, both financially and psychologically.
“It was really hard to let go of where we were at because we put so much time and energy into it, but his logic was unassailable,” Miller remembers.
While everyone quickly (if reluctantly) got on board with the pivot, financing a total overhaul of the product without outside funding was a whole other challenge.
Then, just before that end-of-year deadline, with bank balance zero looming, “something turned the corner.” The company first received funding from a handful of angel investors and then raised a pre-seed round in spring of 2017 from VC firms. The company is now currently growing quickly with dozens of clients and a team that’s gone from just the founders to 12 in the past year.
Stress never goes away in a startup, but some periods are definitely harder than others. How do you survive those crunch times? It boils down to values, commitment, and communication.
Stick to your core values, no matter what.
The main ingredient for exceptional resilience is simple, communication. Talk to each other. The co-founders have regular partner meetings where they discuss not just business issues, but their current mindset and personal challenges. “You might be exhausted, you might be exhilarated, or something might be wrong. But actually have that check-in,” advises Green. “We’re all human and we all need love, tender care.”
Set an ethical code of responsibility and performance.
“We have a moral, ethical code of responsibility and performance and stepping up to the plate,” agrees Miller, who stresses that when the chips were down and the company’s future was on the line, he never doubted his co-founders’ commitment or work ethic “for a second.”
Share an equal financial burden.
It also helped, Miller believes, that each co-founder was equally financially committed to the venture. “Everyone’s got skin in the game,” he says. “That really is something that is both motivating and important.”
Ensure everyone on the team is working towards the same vision.
“The stress is ongoing,” Nguyen adds. “It’s what keeps us moving.” They’ve proven to each other that in keeping common values, equal commitment, and open communication, they can overcome times of major stress. And the team will be tested again as they face their next challenge: growing the company.
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