A recent brief, clarifying conversation with a founder

VC= me; F = founder.

The setting: phone call. The crisis: significant, potentially company-ending, involving multiple parties, complex, chaotic, needed to be urgently addressed. The founder had been losing sleep and I had been losing my sense of dispassionate engagement. 

I have anonymized the conversation, shortened it, and edited for clarity (I hope). 

VC: Tell me about the thoughts that go through your head when you think about [the crisis you're currently facing]?

F: Seriously? This is what you want to do right now?

VC: Humor me, just for a minute.

F: If we don't solve this, we'll miss all our targets. I think the fundraise will fall through. People will start leaving. The whole house of cards is going to collapse. 

VC (swallowing acerbic comment about the "house of cards" thing): Identify the emotions that come up. 

F: I just want to make this go away. I don't know if I can. 

VC: If you really wanted to make it go away, you would. Let me ask you again, what do you _feel_, literally, inside your body?

F: I hate these conversations with you... *laughs*. I feel a big knot in my stomach. There's so much tension everywhere. I guess you can call it fear. We've worked so hard for this and so many people depend on this going right. If I come up empty, it will be a huge and very visible failure.

VC: Based on the possibility of the whole company going under, it's perfectly natural you're feeling that fear of failure. No wonder you've been avoiding addressing the issue, losing sleep over it, trying to contain it. But you're not doing the best that I know you can do.

F: What would you have me do differently?

VC: Let me answer that with another question. Your belief is that this crisis could make the whole company fail. What would a different, more powerful belief be?

F: Perhaps it's showing me that I avoid things when I get fearful. 

VC: What else?

F: Once we get through this it will make us much stronger. As a team and as a company. It's an opportunity to grow.

VC: Take that belief and imagine it's true. I know you don't fully buy it right now. What would that feel like?

F: Liberating. It feels like it's a necessary rite of passage for this company. 

VC: Do you believe that?

F: Yes.

VC: So based on that thought, that this is a real opportunity for growth, and the liberating feeling you have about that, what actions are you going to take?

F: I've been trying to tackle this head-on, very aggressively. Perhaps the better way is to build consensus more slowly with all parties. Let me go and try that.

VC: How can I help you?

F: You already did. Let me call you back tomorrow and I'll tell you where I got to. 

In the conversation above, the main block to taking decisive and correct action was fear of (personal) failure and the ensuing self-doubt. While we didn't go as deeply as I think would have been beneficial, enough was achieved to move forward. 

The conversation was, for me, a reminder of how all blocks to action are a result of the filters and consciousness developed from previous experience. Not every setting is right to address those historical blocks and I am not a therapist. But to be aware of such things as an investor can be hugely beneficial to the founder-VC relationship. 

If you'd like to experience a different kind of venture capital, the doors at Sunstone are always open. 

Image result for phone call unsplash

5 responses
This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you! I felt a bit vulnerable putting this out there. - Max
Well played. Real wisdom. JLM www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com
As a startup founder, I recently went/going through similar challenges (without even knowing the details, it seems at least). What helped me a lot is to think of what happens if we face the wall and we must let everything go. Years of hard work, trust of our talented employees, investors, business partners, clients. Then I got to the point that I would start working again in the domain where we are now, with the same people, solving the same problems, without knowing the details of the potential future setup. I also thought of the challenges starting it up from scratch (without making the mistakes that resulted in the existing problems) and how much time would that take, and the potential risks of letting things go and losing the "momentum" that we feel now with our product. That showed me clearly how valuable is everything that we put together so far. Going through this state of mind gave me a level of calmness that I hardly felt before. I started to think rationally, identifying steps of potential solutions for all the problems that we encountered and slice it into manageable bits. We are going through those bits day by day with relentless discipline, while also knowing that there could be a case when we lose the control and there is no way back. It can always happen with a startup anyway, one should accept it. Being transparent, open about it to myself and to the team gave incredible confidence. Getting rid of the biases caused by the ego and the commitment towards with whom and what we do help us to cut through the daily sweat, and the sleepless hours are starting to vanish.
And last, but not least: facing a big challenge (that is likely resulting from bad decisions of the past) can be also "exciting" to be solved as an executive from the professional perspective. To put back a bit of "Ego game" and use it for our own purposes.