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Looking back at 2022. Failing as a founder (but always getting back)
On Jan 1, 2023, I woke up in darkness from a stranger standing in my bedroom (not in my bed, I wish). It wasn't anyone I knew, it was a physical embodiment of my scariest horrors.
2022 was a challenge. But hey, we’ve made it, guys!
Looking back from the other side of the river, many of us will agree that it was the most difficult year of our little stupid lives. We’ve put inhumane effort into it, and yet, many end up net negative. But let me tell you,—it’s fine,—it’s okay to make a step back to make two forward.
During this year I’ve lost my company (and millions in paper wealth with it), my home immersed in an awful war, I’ve failed to raise funds multiple times wasting months (!) on it, a few of my investments lost >80% of their value, I was not allowed to enter a country leaving me on a street with a backpack, I initiated a divorce trial, and a cherry on a cake—in the last day of the year my house got robbed. Fucking awesome. This is not something to brag about, but just to illustrate to future generations—the shit was real, your old man was fighting for his dear life.
As a founder, your job is to handle crises
Entrepreneurs play with much higher stakes. For me, it’s difficult to see a problem in being laid off with 4 months of full allowance, which, minus savings, can easily be stretched to 12 months of life. When we closed Suggestr, we made a decision within a week, and haven’t seen any income thereafter. When I pivoted ideas in web3 it would return me to square one, with all my progress being annulated. At the point when I finally got the first money in the new company, I had $81 in my bank.
The income, though, is the last issue, because it’s the easiest to solve. What really tests your character as a founder are challenges with the opportunity you’re pursuing—when you believed in something and it turned out wrong, when you planned for X but Y happened, or even worse, when you planned for X but couldn’t achieve it. There is no one to blame, and no one to appreciate the effort.
This year, as never before, I failed again and again—with ideas, with fundraising, with the teams, but each time the interval of me getting back on my feet has been shortening. Entrepreneurship, as nothing else, taught me to manage critical situations—to be prepared that something will go wrong, always think of the worst-case scenario, and execute on the challenges whether it’s a bug in code or a market collapse.
With that, even going through the robbery experience converged to a set of actions needed to be performed to get back in a row. I mean, it’s scary, no shit, but is it scarier than accepting that something you spent a few months of your life on will never work?
The sweet spot
In the interval when you accepted a defeat and preparing to make a comeback, inevitably, you start looking at the bigger picture. “What am I doing with my life?”—is the right thing to ask yourself at such a moment. For a short period of time, you are not attached to any beliefs or goals and can look at the situation clearly. I describe this moment as an entrepreneurial post-nut clarity, excuse my analogies, and it’s the best time to reflect and to ask yourself again:
What do you want to do in life?
What are you good at?
What can make you money?
It’s easy to feel genius when things work out, and feel miserable when everything falls apart, and I’m cautious about falling into this trap. 2022 reminded us how influential the environment can be on the result of the same set of actions. Just a year ago, at a peak of a bull run, having the same high-class team and vision we have in Slise (my new project) today, we would be sitting on 5M+ of capital pre-traction, just because of how well above the market we are. And yet, when the market is down, it hardly allows us to keep our heads above the water.
Or is it all just me being a shit founder?
—is a meaningless question. There is no universal scale and no alternative options. We do what we have to do because we can’t do otherwise, and we get what we get. The worst we can do is listen to others telling us “how things should be” and “what good founders are like”. In fact, most mistakes I’ve made were not due to low skill or lack of knowledge, but due to the false expectations of how things should go, and how they go for others. If only I listened to my intuition and didn’t look at the “market”, I would put more time into building and would aim for more reasonable goals in the right time.
Anything in business can be done in billions of ways, among which you may find your unique way not suitable for others. Not a single great company has been built by a playbook, the only game rules you should follow are federal laws and your moral compass, but beyond that… the sky is the limit.
Not everything will work out perfectly, and managing it is a part of our job. All we can do is embrace this journey full of learnings and acknowledge our fails and mistakes with dignity, because guess who’ll pocket all the experience?—The ones who made them. 💅✨
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