It’s cold out there. And I don’t just mean metaphorically. Winter came early and hard to Montana just as the Farmer’s Almanac predicted it would. Driving back in from town last night after grocery shopping it was -3 degrees on the car’s temperature gauge just after sunset at 6pm.
It’s cold out there in the capital markets too. The federal reserve is raising rates to tamp down on inflation and the cost of capital is hitting the technology industry. Frankly I think we’ve all been waiting for an excuse to cut the fat and now we’ve got it.
But it’s going to have consequences for startups. Founders who have never had to live with the harsh realities of a down market are in for a surprise. Those juicy valuations in the private markets don’t work so well when the public markets can find safer returns in a Treasury finally paying out on a t-bill.
Let me play with a tortured metaphor to help you understand the situation. You think you understand how cold winter will be until you realize you haven’t had to work through a chill for over a decade. Sure maybe in your closet you’ve got a nice coat but when was the last time you wore it? If it was for a ski retreat with one of your venture partners then this metaphor is absolutely about to do double duty.
Surviving a bitter cold isn’t just about having a bulky down coat. Think of that as your cash runway. Without adequately rated cold weather gear to keep you alive you may find yourself tapping out. But it’s not just about the coat.
Keeping warm and staying productive requires some technique. Do you understand how to layer correctly? Do you have hats, gloves and scarves? I bet you walk around with ankle socks and Allbirds. That’s not going to go well in a foot of snow. Do you know how to eat for the cold? How about hydration?
Your team will need more than runway. They are going to need motivation to work with less fuel. You have to show them that the climb up the snowy mountain is worth it.
A winter startup team will need the skills and flexibility to work around problems that can’t be solved with money. Shit can and will go wrong on a long cold climb out of an economic winter. Creativity and belief must overlap with intuition if you want to make it.
And it’s important to remember lot of your team won’t have those intuitions. We’ve all been living in Miami and suddenly it’s -3 in Montana. And guess who gets to teach them how to adapt? You. You need to teach your team gently and with empathy what it will take. And they will makeup mistakes. Have you ever watched someone try to lace up boots for the first time? You might need to help them cinch.
I promise it is worth it though. If you are climbing the right mountain, and prepare adequately for your journey, the rarified air of a successful startup is invigorating. And the view from the top isn’t bad. If you need some help thinking all this through as a founder drop me a line Julie (at) chaotic dot capital and I’m happy offer some Sherpa advice. I lived though 2001 and 2007 (I even got laid off during RIP Good Times) so you can rely on me for some elder millennial wisdom. Stay warm!