"So how do you fail with dignity when you're responsible for a team of talented, educated, and accomplished builders? You sell them to whoever is kind enough to be the first who takes your company out back and shoots it. Dignified, isn't it? Yet these days, it's what I pray for."
There's been considerable speculation as to who, exactly, is running the show at "My Startup Has 30 Days to Live," a Tumblr account by an anonymous user who blogs about a startup's remaining 30 days alive. Not much is known about the company outside of a few hints sprinkled throughout the blog - the writer, and founder, quit his day job two years ago to create a bootstrapped company that would later go on to become a "rising star in the technology world," grabbing some primo coverage at TechCrunch and an offer to be in a well known accelerator.
The accelerator would prove to be the downfall for the mystery startup, with the first mistake made in listening to the investors. Rather than focus on revenue and profit, all eyes were on stats to ensure that the graphs drawn up to pitch to venture capitalists looked good. But while the products were hitting the market and gaining traction, it wasn't of the million-user strong variety that would make the company matter. And while the team on the startup was completely on board with what they did, the founder describes his next mistake as "I didn't build a team that can lead." He wound up taking on extra responsibilities, but with no revenue stream, the startup quick ran out of funding, as mentioned in the first post discussing the need to fire an employee in order to make payroll.
In the tech world, 90% of startups fail. While not pleasant to consider, it's business. The life expectancy of a startup is nothing personal. Startups in business require so many elements from those needed to strengthen and protect the company (business plans, exit strategies, LLC formations) to characteristics in their founders (strong mentors and advisors, shrewd decision making, focus) in order to grow and succeed. But when it all falls down in a very public manner, especially for companies with a vibrant social media grapevine presence, how do you begin to tell your customer base what has happened?
Document It (To Some Degree)
Openly discussing a sinking ship seldom comes without a moment (or several) of hesitation and a series of rough drafts, edited, slept on, and chewed over before fully committing to publishing. When you've been cleared to discuss the internal struggles, it's important to keep from calling out any specific names involved and put the focus on the plan of action to come and what steps will be made to move forward. While the point of view presented in My Startup Has 30 Days to Live is refreshingly candid, it's also kept under the veil of anonymity which some companies may not opt for.
Create a Call to Action in the Community Base
When a show is nearing cancelation from a network or an issue needs to be backed up with the support of those who firmly believe in it, it's time to rally up your overall community base, and ask for their help. The same goes for a startup. Encourage supportive tweets with special hashtags, ask for customer feedback of their experiences in working with you and your brand, and see if you can incorporate your clients in a viral video campaign.
Get an Interview
For as much as we value statements, press releases, and even blog posts from the CEO of a declining startup, more often than not these have been pre-meditated on. See if you can arrange for an interview with a well-known online outlet or podcast to discuss more in-depth with what happened, what action steps are to come next, and how people can get involved to help the company out. And even if you're truly at the end of your rope, unable to move forward with the business, you can at least take the time to discuss how thankful you were for the time you had with it, the team you worked alongside, and how you might even refocus and regroup on your efforts for the company in the future.