My company is out of money, which you are never supposed let happen. And definitely never supposed to confess to. Because then investors can give you any terms they want. Rape. Carnage. Pillage. Everything. And in our case, it’s coming from the angels who invested in our first round of funding, which means that the people who are supposed to be on our side are killing us.
So two days before Christmas, I am going nuts, trying to close a bridge financing from the angel investors who funded us initially. Which means that these guys are very rich, and traveling for Christmas, and totally not interested in being bothered with the minutia of our depleted finances.
I’m desperate. We’ve already skipped one payroll, and it’s hard to think of a worse time to do that than the week before Christmas.
When 70% of young people say they want to run their own business, they are probably not thinking they will fund their business themselves. Since they probably have no money. So they are looking at taking in investors. But I’m not sure that 70% of young people want to take in angel investors, because here’s what it looks like:
1. You are on the phone all the time.
Tuesday before Christmas: I am glued to my phone: Investors don’t work on a schedule. They are millionaires. They are trying to sail their boat in Bermuda but they live in Wisconsin which means they have to make ten connecting flights from snowbound airports, and my chances of catching them between flights are slim. So I spend my day waiting for someone to call in with another clever idea for taking more equity from the company and redistributing it to the investors.
2. You’re always sick, but not take-a-day-off-work sick
And I have pinkeye. It started on Monday, when 20/20 was in our office to do a story on salary. Yep. That’s right. The company that is not paying salaries right now is featured on 20/20 as the poster child for transparent salaries.
The camera is right in my face while I’m talking about how the only people who benefit from hidden salaries are managers who made hiring mistakes and don’t want to fix them. “Management should not hide behind their weaknesses,” I say. And then I say, “Do you have something in that camera that can fix my pink eye?”
The camera man says, “Yeah. And I can make you thinner, too.”
So I suffer with the pink eye, because it’s not having all that gross green discharge yet, so I think I can deal with it after funding.
3. You always think of funding. No matter where you are.
On Tuesday, I’m driving to the office to tell everyone that we are going to make payroll any day now, and while I’m driving I’m talking to this guy on the West Coast because I think if there is any way to rescue myself form our angels it’s going to be with my relationships on the west coast, and then, I realize I can’t see. Did you read the book, Blindness? It’s like that, except in the book there is a great undercurrent of romance, and with me I just think I’m going to die.
I shut my eyes and pull to the side of the road with them closed. Then I tell myself people do not go blind in real life. I tell myself that it’s probably stress. That’s what all the doctors tell women when there is a mysterious ailment, and after decades of this, women internalize the diagnosis.
Wait—here is the best book in the world about the topic of misdiagnosing women. It’s a book of the real writings of psychologists in Germany during Freud’s heyday where the women were diagnosed as crazy from stress and the psychologists attempted to solve their stress-induced craziness by giving the women orgasms. So the book is the doctors describing themselves standing around a patient’s bed, giving her an orgasm. Really. It’s one of my favorite books and the blindness has been worth it now, because I am giving you the link.
Okay. So, in keeping with the history of Freudian psychology, I diagnose my blindness as stress related. I continue to talk with the guy about the future of recruiting, and luckily, I can talk about the future of recruiting in my sleep and still sound like sort of a visionary. Get it, visionary?
4. There is no time for family.
Then I sit in the car and I shut my eyes, trying to figure out how to drive home.
I can’t. So the house manager comes to get me. For those of you who wonder what I do with a house manager, now you know: She’s my go-to person for blindness.
She drives me to the urgent care place, which runs tests for an hour while my kids watch the Incredibles, probably catching obscure diseases, because who takes their kid to the doctor two days before Christmas unless it’s really bad?
We have to go to a different doctor because the urgent care place has no idea why I can’t open my eyes. My kids are heartbroken and I have to lie to them and tell them that opthamologists are reknown for having a great selection of children’s movies. “Way better than the Incredibles,” I say.
5. Life is painful.
So it turns out that I have this disease (Thygeson’s Keratitis) and it is a very very painful disease that most people don’t wait around to treat. So the eye doctor has not seen such an advanced case and she brings in the residents into the room for an educational moment.
The residents are impressed at the amount of pain I’ve tolerated.
I say, “You know what? My eyes are nothing compared to the pain of raising money in this market.”
6. You have to fake that you are in control. But sometimes you can’t.
So once we figure out that I’m not actually blind, I’m just so sensitive to light that I feel blind, I can focus on funding. The house manager drives me home and my new board member calls. I tried to get out of talking with him by telling him I had eye trouble, and while I didn’t lie and say I was dripping green puss, I tried to imply that it would be dangerous to meet with me. So I got a phone meeting, and at least I did not need to put on clean clothes. Which has been a problem lately.
It’s only the second time I’ve met this board member, and since he has not appeared on the blog before, and really, how can you blame anyone for not wanting to appear on this blog, let me just say that he’s a really nice, smart guy, and I’m happy to have him on the board.
Okay. So with that out of the way, let me also say that I really did not want to talk with him that day. Because your board is supposed to help you run the company but how can you think about running a company when your company is out of money?
I pretend, of course. And this is why he’s a good board member. Because I tell him I’m great under pressure, and I show him plans for spring. And he tells me he thinks it’s ridiculous to think about long-term stuff when I cannot even get tomorrow’s financing done. I am unrelenting in my tough-girl routine, and I tell him that there is nothing I can do about the financing. I just take the terms people offer and hope they close the deal before everyone disappears for the rest of the December.
The board member says he’ll write a check to bridge me to the bridge. Maybe this is a sign of how bad the financing world is right now. I do not think this is typical, but I think this is a good reason to have rich board members. Finally, here is a bit of career advice in this post: Get rich board members.
So he says he’ll write the company a check to get us through the payroll we missed.
And I start crying.
Not like, little, eye-doctor tears, but blubbering tears. Tears so much that I whisper to the board guy, “Hold on. I can’t let my kids see me this upset about money. Let me get out of the car.”
So the house manager pulls over and I get out and I cry to the investor from inside the lobby of Chase bank.
7. It doesn’t end.
That’s the end. I want to tell you there’s a nice, neat end here. But there’s not.
There are about 400 posts about how to be a CEO of a startup during a bad economy. Here’s a good one from Tech Crunch. They are all a little annoying because the authors tell you, in hind sight, how great a job they did at getting through the last downturn. I could write that post, except that it would have to include that the last time I was running a startup when the market crashed was in 1999, and my hair started falling out.
So just forget all that sunny stuff about how to run a startup during a financial crisis. Here’s what venture capitalists are telling me when no one else is listening: Try really hard to sell if you can, because getting through the next year in a bad cash position is gonna suck.