Tips for coping when your startup is out of cash

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My company is running out of money again. Well, really, it already happened. But it's happened so many times that I am sort of used to it. It’s a routine. You may recall that part of the routine is not paying my electric bill. But there is more.

1. Focus on something you can control.
You might have noticed that my blog posts are very frequent right now. It's a way to cope with the funding drama. I have so much control over my blog. And if I obsess over the traffic statistics then I have that crack-head feeling of immediate feedback, and it feels good, and even if half the people are telling me how much they hate me: Traffic is traffic.

Another part of the out-of-funding routine is fighting with Ryan. When I am totally focused on running the company, and I'm not worried about payroll, then things go smoothly and Ryan and I have great conversations about the future of social media and the future of resumes and where we fit.

When we run out of money, Ryan and I focus on our cycle of miscommunication: I say something rude that I don't know is rude. Ryan gets defensive because he isn't able to say, “That's rude. Please don't talk like that.” I have no idea why he is defensive, he just sounds like he's up in arms about nothing to me, because if I knew I had been rude in the first place, I would not have been, so of course I don't know. And when he is up in arms, I yell back. And then he says that I am impossible to deal with because I'm rude and I yell.

So we did that fight routine last week at least twice. I lost count. But I know that the first time, Ryan said, “You know what? Sometimes I hate you so much I have to restrain myself from punching you.”

My jaw dropped. I did not expect him to say that. And then I said, “I feel the same way about you.”

The second time, Ryan Paugh yelled out from his office, “Shut up! Both of you shut up!” And we did. (Though I think Ryan Paugh felt like it was hopeless that we might actually stop, so he took a walk to the coffee shop.)

2. Take time to talk about what’s still going well.
So today I sort of kept to myself except that I had to go meet a board member to talk about the funding. The board member, Erik, is so fun to visit because he has this huge, stable company, and this gorgeous lair where he has an office and a secretary and a shiny deep-brown meeting table that my papers slide across while we figure out how to keep my company running. Erik is a great board member for a lot of reasons, but maybe the most important is that he's so stable. Brazen Careerist needs a lot of things, but really, it needs stability.

But before I go into the board meeting, I remember that I have been named one of the top 30 women running Internet companies.

I call Ryan Healy. He says, “What is that site? I've never heard of them.”

I have not heard of them either. But the women on the list are amazing. Arianna Huffington, Caterina Fake, Michelle Malkin. I am happy to be there.

There is one more good thing about today. Flowers. Another bouquet. From a blog reader. I think he might be in love with me. But whatever. He leaves great comments, and now he sent flowers, and the flowers make me happy. They make me want to sit at my desk and write one more blog post.

3. Accept help, but continue to exhibit your strengths.
After my meeting, it's 2:30 p.m. — Violin time. I leave to do school pickup, and Business Week calls. It's a conundrum. Should I talk to Business Week and be late? Or should I risk that Business Week uses a different source because I was unavailable?

I take the call. I try to summarize all my ideas about intergenerational offices in five minutes, and I try to hide sort of out of the way of my son's view, but he sees me. The rest of the call is about me getting off the call.

I buy my son his favorite after-school snack: Gatorade and KitKats. I tell myself it's an example of optimistic spending that only a top-30 entrepreneur would do.

We go to the violin lesson and I want to tell you I love violin, but I don't. I love the idea of the Suzuki program for violin. It teaches self-discipline, and perseverance, and working well in a group. I love that my son is getting all this, and he's so proud and works so hard, and I love the teacher.

But look. I'm out of money in my company and that's really all I have to think about for the half-hour they practice for his group recital. I am getting anxious about maybe not getting funding and I'm biting my nails.

Not biting sort-of-casually biting. But biting like I would imagine a serial killer does when he is trying to distract himself from thinking about the badness. Like, biting with way too much enthusiasm. And on top of this, I really really like my son's violin teacher and I worry that she is going to see me biting like a crazy person and not want to be my son's teacher.

And then I don't have to worry about the biting anymore, because he is unfocused and too squirmy, so I scream at him: “Put the violin under your arm and take a bow!”

Has that ever been yelled at a child? It's not normal. I know. And I know he is just anxious for his recital. The violin teacher gets very nice after that. To compensate for me being a psycho: This is how we are a team.

There is an hour break before the dress rehearsal. We go to the bagel shop for a snack. I have already prepared myself mentally for this snack. Normally, if I am having a bad day, I will have four bagels. But then I would be fat. Really. Four bagels can do that to you. They are like sponges in your stomach. So I told myself no bagels. Not even one, which would be okay, if I could actually eat only one.

To cope, I check my email. There is a note about me talking to CBS. I call them while my son is in the bathroom. They want to do a story about how Gen Y and Gen X don't get along.

I tell the guy from CBS that I manage five people in their 20s and they would all be happy to talk about why I'm annoying. The CBS guy is shocked. I give him Ryan Healy's phone number. Things go very well, of course. I know what I can count on Ryan for.

4. Hold things together, of course. But be okay if you can’t.
After my son has eaten two bagels, he is not chatty. So I look through my purse for something to do. I find the form for signing him up for classes to help him stay organized. By the time I am done filling it out we are late for the rehearsal and he tells me that I am unorganized.

I help him get his recital clothes on in the bagel bathroom, and we are not the last people to arrive. We wait. I take my son to get his violin tuned and his teacher says, “Black bottom.”

I say, “Huh?” Then I say, “Oh. Shit. I can't believe it.”

There are 100 kids ready to play their violins and only one of those kids is wearing khaki bottoms: My son.

Luckily, the violin teacher reads my blog, so this is not a huge surprise to her. And we acknowledge that I do have a second chance to get it right since this is only the dress rehearsal.

I almost cry. But I tell myself that if I'm not going to cry about running out of money in two days, then I’m not going to cry about khaki pants. I tell myself to focus on being a top-30 entrepreneur: Success does not come in a linear fashion.

My son and I wait for the teacher to call his group. And I am trying hard to not get blood on his shirt. Because his shirt is actually the proper shirt to be wearing, and my fingers are actually bleeding from aggressive bites.

So I am really overwhelmed now, between the violins and the fashion faux-pas and the blood, and then an investor calls. Yes. In the middle of violin even though I am certain that every investor I talk to knows that I am with the kids in the afternoon because they all bitch about it in a subtle way like, “Oh, that's great,” with body language like, “She is fucked.”

So I ignore the investor’s call because on my death bed I don't want to remember the day I took a call during my kid's dress rehearsal.

The teacher calls groups to the stage by the piece of music they are playing: “Allegro! Gavotte! Song of the Wind!” It looks like The Price is Right for the cultural elite, and the kids are walking up, nodding to their teacher as they go.

Each kid has a teacher there, except for my son, who has two. Because this program is really about the parent teaching the child and the teacher teaching the parent and the child and parent bonding through music. And that ended for us the time I got so frustrated that I broke my son's bow. Well, actually, the fourth time. So now we have two teachers. And when investors want to know why my salary is not the same as all those god-forsaken 22-year-old guys that Y Combinator funds, I want to say, “You try running a startup and teaching your kid violin. Violin lessons cost way more when you are running a startup.”

Okay. So there are 100 kids together on the stage playing. And it's stunning to see.

For a minute I forget that I am running a company that is running out of money.

All the parents in the audience are motionless; those tiny violins all together sound like a chorus of angels.

My son comes back to me in the audience when he's done. I say, “I'm so proud of you for working so hard.”

He says, “Are you proud of me for playing perfect notes?”

I say, “No. You don't need to be perfect. You need to just keep trying every day to be your best. And you are doing that. You should be happy for yourself.”

And he says, “You are trying to be your best every day, too, Mommy. You don't need to have everything be right. You should be happy for yourself.”

I cry.

140 replies
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  1. p.a.
    p.a. says:

    @ka: “I’am more worried that will be my daughter than I am about next Tuesday’s presentation with the VP of my company and 100 of our best customers that I’ve been prepping for all week instead of making my daughter practice.”

    I don’t have kids, but studied piano when I was one and your comment struck me as odd. Do you think it is your responsibility to “make” your daughter practice? My parents sat down with me to explain that they were making a big investment in the instrument and classes, and expected in return that I did my part, practicing and being punctual to my classes. I knew what my responsibility was, and learned from the consequences when I failed to practice. It would never enter their minds (nor mine) that they should feel guilty when I didn’t put forward my best effort.

  2. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    The reason why it’ll all work out is because who you are about it all is “This shall be”. That’s enough. As anyone who lives in a world called “Your word creates your world.” It’s just so great that you share your humanity with us, it’s what has us love you more each time we get a post from Penelope Trunk (yaay :)

    I love your blog, love your authenticity, wish I could do it just like you!

    You blog inspires me to write better posts on my blog.


  3. Gerrianne
    Gerrianne says:

    Wow, I get it. I have been there many times in my life. I had to close a business, lost alot of money and felt like a real failure. At the same time, my two kids were in Suzuki for Piano – I thought I was going to go crazy listening to those tapes over and over to help them learn the songs. Then the songs almost became a mantra for me as they played through my head over and over again.

    As I read your blog I wanted to help. One of the big things I tell my clients to do is Breathe. Breathe intentionally and deeply as many times a day as you remember to do it. I tell clients to put a B on their computer, a B on their mirror, B on their hand so that we can do this frequently throughout our day.

    Imagine your breath going into your solar plexus, half way between the belly button and rib cage. Breathe into that area for the count of 5, pause and then out for the count of 5. Do this 2-3 times. By focusing your attention into your body, you start to decrease the mind chatter that works so much against you. Our mind chatter is often very self abusive and self defeating. When we learn how to quiet it down, we find answers for us that come from our inner wisdom of which we have lots. I have more “in the moment” tools on my blog and website.

    Way to go for being real and speaking with such an authentic voice. As you make your way through these challenges, know that you have a lot of inner wisdom that wants to help you through this. The key is quieting down your mind long enough so that the inner voice has a chance to be heard. Take care and keep writing. It is delightful. Thanks for sharing. Gerrianne

  4. Jenn R
    Jenn R says:

    Wow. I have been there so many times. I loved this post – thank you very much for being yourself and letting me know that I’m not the only mom in the world who has days where I can’t stay on top of it all!

  5. annick
    annick says:

    Sorry, but I don’t get why you’re still against advertising on your blog. You need money, don’t you?

  6. Bart
    Bart says:

    Top 30 in a list compiled by some guy with a keyboard. Tell me you don’t take this stuff seriously.

    And while I like PT’s writing, I think her business sense isn’t all that hot. Her self-promotion sense is great.

  7. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    Penelope Trunk – the mommy blogger for working moms; phooey on the top 30. Next year – Time Magazine’s Top 25 Blogs. Investors eat your heart out.

    Have you seen all the Gen X headlines lately – Time Magazine – When Gen X Runs the Show and a guest column in the Boston Globe and the Indiana Governor addressing Gen Y and putting a smackdown on his Baby Boomer Generation.

  8. NYC Memories
    NYC Memories says:

    I want to say 2 things.

    1. You insulted any awards for women only as sexist or stupid or something like that before, because you think women should not be judged differently or grouped together. You were so wrong, but then how come this new top 30 female internet thing didn’t piss you off? And your picture next to your ranking looks very different.

    2. I have played the violin for over 10 years, though not using the suzuki method. I have to say the reason why I absolutely excelled at the beginning is because my mom was with me every step of the way, so keep up with that. Then my mother went away (grad school) for a year and my violin lessons totally dropped and I was never the same again. So don’t think at some point your kid will be okay without you after he has reached certain skill level.

  9. Priyanka
    Priyanka says:

    I studied Suzuki for years and my mom definitely yelled at me about how i took a bow and what my posture was like. I vividly remember violin practices where my mom probably shifted some of her anger about other things onto my posture and intonation…so no worries Penelope, you are not alone on that…

  10. Huck Finn
    Huck Finn says:

    I LOL’d* at the list of thirty. It wasn’t so much the list itself, but rather the summary/bios.

    Hoping the formatting holds, here are are handful of comments that made me chuckle:

    “Although she hasn't got a pet herself, attracts 100,000s of visitors daily to her cute animal blog.”

    “Marcotte shot to fame when John Edwards asked her to run the presedential blog.”

    “Founder of an Award-Winning Web Site since 1994, Erin is a Internet entrepreneur veteran.”

    “Elaine co-founded Meebo, a instant messaging service you use in your browser.”

    * Should it be L’dOL, since what I “laughed out loud”, not “laugh out louded”?

  11. Huck Finn
    Huck Finn says:

    The irony is not lost on me – I had typos, too. The difference is I’m just offering random comments, not assembling lists of Internet entrepreneurs.

    Hoping the formatting holds, here are are handful of comments that made me chuckle:

    Are-dee are are!!

    * Should it be L’dOL, since what I “laughed out loud”, not “laugh out louded”?

    Since what? What since, clearly!

  12. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Great post – I’d laugh a lot more often if I didn’t feel that your out-of-control funny moments were actually accurate representations of how out of control you are.

    Hang in there.

  13. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    I know it’s not really possible but you have this uncanny ability to post perfect, on point posts just when I need to read them. “There are no right answers. Only honest discussions.” That is so true. I will always remember that. I got through this weekend because of that sentiment and then I get to read you say the same exact thing on Monday.

    I’m happy to hear the blog helps you and that your job gives you the life you want, even if it isn’t always seamless and easy. Your blog helps me.

    You’re a good mom. What you said to your son about not needing to be perfect was, well, perfect.

  14. Kara Martens
    Kara Martens says:

    Excellent post. I laughed because you reminded me of my own Suzuki days, when during many a concert I had straight pins holding up a concert gown hem because my mom was a bit disorganized – in a good way. (She also would staple my Girl Scout badges to my sash 5 minutes before a ceremony, but that’s another story.) I remember that stuff, yes, but only really care that she was always there – disorganization and all. :)

  15. Grace
    Grace says:

    “Put the violin under your arm and take a bow.”
    Who yells that? I was a Suzuki kid – trust me, lots of people do. Suzuki parents can be great but they can also be like hockey moms. It’s OK.

    Penelope, have you read Shinichi Suzuki’s short book “Nurtured by Love”? I found it in a second hand book store last year and it totally surprised me; it is absolutely delightful and spilling over with life-inspiring gems. Like how he was friends with Albert Einstein among other things. I think I would have been a better Suzuki player if I had read this book as a young girl.

    Also, you should listen to the Gorillaz’ song “Left Hand Suzuki Method” for a great version of “Long Long Ago”.

    Lovely post.

  16. Grace
    Grace says:

    The first spanking I remember whas when I ran away from a recital for Shinichi Suzuki himself. I also have fond memories of my father making me practice with the Suzuki LP’s (back in the day) over and over again until I cried. I love my parents, but was this Suzukabuse?

  17. Grace
    Grace says:

    Ok, last Suzuki thing…in his book, he says something simple but great like, “Do not rush and do not stop”. And he’s not just talking about music.

    JMBEAUFORD says:

    When do you stop to enjoy the life you have? Every moment of your life is fleeting. You must make the most of it.

    The average human heart beats about 4630 time per hour. Don’t waste a beat on worry or fear. Use them to create a bold and happy life! Enjoy what you have and exercise gratitude…Daily!

    It might be beneficial and think about your life your definition of success. Sit down one day and define it. What does it mean to be successful? And what are you willing to give up to get it? What are you NOT willing to give up. What have you sacrificed thus far and who has suffered for it?

    Food for thought. It will come.



  19. matt
    matt says:

    it’s a like reading a train wreck. it’s got to be stressful. i watch lacrosse practice while on two cell phones and wave the phone in the air when my 8 year old scores. to pretend i’m paying attention.

    but it’s mandate tonight. so i’m taking him to the new leggo store. and shutting off two cell phones. even though i know i am to get a call from two of our major pharmacies.

    it’s not easy being a single parent. much less an employee, much less easy to be the founder of a struggling job board.

    i’m curious. are postings your only source of income on the site? how are you monetizing (i just like using that word) the “intersection” between work and life?


  20. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    I second the motion that you need to write a book, at some point. Usually, I can’t make it through a blog post more than a few paragraphs, reading this type of post is as easy as breathing. You are a fantastic story teller, incredible even. I particularly enjoy when you write using dialogue. Maybe you could try penning a fiction book based loosely on your life. If necessary, self-publish and promote on this blog.

  21. Diana
    Diana says:

    I saw you in Psychology Today (June 2009, pg 70) yesterday and then this post comes and I think, “There’s that fabulously successful blogger that I envy for her having blown the top off what it means to be acceptable and still make lots of money!” In the meantime, we are running out of money, like, this week running out of money. The reasons aren’t important but it’s been a slippage thing, fewer work hours, increased cost of living, etc.

    Imagine my surprise to hear you say you are running out of money. And I wonder what it means for you to be running out of money the way truly poor people would wonder about me (since I am not living in a tent city).

    Anyway, to the point, this is the best post of yours I have read yet. Thanks for letting me see this maternal side of you – yes, the ambivalent but mother tiger side that is still growing up herself no matter what her age.

  22. RB
    RB says:

    Thanks again for writing so clearly about the terrors and joys all of us business owners live with every day, but just can’t put into words.

  23. Jobs in Ireland
    Jobs in Ireland says:

    Hi, interesting thoughts here. My business is a start-up I guess and I’m out of money, well was. I decided to focus only on revenue generating activities, I asked myself to focus on finding some sort of service or product which can deliver more value. So anyway, after a week I released a new promotion offering clients a new service. At the end of the week I got the first sales. I didn’t think about anything else for that week and my brain fixed the rest.

  24. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    This blog rocked. Dammit, I am right there with you girl – from the bagels to not being able to get my shit together when it comes to my kids…this post really touched me.

    (And WTF is it about important calls always coming at the wrong time? The last time I took my daughter out for ice cream I spent the whole time on the phone. She finished just as I hung up and I wished I could take it all back – I wished I’d never answered the phone.)

    Thanks for a great post!

  25. shaw
    shaw says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I like you blog, I have my own franchise business. And I currently have the same problem, it’s running out of money. The business isn’t earning. The daily sales isn’t enough to pay for the rent, payroll, etc. And it’s a real pain in the wallet. We’re just waiting for the rent contract to expire and give it up. Now my husband and I have to do extra work just to pay for the bills. The sad thing is it’s still not enough. We don’t even have enough time left for our daughter. Good thing about our children sometimes they seem to understand the current situation even though you’re not telling them. Just to hear them saying simple words like “I love you mommy” is enough to keep fighting the battle. Many thanks to you for making this post


  26. Jack
    Jack says:

    Would love to send you flower to cheer you up..
    I know exactly what you’re going through.
    Living the dream is hard but really worth fighting for.
    Thank you kindly for keep blogging and sharing a fun yet insightful thought.

  27. Leanne
    Leanne says:

    when work is slow for me (i’ve been running a small consulting business for 12 years and it has it’s busy/slow times) and i feel like i’m not bringing in any income because the money coming in is just paying the bills, then i sell small stuff on ebay and and, voila, miniature income! makes me feel better. fwiw.

  28. Debs
    Debs says:

    Dear Penelope,
    I have just stumbled onto your blog and how refreshing it is to read. I started my startup 3 months ago, in the middle of a recession, with 2 kids in private school and a useless ex-husband. You have inspired me to pull myself back up and give my focus on the school concert instead of having one eye on the blackberry for the little flashing light!

  29. imjustagoyle
    imjustagoyle says:

    And now I’m going to cry.

    I could have written this post. Well, except for the violin recital. Just substitute something equally as important in that spot and that is my life.

    There’s this perception that because your startup is gaining a lot of attention and press that you’re a jet setter with plenty of money.

    I’m not.

    Truth is, right now I’m trying to decide if I pay the house payment or the car payment because I definitely can’t pay both. Yet just last week we were featured on our local FOX news channel in a nearly 3 minute long feature. I’m getting recognized in public but I can’t pay my bills.

    We don’t have any funding yet but we have a strong foundation and I know that we will be profitable soon. Until then I practice a lot of what you say – I focus on good things, give myself pep talks, dream about how wonderful my future will be, et al.

    This is my first visit to your blog but it won’t be my last. Thanks for making me feel better today just by talking about real life and how unglamorous it can sometimes be.

  30. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I came across a great quote recently over at another blog. Katharine Hepburn has got it right –

    Few people
    what they mean
    they say,
    "I love you."
    What does
    the word
    It means
    total interest.

    Your writing is thought-provoking (and more), you are resilient and your son is right – you should be happy for yourself. Always.

  31. Natalie Sisson
    Natalie Sisson says:

    So glad I found your blog and read this post. Going through something incredibly similar right now and just wrote about funding for your start up last night.

    When in doubt surround yourself with other entrepreneurs who will pull you back up and remind you of all the great work you’re already doing and why you rock.

    Either that or go and take a yoga class, does wonders.

    Thanks for sharing.

  32. Boat Props
    Boat Props says:

    I am amazed at how candid you are. I don’t think I would of been so truthful about my relationships. What a great read though, you really put a lot of effort and thought into your blogging.

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