On Startup Execution & Adversity

candle
I feel the need to let loose the topic that has been on my mind this month. Warning: it has nothing to do with cloud computing or the Boston technology scene.

In November 2012, I was just starting to hit my stride with a new startup idea. I’d been running a Lean process, investigating the disruption in ITSM caused by cloud computing, and had hit on an idea that was resonating in experiments. I had closed my first customer, was on the way to closing my second, and was debating the merits of continuing to bootstrap or raising a round of capital. I’d even started the early process of hiring a CEO.

During this time I had been feeling an acute sense of urgency. I left my job as VP of engineering at the cloud archiving startup Sonian the previous summer, and had been betting that if I bootstrapped my Lean research long enough, I’d find a way to launch a new Boston company that combined my two professional passions: cloud computing and ITSM. Every hour I wasn’t working on my business, I felt was putting both myself and the business opportunity at risk.

And then I received the news my mother back in Upstate New York had gone into the hospital for emergency surgery, where she would stay in intensive care for the next several weeks. Over those weeks, I spent more time in New York than I did in Boston. I grew up in a tight knit Irish Catholic family with six kids, and we all felt the need to be there for our parents. And so instead of working on my business 80+ hours per week, I was stitching together snippets of time while shuttling back and forth to the hospital, knowing the entire time that I was putting my startup at risk. But I kept reminding myself that what else could I do: it was my mother?

My first venture capital meetings were scheduled January 7th 2013. I know this because my mother passed away January 4th, and I had to move the meetings to attend her funeral. The partners at the two firms were both very understanding, and my new CEO did everything right to give me the time I needed.

As startup professionals and entrepreneurs, we often pride ourselves on execution. I like to say that you can throw me in the most adverse professional environment on earth, and like the Eveready Bunny, I will start to execute. It is in our DNA. It is who we are. But there are events that occur in your life that can challenge the very fabric of your startup DNA. For me, this was one.

When I started writing this post, I thought it would be great to give some advice on how to get back to executing after a loss in the family. Unfortunately, I don’t have any steps for you, and am still learning how to do it a year later. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, I can only offer a sympathetic ear.

In the mean time, I need to get back to executing. After all, I have a startup to build.