Mr. or Ms. Entrepreneur, if you have run out of options and it is time to plan your endgame, now is the time to be calm.
If, to be calm, you must break down and emote, start now. Be mad, be glad, be sad, say everything that is socially unacceptable to say (privately), blame everyone and everything within and outside of your control (privately), pitch a fit, and be done with it. Get it out of your system. Then calm down.
Got your breath? Good.
Get some help
Now, get some help. Really — the first thing is to get some help – some business and emotional support both. Planning and executing the end game is tricky — do not try this at home alone.
First, you need a voice of calm reason and common sense, preferably with some business savvy and experience. You need emotional support as well – informally or professionally. And, you need some external validation. What does this mean? Validation that you still have all the qualities that you had at the start of the company: intelligence, talents, focus, courage, vision. You know, the real stuff. That didn’t disappear just because the market or the economy or your company tanked.
Your consultant, if you have had one, should provide the business and emotional support, along with the validation. No money to pay? A good consultant you have paid consistently should stick by you through the endgame. I always do. Address directly that you cannot pay any longer and ask for continued support. Perhaps offer to pay later with some bonus for the deferment, or set a deferred fixed fee. I bet you will get it. After all, at some time in the future you will not be in the situation you are in now.
One client, facing the end of her company through divorce from her partner, continued on with my support, a spiritual counselor and a psychologist. She held the company together for two more years to a successful exit, bringing her $25M.
Now begin to plan.
Confront your situation squarely – no dodging. What is the current status? Assess what you have and its value, now and in the future. Consider what can be saved for later, when the market may turn up, or the business model might be found, or the right partner might be negotiated.
Place no blame. It doesn’t matter now what you did or didn’t know, what mistakes were made, who did what, how the market behaved, and so on. You can reflect on all that later, or in your old age. It is of no use now.
If you can, protect your intellectual property, in case it is of value at a later time, either for sale or for the re-launching of your technology in a new iteration at another time. If you have planned your exit in the beginning, as I insist my clients do, you may have protected the IP from the company’s demise as well.
Determine if you will maintain the company in a dormant but legal form and wait for next opportunity, or if there is no gain in holding on to anything.
Implement with as little drama as possible
Get help to protect yourself and the company while you execute the endgame. Enlist attorneys (or friends who are attorneys) to delay lawsuits. Level with your creditors and make arrangements for payment plans. Make deals for deferred payment to keep the help you need, and so on.
If there is any hope for a last-minute turnaround, hold your breath. If one deal is pending, that could save the ship, then protect the company, search for the next bridge loan, and keep moving forward, holding your breath that all will not collapse before the deal comes in. Be as rational as possible, and lean on the support system you have established.
If your company can be saved by finding a new partner, search for that. One of my clients made a deal with a company that wanted her talents in IP sales. Her new employer took over the debt of her company in exchange for her working for his company for a fixed term. Part of her compensation paid down that debt over a long term, while she let go of the burden of the company in exchange for a much less strenuous job with good pay, and the relief of her debt load.
If there is no hope, let go. Plan a simple closing of the company and move on to your next work. Simple closing? Yes, make as simple a closing as possible. Tell the truth, make deals to settle debt, avoid all drama, and get it done. Next work? Yes, look again at your talents and values (get some of that external validation and common sense support now) and make your next move. A job in your former industry? A return to consulting?
Get back out there
It is best to keep active. Do not go home to “rest” or wallow. Be out there in your industry. Watch the market. Keep your contacts alive. The continuous interaction with others in a professional role will move you away from your loss and bring you renewed validation and opportunity.