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8 CEOs on how to stay positive in the midst of a company crisis

Startup life is stressful, so we asked these leaders how they stay calm.

8 CEOs on how to stay positive in the midst of a company crisis
[Photo: <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/G1iYCeCW2EI".Harry Quan/Unsplash]

More than two-thirds of startups end up dead or stalled. Even the companies that ultimately flourish face a slew of challenges along the way. With this in mind, we asked eight startup leaders to share their best tactics for remaining calm and grounded in the midst of a crisis: 

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Remove emotion from the equation

Karson Humiston, CEO of Vangst, a recruiting platform for the cannabis industry, takes a moment to recognize what the current stakes actually are. “Over the past three years, I have realized that most of the time, nothing business-related is ever actually as big of a crisis as it seems. It is so easy to feel like the world is ending, but when you actually take a step back and take the emotion out of the situation—which is hard for any founder to do—it’s usually not as bad as it seems.” 

Channel Matt Damon 

“Staying solution-oriented is important,” says John Hall, cofounder of Calendar, a scheduling a time management app. “I tend to have a Martian approach like Matt Damon’s character [who says] ‘At some point, everything’s gonna go South on you . . .  and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work.’ Having that mentality has got me through a lot of crises to see light on the other side.” 

Keep some perspective

 “A year ago, we were a team of four people,” says Sunny Jain of Sun Genomics, a custom probiotic company. “Now we have a team of more than 15. In a startup, a team must move fast, and a month can feel like a year in the corporate world. . . . Any company has good days and bad days, but tomorrow is a new day.” 

Elizabeth Giannuzzi, CEO of Siren Snacks, a plant-based protein snack startup, asks herself mid-crisis whether something will matter five years from now. “Most of the time, the answer is no,” she says. “Startup life has so many highs and lows, so when something goes wrong, I try to remind myself that we’ve gone through and survived similar challenges in the past.” 

Rob Petrozzo, cofounder of Rally Rd, a collectors car platform, seeks comfort in reminding himself why he created his company to begin with. “I find that telling the story behind why we started our company and our vision for the future is the best way to stay energized and positive.”

Identify what you can control

Cedric Kovacs-Johnson, CEO and founder of Flume Health, a healthtech company focused on affordable health plans, says that founders feel pressure to be productive and in control all the time. “I’ve found that the anxiety in ‘crisis-type’ scenarios stem from the moments when we’re not in control—waiting on a potential hire to get back to you, a funding decision, an external market shift,” he says. “I try to recognize what I can and must do, versus what’s out of my control. In those in-between moments, I’ve learned to strategically distract myself with fun, intricate side projects or hobbies.” 

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Double down on optimism 

People with high optimism generally have better overall health, and people with an aptitude for emotional resilience are better protected from overwhelm and suffering,” says Devon Brooks, CEO and founder of Sphere, a coaching platform. “Strengthening both of these traits will help you stay out of your amygdala, which is the brain’s center for fight or flight.”

Trust your team

Bobby Figueroa, CEO and founder of Gradient, a platform to manage the “digital shelf” of Amazon, says the diversity of his team has helped him feel confident. “Our first seven hires were all from different backgrounds, spoke multiple languages, grew up in different countries, and have different degrees. That diversity gives us great ideas and allows us to confidently know we can take on any crisis.”

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About the author

Beck Bamberger founded BAM Communications in 2008 and writes regularly for Forbes, Inc., and HuffPost about entrepreneurship, public relations, and culture.

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