How Entrepreneurs Can Defeat The Dreaded Trough Of Sorrow

Phillip Stinis CSUF Startup Incubator Talk

Phillip Stinis, manager of the CSUF Startup Incubator, hosted a seminar last night with a couple of dozen attendees eager to learn how to go from concept to launch and how to beat that trough of sorrow.

What is the “Trough of Sorrow”?

Credit: Phil Graham and Andrew Chen (link)

The Trough of Sorrow is a concept that comes from Y Combinator founder Phil Graham (here’s a great article talking about it by Andrew Chen). A basic oversimplification of this concept is that after meeting with some success early on in a startup’s life there is a precipitous drop that leads to a “Trough of Sorrow” that startups have to be persistent to beat. Or, as is more likely the case, can’t overcome. (Starting a business is tough and making it into a successful business is one of the toughest things a person can do professionally; most people who try end up failing within a couple of years and quite a few of even fail to launch.)

Andrew Chen is an enterpereneur and investor who wrote the article linked to above that discusses his opinions and experiences dealing with the trough of sorrow, here’s what he has to say:

A lot of entrepreneurs quit when they hit the Trough of Sorrow, struggle for 12-24 months, and face up to the reality that they’ll have to raise another dilutive round. Is this a good time to quit? Maybe. But given that the majority of startups go through this kind of stage, I ’d actually argue that it’s just part of a struggle to being successful. Sometimes it just takes 3 years to get through the Trough of Sorrow, but on the other side is something that might really be worth the pain. Maybe 🙂

I find that when I spend time with startups as an investor/advisor, a lot of my time ends up being about the above issues. Probably 80%, actually. If you can minimize the emotionality of feeling like you’re failing, you can try to keep the team together and get to the problem solving part.

Andrew Chen – https://andrewchen.co/after-the-techcrunch-bump-life-in-the-trough-of-sorrow/

Many of the dozens of entrepreneurs that we have worked with at the CSUF Startup Incubator came to us after they had been mired in the Trough of Sorrow for months if not years. It’s a tough situation, that’s for sure, but what the CSUF Startup Incubator did with each of these entrepreneurs is that we sat down with them at the very beginning of our engagement with them and broke things down to their basics. More often than not, the simple act of simplifying the startup process made a difference and started things moving again.

One example of this in action can be found in CSUF Startup Incubator resident John Barton’s Point ‘N Save. The whole story can be found here but the tl;dr version is that CSUF Startup Incubator staff and mentors worked with John to identify the reasons why he was no longer making any progress and helped him develop a pivot. This pivot, which in our startup parlance is akin to a change of strategy and/or tactics, was away from a wholesome community app to a white label app that would be licensed out to businesses so that they can have better interactions with their customers. It’s still early days after this pivot but John is making progress and is slowly extricating himself from the Trough of Sorrow.

There’s more to the Trough than this, as Andrew goes into great detail on in his article illustrates that the trough is tough on an entrepreneur’s mental health, and if you are interested in learning how to get through this tough bit in your startup I strongly suggest setting up a meeting with CSUF Startup Incubator manager Phillip Stinis (phstinis@fullerton.edu).

CSUF Startup: From Concept to Launch

Crowd at the Phillip Stinis CSUF Startup Incubator Talk
Crowd at the Phillip Stinis CSUF Startup Incubator Talk

While the Trough of Sorrow is where far too many startups die it doesn’t have to be that way.

When entrepreneurs come to the CSUF Startup Incubator they first have to go through an application and interview process that involves most, if not all, of the CSUF Startup Incubator staff. The purpose of this process is to find those startups that are (first and foremost) coachable, their idea passes the moral test (no drug dealers, gun runners, or time criminals allowed), and their idea makes sense. This is also the time for the prospective entrepreneur to find out for themselves if the CSUF Startup Incubator is a fit for them as well.

Once that process has been completed and there is a mutual decision to move forward that is when the work begins. The first order of business is to have a kickoff meeting with the principals. The entrepreneur, his team, CSUF Startup Incubator staff, and coaches, attend this meeting so that everyone can get on the same page and develop a scope of work for the next six months (we find that six months is enough time to get things done but not so long that it invites loafing).

All of this setup and planning won’t negate the Trough of Sorrow but it certainly helps entrepreneurs to, if not minimize it, then understand that it is a normal phase of a startup’s life and deal with it in a reasoned way. Planning is not something that many entrepreneurs are great at and that tends to exacerbate the Trough of Sorrow. Working with the CSUF Startup Incubator helps to right this wrong.

Overall, Phillip gave a great talk. There was a lot of good and actionable information discussed and we look forward to continuing to share this knowledge with the CSUF Entrepreneurship community and our residents at the CSUF Startup Incubator.

CSUF Startup Incubator

Entrepreneurs who are accepted into the CSUF Startup Incubator work with our entrepreneurial experts over a six month intensive launch period that includes: access to office space, quarterly investor pitches our entrepreneurs can participate in, free events, a dedicated one-on-one coaching relationship with one of our more than 700 startup experts, and so much more! If you are ready to learn the right way to go from concept to launch, please go to this page or contact a CSUF Startup Incubator representative at csufentrepreneurship@fullerton.edu.

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