Jump off the Roller coaster after the Fall
Tick, sale tick, pill tick; the roller coaster car for the new entrepreneur or franchiser clicks on the way up the huge hill of the start-up. You get to the top of the arch and looking down you can see nothing, buy but disaster, dropping powerlessly into the vacuum of failure, bankruptcy, pain, shame and embarrassment of having fallen screaming to the ground with your idea. You crest the pinnacle and begin the rapid decent as the money flies past you, people around you scream and your stomach is knotted in a perpetual state. Almost to the bottom, you are too blinded by fear to enjoy the ride or to think of anything but the drop. Then suddenly, the fall stops and the car is righted and moving along the tracks. Sure you can see that there are twists and turns ahead, but the worst is behind you…and that’s when people jump off the roller coaster.
It’s a weird deal for sure, but I’ve talked to so many entrepreneurs and franchisers whose franchisees, customers and employees did just this. They road through the common peril together, only to bail as soon as they came out of it.
Any business must face the challenge of the first years, when money is tight, mistakes mount and tension is high. Not just some times, but almost all the time, the difficulties seem insurmountable. Even the most confident entrepreneur will have their core shaken during these times. A team of winners, though short of peace, will work through the fall and stay on track no matter how scared they are.
Some folks will jump out during the fall, but they are generally weak people who are not worth having anyway. They don’t deserve the eventual success and it’s good they won’t be there. The franchisee that bails after not making immediate money, the employee who botches their job and doesn’t have the fortitude to stick it out and correct their failings, the customer who buys the beta version and bitches about the bugs, these are pitiable creatures who are better suited to 9-5 jobs that pay them for their mediocrity. Being in a start-up requires people who will ride all the way through the fall with no promise that the tracks will rise up to meet them; it’s pure guts.
Now here is the odd thing that my friends in business and franchising have seen time and again. These stalwarts stick with you through the entire fall. They take the beatings and stay squarely in the ring by your side. They work through the bugs, watch the changes go in place, step up to the lean times and are there with you when you start to come out of it. The company stabilizes, the software works consistently, the numbers start to improve…and then they bail. When they had a common threat, they were wedded to you, but now that they stuck through it, they bail. Hmmm?
A friend of mine went through the entirety of West Point hell summer, then dropped out right after. It is extremely common for people who were not up to the challenge to drop out during the summer of abuse and trail, but no one goes through the whole thing and then drops out. When I asked him what his reasoning was, he said, “When the bullets, fists and abuse were flying I didn’t have time to think about anything other than fighting and not quitting. When it all stopped, I realized that I didn’t want to be there any way. I just didn’t want to quit.” I think this is part of the challenge, that people of substance just don’t quit when the going is tough, no matter if they want to be there or not. There is more of course.
My sister, who is a frigin genius, had breezed through school with hardly a challenge. She had nearly perfect SAT scores, was the top student in high school and college and had always been number 1 or darn close to it. Then she went to Stanford for her Masters in Statistics (who the hell goes to school for extra statistics classes?!). Suddenly, she found herself in a position she had not experienced before; in a program full of number 1’s. Being the person she is, she didn’t care that she was surrounded by others who were more naturals in the field, she buckled down and did what she always does; kick butt! When all was said and done, she realized she really didn’t want to be a statistic wonk for life, but she started something and she does not quit when the going got tough, and it was tough a lot. Winners are built to fight through challenges. She would just get through one impossible semester when she would pick up her schedule and realize the next was even worse, but she plowed ahead. No matter how many dips the roller coaster took she was committed to riding that thing to the end. I think that is where she separates from the people who bail when the coaster flattens out after the fall. Almost all but the most pathetic people can hold on through the first fall, scary as it may be, but when they come up and see more challenges ahead, they jump.
A friend of mine took over a sausage company that had been struggling along for years. He had no experience in the field, but with hard work and dedication he learned all he needed. The company had been teetering on brink of disaster, but he and his team pulled it out of the fall and got it on the tracks. Then just as it seemed they were going to arch up, they discovered that a former exec, who was still on staff, was embezzling incredible amounts of money and put the company back on a path to ruin. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to walk away, blame the failure on someone else and carry that around as his story for why he failed. Losers love to blame someone else for their own failures and dishonesty. Instead he shifted his schedule to wake up even earlier than the 4AM shift he had been doing. He put in more than the 16 hours a day he had been producing. His team rallied behind for a second ride down the cliff wall of the coaster. It was not easy, or pleasant or quick, but that team road the car all the way back up to the pinnacle of success. Fortitude is not just sticking and staying through the first fall, but riding the whole coaster until achievement is evident.
So the mistake that many entrepreneurs and franchisers make is quitting after surviving that first drop. French Fry Heaven is a great concept, but a small company. We have amazing franchisees, by and large, who signed on for the ride with their eyes wide open. These are not delusional people who didn’t sign on with a start-up thinking it would be an easy first year. These people are cut from the cloth to have the guts to ride the ride. They are partners, who are working as hard on their part of the business as we are in ours. Together we have seen some challenges, dips, bumps, twists and moments of doubt. However, we are a dedicated family that is enjoying the ride up to the top. There is no end in sight for us other than that final piece of track, where the car slows and the sign over head reads in bold letters; SUCCESS!