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From The Danger Zone to Rejuvenation

yellow and black sign saying 'danger! steep terrain and cliffs beyond this point' with snowy mountain range in background

The Danger Zone

At some point in their journey, the entrepreneur will begin to feel like they’re ‘living the dream’. The business has expanded and has momentum, growth and a larger team, and everything seems to be clicking into place. But this is actually the danger zone, which if not careful can lead to the valley of despair.

As each business and individual entrepreneur are unique, there are many reasons why a business and an individual can find themselves in the danger zone but the two most common are set out below.

The first is that suddenly the expectation for the business has changed—as a startup, it was all about the passion for the business; but now the entrepreneur feels like they have to make a significant profit. It’s no longer solely about the vision, but also about paying bills and salaries, adding a new dynamic of pressure to the business. This means that almost inevitably there is a shift in focus away from the original purpose towards a new guiding light: the pursuit of money.

The shift in focus can mean that the entrepreneur is no longer properly looking after their people: they feel they have to cut corners in systems and processes to save money; their personal motivation is dropping; they’re feeling the stress and pressure to make money—al of this drains their spirit and the energy they were formerly bringing to the office. This is the valley of despair.

The second possible reason is that with success and feeling like they’re living the dream, some entrepreneurs begin to believe their own hype. And when they believe that everything they touch will succeed, arrogance creeps in and they become distracted. Their precision levels drop and the business begins to have some failures—they don’t know how to deal with these because it goes against their belief that they can do no wrong. The team becomes dispirited and begins to lose faith in the entrepreneur, and the business gradually begins to unravel. This is the alternative version of the valley of despair.

The Valley of Despair

woman sitting on forest floor in misty forest alone
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

For many young businesses, hitting the valley of despair is the moment of truth. It is possible to recover and escape, but those which don’t usually plateau and gradually slide away from what they could have achieved. It’s rarely the case that the valley of despair causes a big doomsday collapse of the business, but, equally, growth will be permanently stunted and results poor. The worst case scenario for the entrepreneur is that they end up feeling like they’re trapped in a job they don’t really want just to keep the lights on and the doors open; they feel like they might as well be in a job in the corporate world.

Rejuvenation

Escaping, then, is clearly more appealing. Here, the key strategies are to reflect, reevaluate and reinvent the business to get back to the core purpose and values of the startup phase, and to bring the entrepreneur back to a place of joy.

The best option of all is—naturally—to avoid ever reaching this phase. Some entrepreneurs reading this may not have reached the valley of despair, and for them it may be possible to avoid it entirely. If you stay loyal to your original founding principles, your essence, spirit and beliefs, you will hopefully keep sight of the big picture and be able to spot these kinds of issues and evade them. You can then carry your momentum into the next evolution of the betterment of the business.

  • This is an excerpt from Warren’s book, Evolve to Succeed, which is available here.
  • Listen to entrepreneurs talk about the highs and lows of their journeys on The Evolve to Succeed podcast.

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