When Life Happens to Startups

I just returned from hundreds of miles away from the home base. On Sunday night, my mother was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection. Being the person with the most flexible schedule in the family, I became her caregiver in the hospital.

For the past week, I’ve sat in what would qualify as a Level 1 Biohazard suit, watching over my mom as she sat between life and death. Thanks to the grace of God, she’s going to make it.

Returning to my life, you can imagine what it’s like to leave for a week unexpectedly. Mountains of papers, paperwork, deadlines missed and deadlines looming. For people in the early stages of trying to start, or restart, a startup, this is a double punch in the gut. Not only are you worried about your family, you’re worried about your baby… what you’re trying to build back at home.

Obviously the first thing you need to do is update your team, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific things outside their standard scope of operations. But, you should also expect failure. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best.

Second, your team does include your family. If you’re critical at a startup, you need to be prepared to tell your family they need to step in and take the reigns. In my situation, I didn’t have reliable Internet access due to poor coverage… and no laptops being usable in my mother’s hospital room. After four working days, I had obligations that mounted, and had to press the help button. It broke my heart to leave my mother’s bedside, but thankfully her condition had improved enough that doctors were telling me it was okay to do so.

Third, and most importantly, breathe. If you’re crazy enough, stupid enough, and passionate enough to even attempt a startup in this economy, a week of downtime is not going to ruin everything. People still have hearts even in the year 2012, and they understand what is going on. Privacy is important, but saying you had to care for a person in the hospital is a reasonable excuse. I’m tired of business titans who insist that excuses aren’t valid in business… and then go and ask for a multi-billion dollar bailout.

The important thing is to assure critical business contacts, partners, and team members that you’re going to keep them updated, and work passionately to pick up the pieces when you return.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of pieces to pick up over the next couple of weeks.

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