Bootstrapped startups and the shit I learn in therapy

Note and possible warning: this essay talks about anxiety and the coronavirus. If either of those topics is tough for you, feel free to skip this one. I hesitated to add my voice to the fray, but writing helps me process things.

Like most of the world, I've been on edge for the last week.

But it started way before that. If you asked me about my biggest fears at any point in the last year, being unprepared for a major recession was one of them.

Now it's (likely) here. And with it is a global pandemic.


I've struggled for the past couple of years (and probably a good portion of my life) with anxiety and panic attacks. I've worked hard to get it under control, but in the past 7 days, it has all come roaring back.

My particular brand of anxiety often presents itself as hypochondria and shortness of breath. The worst version of the virus wracking the globe right now also happens to come with shortness of breath. It's a fun cycle.

But here's the thing: I can't control the virus. I can observe social distancing (and we all need to), but I can't completely control whether I get it, and I certainly can't control whether I already have it.

I also can't go back in time and unsign the 12-month lease for my sailboat slip or make my past self hold back on company spending so we'd have an extra month of runway now. Nor am I sure those would even be the right decisions.

It’s easy to ruminate on stuff outside of our control, but that only increases anxiety.

So here are three things I can influence that I'm trying to focus on instead.

Be prepared to shift

My uncle has been an entrepreneur his entire life. He made most of his money from a cabinet business that he ran for years and ultimately sold.

Last year, when the potential for a recession was weighing on my mind I asked him if he had to face a recession.

Not only did their company go through a rough downturn, they actually grew faster than ever before during that time. How? They followed the money.

In the 80s before the market crashed, his business was doing mostly commercial work for bars and restaurants. But when the recession came the money in that work dried up. Rather than laying people off, they changed their business. The government was spending huge amounts of money to jumpstart the economy, so they shifted from restaurants to schools and hospitals.

What this means for you: People aren't going to suddenly stop needing help. There will always be a way to provide value and get paid for it. Pay close to attention to what people need and acknowledge you may have to adjust quickly.

Here are the areas that I expect to grow during this time:

  • Tools and services for remote workers
  • Healthcare, especially telemedicine
  • Podcasting and entertainment
  • Delivery services
  • Cyber security and government services
  • Remote learning
  • Automation in manufacturing and agriculture

Tighten the belt, but don't let fear consume you

I can't control how we spent our money 6 months ago, but I can control how we're spending it now. We're in good shape, all things considered, but the leaner we can operate the more time we buy ourselves. More time means giving ourselves the chance to shift with the market.

That doesn't mean we want to go overboard and start operating out of fear. We need to keep morale up and make sure everyone on the team feels safe and provided for. Plus, if we aren't willing to spend money, it's going to be harder to find those new customers.

So we’re cutting out any unnecessary software subscriptions, and applying for a line of credit with our bank (just in case).

What this means for you: Instead of worrying about what you’ve already spent, focus on ways you can adjust your current operations. Assess what is and isn’t providing value to your business, and make a list of expenses that may be unnecessary. If you cut items, cut them because they don’t provide value.

Remember humanity comes first

Above all is this. We're humans, facing real trials and tragedies right now. The business is important. It provides for us and our team, and we've put a lot of time into it. We don't want it to suffer and lose traction.

But I'd much rather see our business suffer than our people. Or the people in our community. A business is there to serve the people who created it and who keep it moving every day, not the other way around.

This is a tough time, so we need to be kind to ourselves and each other. We need to support our communities, where so many people have it worse than we do.

We’re giving our team half days today and tomorrow to prepare and decompress, and we’ve also let everyone know that we don’t expect them to be fully productive over the next couple of weeks.

I've been spending most of my time this week checking in with our team and with our clients to see how everyone is feeling. This has been helpful for me too, because it's the kind of work I get energy from even when I'm stressed.

On Friday we had a day scheduled to do internal work, but we’re taking that day to do pro-bono work for companies in the food and beverage industries who are scrambling to adapt.

What this means for you: Cut yourself and your team some slack this week. Take the time to check in with your team and your customers (both are good business moves too). If you have extra time or resources right now consider looking for small ways to help the community. But don't stress if you're not in a position to do anything extra.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other. We will adapt together—you’re not in this alone.

P.S. We’re going to be working on a series of interviews with folks who not only survived, but thrived in past recessions so we can all learn from them. If that’s you, or someone you know please reach out! My email is

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