Photo credit- Joyce McCown on Shotzr Photos

Dear founder,

Written by Tom Humphrey & Madison Soucie — April 28, 2020

We have chatted with many of you lately and know the immense challenges and pressure you are facing. It has been a wild April — scenario planning for what will come, forecasting and re-forecasting, trying to navigate complicated SBA loan processes, to name a few things — and we hoped to take a step back for a moment of reflection.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that will likely follow is scary, to say the least. As a founder, you are used to facing uncertainty and tackling problems on a daily basis and that is what has made you successful to date, but the current situation is on a whole new and unprecedented scale. Building a startup in normal times is tough, let alone times of pandemic.

COVID-19 has rapidly introduced new problems for your business and responding certainly calls on strong business acumen. There has been a lot of great tactical advice circulating on steps to take as a leader to improve your business prospects — for example, the NVCA, Gusto, Techstars, Crunchbase, Venture Beat, to name a few. Undoubtedly you are right now in “war-room mode“, working overdrive on cash burn simulations, cost-cutting strategies, customer communications, churn mitigation initiatives, funding options, employment plans, and more.

However, beyond the business implications, the situation also has a very real human face as well. You, your family, your colleagues, your customers have all been disrupted in ways that extend us outside of the business and into the home. Consequently, the circumstances also call for a big dose of mental fortitude and empathy under pressure.

And while we don’t propose to have any answers or pearls of great wisdom, we did want to take a moment to acknowledge things and remind you that it is perfectly okay to be upset, that you are awesome and it is your great ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that has gotten you to where you are today, and that you are not alone.

It is okay to be upset

It is totally okay to be emotional in this situation, whatever those emotions may be. You no doubt had a dream for your company and vision for how you planned to build it, now all brought into question. We cannot begin to imagine how upsetting that must be. Denver cofounder of Soona, Liz Giorgi, recently tweeted,

“Feeling like sh*t about this is okay… Just remember that in addition to being a founder — you are probably ALSO a person. Its OK to feel sad about some of this too. And more than anything; it’s ok to cry.”


She’s right. While it is important to be a strong leader now, it is also important to acknowledge your feelings.

Some people might say “ stay positive “. But there is an important difference between optimism and positivism. As Simon Sinek points out,

“Positivity is saying things are good, even when they are not. Optimism is the belief that the future is positive. We are going through a hard time now, they are tough, they are rough, they’re dark, but we will get through this together.”

So, in this situation, it may be best to try to be optimistic — realistic about the present and hopeful for the future.

Remember your strengths

Remember your strengths that have gotten you this far. The simple act of launching a startup alone makes you special and means you have a much greater level of confidence, metal, and resourcefulness than the average person. Those skills will be critical for any company, big or small, to successfully navigate through this. Creativity will be the key to adapt.

You are not your startup.

A lot of what is going on is completely outside of your control and has nothing to do with your skill as a leader or the strength of your business. Remember that some of the greatest companies of recent decades were seeded and survived during the past financial crisis too — Uber, Whatsapp, Instagram, Slack, Pintrest, Venmo, Groupon, Zendesk, Dropbox, etc were all founded in 2008–2010.

Devon Tivona, founder of Pana, recently wrote one of the most thoughtful pieces I have seen from a founder on the emotional taxes and personal challenges of the times. It is definitely worth the read. He writes,

“I find myself getting most overwhelmed by the things I cannot control. But there is still so much in my control. I can breathe. I can smile. I can cook. I can hug my dog and extended-time fiancée… I can choose to use this time to build meaningful relationships with my partner, my family, my coworkers, and my customers… shifting your mindset might unlock the most powerful force of success: creativity.”

You are not alone

You may also be surprised by the number of people around you willing to offer help in this situation. Lean on those people, including us. If you want to talk through some specific decisions you need to make or simply chat about what’s going on, let us know. We will do our best to support you and link you with any others or resources that may be helpful.



We wish you all the best and foremost, the good health of you and your loved ones. Take care of yourself.