Flip the Hourglass

wooden hourglass

January 5, 2017: After a long Holiday break, it’s not easy this week to get back in gear for full-contact startup action. However, the expenses took no time off, and many items left untended two or three weeks ago are still there demanding our attention. There’s considerable pressure to make up for lost time.  

I recall that at MSA, to whom I sold Peachtree Software, top executives visited every one of their field sales offices across the US in the first half of January. That wasn’t the ideal weather cycle to enjoy uninterrupted flight connections, and the destinations were by no means resorts (except the one overlooking the beach in Santa Monica). There was wisdom in those missions. Top sales performers appreciated the personal recognition, and everyone needed a not-so-gentle reminder that even though last year was great, this year has higher quotas, and working toward them has to start immediately. Those big bonus checks from the typical year-end rush in enterprise sales were barely deposited before the hourglass was flipped to signal the beginning of a new season and new and bigger challenges.

Early January also kicks off some of the big shows of the year, led by CES. Our digital health company has good reasons to participate in three shows back-to-back-to-back in Miami, Vegas, and San Francisco, all concluded before January 13. Our peers, partners, and prospects will all be there, and deals will get done. We must be represented in person to get our fair share of the action. There’s nothing like recovering from your Holiday travels by getting right back on airplanes and touring the nation coast to coast. At least you don’t have to go to Disney World.

January is often a time of some fomenting among your personnel. There are the typical administrative chores like W2’s and 1099’s that people want right away. You probably have compensation changes to implement in order to retain your best employees. End of the year reflections and New Year’s resolutions tend to motivate folks to consider major changes, such as accepting one of the five competing job offers they have awaiting them. And, if you operate on a calendar year, you’re busy closing the books on 2016 and solidifying the budget for 2017. The budget and personnel issues are interconnected, and it’s a good idea to get things settled as early as you can in January. Your team doesn’t want to be left unnecessarily guessing about what’s ahead, even though they all realize that no startup is all that predictable.

This is also the moment when your shareholders want to hear from you. You’ve probably ended a fiscal period, you’re at the point of having actual results to compare against your conservative projections from this time last year, and the good news and the bad news need to be disseminated. Investors are wrapping up their own affairs for last year and preparing for tax returns, and they have a natural tendency to evaluate all their investments. You do not want one or more of them taking the initiative and calling you for information before you get the story out to all. Well and regularly informed investors are much more likely to respond to calls for action than those who only hear from you when you want something, like more money, as I have written many times in this forum.

Although I enjoy the Holidays and the family times as much as anyone, I will admit that running a startup during such disruptive periods is doubly challenging. You may be making great progress on the next big thing and chomping at the bit to get a number of tasks accomplished. Your juices are flowing, and you don’t want to slow down. But, the rest of the world does. People quit responding to your emails and calls. You get the dreaded out-of-office messages just when you are aiming for the close. (You’ll keep getting them until MLK Day, since nearly everyone forgets to remove them.) You find yourself “pushing a rope” when you are eager to finish the year with a flourish. Patience is not your nature, but you have no choice. I remember my children’s Atlanta school having a very early Spring Break to accommodate those who would otherwise play hooky to catch the skiing season. Not being a skier, I was always thinking that, just when we were all back in rhythm at the office and getting things done, why were we being interrupted so soon for more time off? I would have preferred an unfettered stretch at least until Masters Week in early April. But, it wasn’t my call. Worse yet, we non-skiers had to go really far south to find warm beaches as an alternative that early in the year.

Alas, Disney World was between warm waters and us. I remember one year we had a tricked-out van for family travel, did go to Disney World, and at the end of the day discovered our van had been looted of all valuables, including electronics such as the bulky picture tube TV/VCR of those days. The park authorities said: “Sorry, this never happens on our property.” Orange County Sheriff Rambo (no joke) showed up shortly thereafter: “How many more times am I going to come out here today for property thefts.” The Magic only extends so far from the entrance gates of the Kingdom, I suppose.

Along that same theme this year, I discovered that the car I keep in Atlanta had been broken into when I arrived from my flight a week prior to Christmas and made it to the parking garage. The thieves had drilled the door cylinder and done some damage in the process. The only thing they took from the trunk was a gym bag full of toiletries. I was there for 8 days and kept looking for clean-shaven and sweet smelling homeless persons, but no luck. They were kind enough to leave my golf shoes -- one small blessing.

Ah, but my mind is adrift and not yet fully engaged. I’m bleary from all the administrative chores of this week. I’m not the one on the road at the shows, and I’m not on a plane again for 7 more days as I write this. Calls and emails are starting to be returned. I’m told it’s going to be a really great 2017, perhaps even huge, definitely better. No complaining here.

<Wooden hourglass photo by S. Sepp via Wikimedia Commons.>