Bit of warm weather in the ATX which makes me get out and do my outside chores first thing before the sun sets things ablaze. Going to be 103F today, but I don’t believe it.
Get a call from a CEO, who says, “I have this burning in my gut all the time. Butterflies and napalm.”
Nice turn of a phrase. I laugh to myself because I never laugh at CEOs. Not a good practice, ungentlemanly.
So, he continues, “Does it ever get better? You were a CEO for 33 years, when did it all settle down and the flaming butterflies took a vacation?”
I wanted to comfort him, but I always speak the truth, so I hesitated for a second.
“They never go away,” I said in my most comforting Saint Michael the Archangel voice. “You know how sometimes when we discuss one of the List of Horribles and I tell you, ‘Sorry, that’s normal.’?”
“Yes, you also say the only normal people are the ones we don’t know very well. I get that,” says the CEO. “When did the flaming butterflies go away and everything was peaceful, calm, and you didn’t lay awake in bed thinking about things? Tormented by things?”
“Sorry, amigo,” I said. “They never go away. In fact, what you see as butterflies, flaming butterflies even. They become condors. Big, vicious condors with enormous talons that rip your guts apart while they are bathing in acid. On bad nights, you can feel their talons slicing and the acid flowing into your abdomen. When you scale, your problems scale with you.”
“Oh,” said the CEO. “I thought things got better.”
“Some things do. The problems you dealt with as a startup CEO prior to product-market-fit go away, then you achieve breakeven, then you make a profit, then you are sustainable. Your problems change, but they scale with you.”
“Oh,” said the CEO. “So, the condors? That sounds worse.”
“Yes and no,” said I. “Yes, they are bigger problems, but one of the things you have conquered is how to deal with problems. You’re a better problem solver even though you have bigger problems.”
“Oh,” the CEO said. He says that a lot when we talk. It’s a very healthy reaction because it indicates to me that he’s processing the information.
“So, there is no future calm? No balmy sea with warm breezes and coconut palms swaying in the wind? No angelic voices from on high?”
“Now, wait just a second,” sayeth I. “The calm is that you know you can solve problems. You can slap that Jabba the Hutt problem around knowing that you may go six rounds, but that you can solve problems.”
“So, that’s better than before, right? I know I can do it. When does that happen?”
“Nobody really knows. One day you’re swatting napalm butterflies and then suddenly you have PMF, breakeven, postive cash flow, and you’re a sustainable company. It happens gradually, but it’s driven by achieving goals and getting stuff done.’
“OK, thanks. I guess that’s what I needed to hear. I have some condors with huge talons bathing in a pit of acid to look forward to. Wow! Isn’t success grand?”
“Is this a great country or what?” I ask and another CEO is comforted.