Home Advice For The Young At Heart Rough Times For Start-Ups: Win, Survive Or Fail?

Rough Times For Start-Ups: Win, Survive Or Fail?


by David Oxley and Helmut Schuster, co-authors of “A CAREER CAROL: A Tale Of Professional Nightmares And How To Navigate Them

We started our book project over a breakfast of croissants and berries. We found ourselves constantly debating, and lamenting, the lack of really good, contemporary, career advice for the next wave of business leaders. We saw such extraordinary potential, and at the same time, some very modern anxieties and insecurities. One day, we just decided “if no one else is going to write about this… then we must!”

The key, we told ourselves, was to make accumulated career wisdom accessible, relatable, engaging, and practical. We are two geeks at heart, yet having successfully navigated the business world, we did exactly what many start-ups do: we followed our instincts and just did it.

Over the course of our careers, we have worked with many young leaders and entrepreneurs, giving us a wealth of experience to draw on. We intensified our engagement with young inspirational people as part of the research for A Career Carol, and we feel privileged that a number of them contributed to the book.

Along with their engaging insights into how they thought about their careers was a recurring theme of securing funding for their entrepreneurial ventures. While our research was focused on identifying the big existential crises we face as human beings during a 40-year career, there was absolutely no doubting the threats of cashflow for the entrepreneurs we talked with.  In some cases, the challenge led them to question whether running their own company was worth the stress.

The most touching and upsetting conversation occurred with a young entrepreneur we both deeply respect. He had built a company with great products and global reach. He flew to Asia to meet promising, potential investors only to suffer the classic bait and switch. He was presented with less of an investment partner and more a ‘shark’ looking to make a quick buck.

However, our advice to him was ‘don’t give up!’ Every career has more setbacks than wins. If it’s easy, it’s not worth pursuing. But how can you flourish rather than just survive in this brutal business climate?

We’ve found that the five considerations below always work:

1. Don’t give up!

Be prepared to refine and rethink your idea. Most start-ups go out of business because people give up too early or run out of cash. There is plenty of money out there. You just need to find the people who believe in you and your idea. Explore many options, use your network, listen to people you trust and keep going.

2. It’s all about the people!

Have you ever wondered why sometimes you feel energized after some business meetings and absolutely exhausted after others? It’s all about the attitude and energy of people. Hiring people, working with people, partnering with people is the most important thing you will ever do as an entrepreneur. Give it the time and deep thinking it deserves. Never let yourself be impressed by a CV. Take references, study the background, have them do tasks, have lunch, include the team in the process. And then ask yourself the question ‘would I be happy to work with this person until midnight to meet an important deadline?’ and ‘would this person wholeheartedly commit time to do everything to support you in meeting the deadline?’

Attitude trumps CV. You will make hiring mistakes but minimize them. If you realize it doesn’t work don’t let it drag on. Fix the issue, exit the person. But do it in a kind and respectful manner.

3. Work like crazy but don’t burn out!

We once hired a member for the HR team, a young graduate. As we normally do in any hiring process, we asked all the candidates to write a two-page paper on how they would invest $100,000 and why? The other question we always ask is, what is your superpower? Apart from writing by far the best paper, the young graduate answered the latter task: ‘I might not be the smartest, I might not be most experienced or best educated, but one thing I know, I can outwork anyone.’

And that’s exactly what happened – a good brain combined with hard work never fails, after all ‘input equals output’. This applies to the corporate world but is amplified in the world of start-ups.

4. Discipline is your trump card!

We both did lots of sports in our youth, we both competed, and we both are still competitive. Sports teaches you one thing more than anything else: the importance of discipline and the ability to be disciplined no matter what. Every successful person needs discipline. For founders it’s a must, no exception. It’s a no brainer for people aspiring to be a top football player, an actor, a dancer. Even breakout TikTok content creators work extremely hard and in a disciplined manner to increase their followership. Running a start-up requires the same discipline. And if you choose to go corporate you will need a similar attitude. If work-life balance is top of your agenda become a civil servant or do a job where you get paid hourly.

5. Pick the right co-founder!

This is probably the most important thing to consider: make sure you pick the right co-founder. You will need a sparring partner, a thought partner and a shoulder to cry on. Just think about the largest and most iconic companies, Microsoft, Alphabet, Apple, for example: they always started with just two people, a shared vision and one product.

In many ways, the key to flourishing, rather than floundering, is having a support system. The entrepreneurs we work with lean on their teams, their co-founders, their families, their friends, and very importantly, a network of professional advisors and mentors. While there may be some serendipity and certainly some good timing in all big entrepreneurial successes, one thing we know for sure… there is not one famous entrepreneur who succeeded without a very, very, good support system behind them.


schuster and oxley

Dr David Oxley started his career as a management consultant before leading major people and corporate restructuring projects for BP PLC across Europe, USA, India, and the Middle East. Dr Helmut Schuster is currently Chairman of the Board of Ivoclar Group, a world leader in aesthetic dentistry, an active entrepreneur, investor, and frequent contributor to leadership and AFS Intercultural Programs.

They are co-authors of “A CAREER CAROL: A Tale Of Professional Nightmares And How To Navigate Them“. For more information, please visit www.ACareerCarol.com.