Jenny Judova speaks out about the darker side of entrepreneurship with the Trough of Sorrow and how this has impacted her creative outlook on life
I don’t know when it started. Maybe around August when I realised that after taking the company in a new direction in May — the numbers are at their lowest. The stagnation continued in September despite all the marketing efforts. However emotionally it all hit me in early October.
At first I thought it was the Birthday blues. Like any other overachiever (let’s face it most of us with an entrepreneurial edge are) I tend to analyse my past year and I always come to the conclusion that I could have done more. Unlike the usual Birthday blues the feelings of grief, sorrow, and failure did not leave me. Alcohol did help numb it down, but made me insufferable for my companions as all I could talk and think about was work. Social gatherings became close to unbearable as everyone I met kept congratulating me with how well my company is doing, and what a great tool it is. And I would beam and nod and talk about the exciting products that we have coming out.
The weird thing is that despite having no money, the company has never been doing better. We are recognised in the industry, member satisfaction is at the highest, other companies send free stuff for our members, I give more talks, we have two amazing products in the pipeline that everyone is excited about, and yet no one buys anything from us, and I feel as if I am circling the drain. I guess this is the start up stereotype — you seem like a legit company but on the inside you are a shit show, or maybe I am that good at my job of creating the picture perfect image.
So if the company still looks picture perfect, why am I publishing this open testimony that financially it’s failing? Because I have to. Because for the last few weeks I ran out of demeaning adjectives to call myself, because I am exhausted, because for the last month I feel as if a dementor was stalking me. Because I am not alone in feeling like a waste of space.
The happiest thing that happened to me this week happened after I broke down and confessed how I feel to a friend. They smiled in understanding and said that what I feel is normal, and it's what every start-up founder goes through, it's called the Trough of Sorrow. Having a name for what I feel and knowing that I am not alone and that there might be support groups for what I am going through was the kick that I needed.
Despite every big and small company founder admitting that they have been through the Trough of Sorrow there is very little written about it. Usually the information about it appears as part of a start up chart. Actually the most interesting testimony I found was in season 2 of Startup Podcast, where the Trough of Sorrow was described as the founder ‘switching off’.
SWITCHING BACK ON
They say if you have a problem you have to face it. This is me facing and admitting that I have gone through a patch of depression known as the Trough of Sorrow. What will I do now? I will do what every start-up founder did before me — I will pivot. The only thing that held me together during this month was an unwavering belief in Art Map London. Art Map London must exist in the world, it is needed and it is used, and people who use it love it. How will I pivot? I don’t know yet Art Map London’s main resource which has so far been left unexplored is the data it collects — extremely rare valuable data about the primary art market. Maybe we will pivot to become a research facility, who knows. The main thing is that I finally started fighting off the dementor and I started making the climb out of my trough which at the moment feels like climbing Everest — but it's a start.