I recently advised a young entrepreneur to shut down his two year old business. This was despite being able to raise enough money to ‘survive’. His company was generating revenue but was in a very small sector and the available financing wasn’t going to be enough to pivot his way out of it. It was only going to lead the entrepreneur back to the same situation in 6 – 9 months, except this time he’d be that much older. It was the very essence of surviving for survival’s sake.
What struck me the most about our conversation was our use of language and how it didn’t serve us well. We talked about the company as if it were a living, breathing entity. We used words like ‘alive’, ‘survive’, ‘keep alive’, ‘time to live’ and ‘die’. This use of emotional language automatically put us in place where talking dispassionately about the business was difficult and if ever there was a time where dispassionate analysis was needed it was then.
I particularly remember the entrepreneur’s response to me telling him that the small amount of money he could raise wouldn’t get him anywhere except back to the same place he was. “Well it’s better than being dead” was his response.
This anthropomorphizing of his company was automatically leading him to the wrong conclusion and if we continued to use language that suggested his company was ‘alive’ it was going to be close to impossible for him to accept that his company should be shut down. As humans, we find the ‘death’ of something to be tragic. However shutting a company that’s not going anywhere isn’t tragic – the founder continuing to expend more of his limited human capacity on it is.
A business isn’t alive – it’s not even a natural thing, like rock or stone. It’s an artificial construct and it can’t be alive, dead, surviving or any of the other things that are the primacy of living things. The only thing that’s alive about a company is the entrepreneur and the people working there. Use of language that suggests otherwise doesn’t serve founders.