Ask HN: Startup Failure and Debt

76 points | by delix 10 days ago


  • jboggan 10 days ago
    Been there myself after two failed startups, the latter of which I gave up a FAANG salary for and put myself in about $70k of credit card debt over. I know how this part feels.

    I took some odd jobs to keep the lights on and I swallowed my pride and borrowed rent money from friends on two occasions. It was not fun at all. After 5 years of employment in tech I've clawed my way out from under it, but it really wasn't easy. But it was worth it.

    You probably have some resources, maybe friends or family, that pride and self-image hinder you in tapping. Go ahead and tap them, if you are fortunate enough to have those people in your life this is the time they can be there for you. Your life isn't meaningless, it's just tough at the moment. This will pass.

    Don't forget that your experiences place you head and shoulders above similar candidates who haven't taken those risks and who haven't had the breadth of experience you have. Bring that to your interviews and solicitations for one-off work, hold your head high.

    Reach out to my profile email if you want to talk about it further.

    • rocket_leager 10 days ago
      Totally agree with your advice of tapping family and friends in times of need, even if we ourselves make this option seem less available.
      • delix 9 days ago
        Thank you for your advice, I really appreciate.
      • stochastimus 10 days ago
        This won’t be exactly what you were looking for necessarily but when I read this I felt compelled to respond. Twice I have failed in my pursuits in such a way that going forward was essentially “starting over”; in both of these cases there were residual consequences such as debt. It was heartbreaking for me and I don’t know exactly what it feels like for you right now but I imagine it is a heartbreaking experience for you right now, as well. Let me tell you two things, please, based only on my experience.

        First: in both cases things got better sooner than I had expected; within a few years things were good... once I had dusted myself off and applied myself to the next chapter of life, I was able to take steps, find ways to dig out, and find hope and passion again in my pursuits.

        Second: I, like you, had a lot to offer the world, my profession, and my family and friends; I look back and can see these things. Please, hang in there, and please, don’t let the downturns extinguish your light. Whether you know it or not now, many people will need you around, and in the end, even more will be better off for your influence.

        • rocket_leager 10 days ago
          Well put. I personally like the steps you mentioned 1. find ways to dig out 2. find hope and passion again in your pursuits
        • temp13890130 10 days ago
          Don't have any advice on your situation specifically, but let me offer a perspective that might be of some use: you still have a functional brain and this is an incredible gift.

          Around 6 years ago, I hit a breaking point of stress and developed chronic fatigue syndrome while working for a tech company. I haven't yet recovered from it and I've been out of the industry for almost 3 years now since the fatigue and brain fog have made it impossible to think clearly for any sustained period. I have no idea yet if I'll be able to turn my life around, let alone my career.

          I say all of that not to be pitied but rather because, if there was just one thing I could impress upon people, it would be that having a well-functioning brain is an extraordinary privilege that is very much taken for granted, until it's lost. Do the best you can to take care of yours and use it to engineer your way out of your situation.

          Some advice I can offer from how I frame things: think of yourself as an underdog and rise to the challenge of designing an epic comeback starting from scratch. Many people feel locked into a charted course once they get to a certain point in their lives and are very often dissatisfied with it. You, by contrast, get to step back and take stock of what you want out of the rest of your life. You can choose to craft the best possible story from here, but, critically, you must first frame your circumstances appropriately: you're the underdog who's going to fight your way back, not the miserable wretch who spirals into despair.

          • xupybd 10 days ago
            I had something similar happen to me. I recovered after a couple of years working in a less technical role. I can think and learn again. I'm still slower than I'd like but getting there. It's a huge lesson in the importance of stress management.

            For others reading this. If you think you might be burnt out get help now. The sooner you do the better.

          • honopu 10 days ago
            Every feeling you are having will pass. Make small steps toward your goal, interview, and try to let it go. Debt doesn't need to be resolved immediately, creditors will work with you if you make an effort to pay.

            As for "burden while looking for a job", that is something you are carrying with you and perhaps into your interviews. You need to put your true, best face forward, and you will settle this with time.

            In the meantime, to cover debt, any income helps. You might find waiting tables or something on weekends easily adds $2-3k a month to your income.

            • cleandreams 10 days ago
              My story: My startup failed and I was 30K in debt. It took way too long to get to that point. My first job after that was at an unfunded startup that ran out of money (to pay me).

              Pretty dismal. However I learned some things from the startup that I didn't appreciate at the time. One was grit, another was being able to strategize about a variety of business problems, another was humility, and I also honed my quick learning skills.

              These ended up, over a few years, landing me a plum startup job, a FAANG job, and a funded retirement.

              The big picture is always out of sight. If you keep learning and stay humble but stubborn (don't give up) it will work out reasonably well. I still think I stayed to long on my startup adventure but I am not stressing about it.

              • gumby 10 days ago
                It sounds like you are also burned out. Good luck in getting yourself balanced again, first at a job and perhaps in future at another company. Know that you’re not alone — many have been through this.

                For folks in the US: when you do start something, make sure you incorporate and keep any debt in the corporation (obviously this isn’t meaningfully possible for anything you borrow from F&F). Then if the business ends it goes bankrupt and you do not. Among other things this won’t affect your credit or ability to visit countries that bar people who have ever been bankrupt.

                I’m not sure this is really possible in Europe — I believe bank loans require a personal guarantee.

                • rocket_leager 10 days ago
                  Hey delix, I have been through a somewhat similar situation. With some debt as well, which is enough to sting these days but what I have been ultimately able to manage.

                  First steps are to calculate your debt service amount (this is the total number of principal + interest payments you need to make in the coming 1..n periods, say 1 year). I am talking minimum payments only, so on a ~$30K credit card balance they may be as small as say $500 monthly. Second, start thinking about bringing in enough income.

                  Now, is this the type of advice you need or were you asking more broadly?

                  • danbmil99 10 days ago
                    Does anyone else get the sense that first-round investors used to fund the earliest, exploratory stage of a startup, but now the ethos is "Live off your savings, incur debt, work your ass off to get product/market fit, land a few paying customers, and come back for a seed round when you have de-risked the opportunity for us."

                    So basically, you need to either 1) come from wealth, 2) have big wins in your history, or 3) tap out your life savings and the goodwill of friends and relatives

                    • cjbenedikt 10 days ago
                      Just to add my tupence: my (Fintech) startup failed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. I soldiered on but eventually had to close it down. My wife walked out on me and with it my family collapsed. I ended up sleeping on the proverbial friend's couch for six month. Eventually his brother gave me a small personal loan to help me get back on my feet. 10 (!) years later I closed a seven figure seed round for my new startup. Just never give up.
                      • tomjakubowski 10 days ago
                        This may seem trite or cliche, but do you have access to nature? Getting out and spending a day in wilderness really helps me put problems in perspective.

                        With time, you'll get the job and you'll tackle the debt. A series of small steps go a long way.

                        • arnonejoe 10 days ago
                          I've been there. In 2014 I ended up broke from trying to start a cash health care marketplace. I ended up broke for about 2 years after. The job market is strong right now and you will get things back in order. Keep fighting.
                          • libertine 10 days ago
                            Oof I'm right there with you - finding a job in a marketing field is revealing itself to be extremely difficult.

                            The requirements sometimes are so specific that I don't understand why those companies don't just go make direct offers to the people that work in marketing at the companies they're trying to emulate.

                            Like: "must have worked in fintech, in the role X, for X years, with XX growth"... just go scout them.

                            Of course one still sends an submits an application, but 90% of the times companies don't bother to reply with a "no thx".

                            • AussieWog93 10 days ago
                              You're going through grief, man. It's a process that takes time.

                              I have no idea how to survive it while under debt, but understand that what you're feeling will go away.

                              • t_mann 10 days ago
                                While I realize that this sounds a bit like suggesting eating cake, you might consider getting some therapy/counselling if that is somehow available to you.
                                • jasfi 10 days ago
                                  You would have attained good skills and experience by fighting through a failing business. Remember this to get your confidence back. Get your diet and exercise corrected, these can often fall apart during stressful times.

                                  Take vitamins B complex, C and D. Ashwaghanda to reduce stress levels (cortisol). Do brain training (look for apps) to get your cognitive skills going, stress can blunt them (mental math is good).

                                  • blindpixel 10 days ago
                                    This happened to me last year. It was incredibly difficult working my way back up but I have been working a job since a year and am out of debt.

                                    The grief/toll will take time to go away. Mine has still not gone away but it gets better as time passes. Suggest that you seek help for this with a professional therapist. Meet new people and have different experiences. That helps a lot.

                                    Wishing the best for you. You got this.

                                    • thinkpad13 10 days ago
                                      I'm also failed my startup journey, anyone pls gimme job to survive the month, I could write fluent rails and moderate flutter, rest is python, javascript and any other shits that could earn me money I will to learn.

                                      my timezone is gmt+7

                                      pls guys no downvotes just venting here while reading the thread for learning.

                                      • delix 9 days ago
                                        I just went through all the comments and I am so humbled for taking time to respond. Its good to hear that someone somewhere shares a similar experience to what I am going through and I can be hopeful of a better tomorrow. Thank you once more.
                                        • candiddevmike 10 days ago
                                          Interested in hearing more about your story and the failed startups, may also have some marketing work for you. Contact info is in my profile
                                          • rzazueta 10 days ago
                                            I have experienced this feeling at numerous low points throughout my career. It took me more than 20 years to figure it out - hopefully I can help you get there sooner.

                                            Let's take work and debt and money and all that out of the equation for a moment. What do you really want to do? Like, not an activity or a job... how do you want to see your life being led by you? Who do you want in your life? What do you want from the neighborhood you live in? What do you want from the house that you live in?

                                            Get to the brass tacks with this. Really understand the details. Try to envision what you want to do and how you want to live. Ignore the doubts and the voice that says, "No way, never'll happen." Figure out what the road looks like to get there, then start shaping your life to fit that road.

                                            As you look for a new job, ask yourself how that job will get you closer to your ideals. Will it relocate you? Will it give you the time for the things you want to do? Will it expose you to people who you want to be part of your journey? You may realize that, first, money isn't really as important as you think, then realize that you may be happier at a smaller company, or in a different industry, or at a bigger company, or... whatever. It brings things into focus.

                                            Why did you do the startup thing? What was your goal? Was it something fuzzy like, "Get rich"? Was it something startuppy like "Change the way people travel"? Was it personal, that you wanted to build a name for yourself and impress people? Was it because of the freedom it offered in terms of how you spend your time and energy?

                                            Be honest with yourself as you answer questions like these. Maybe a startup-style thing isn't the way to go for you - maybe do something like a lifestyle business (i.e. bootstrapped, organic growth, etc.) or consulting. As you dig into these answers, you may decide tech isn't even what you want to really be doing - maybe you want to start a food co-op in your town, or maybe you want to spend less time working and more time just being. Again, start changing your life choice by choice to begin to fit the ideal in your head.

                                            And, if you get there and the ideal ain't so ideal... start it again. And again. And again. It's all an adventure, and you should try to enjoy the ride as much as possible. Don't beat yourself up for your "failures". I promise you will recover if you just keep at it. I have seen so many lows at this point the floor and I are very good friends. I always bounce because I figure out a way to push through the depression and the anger and the self doubt and the loss of confidence and trust and find an answer and a path toward the answer.

                                            You, too, will bounce.

                                            • iampivot 10 days ago
                                              The debt is one thing, another is missing out on that steady pension contribution from a normal salaried job.