Fruit Basket

Reflections of a Startup

The time: circa 2008.

The place: downtown San Francisco, startup central.

As a young startup with rapid growth, we were taking lessons from the Google playbook—scaled back, of course—and were trying to create an excellent place for our Team to grind. Given that we were a health-safety-and-wellness company, one of the things we did for the office was a subscription to a weekly organic fruit basket; although it was a small thing, the employees loved it, and they were always excited when the delivery guy would drop off the baskets.

When the financial crisis hit, it hurt… badly. Our customers stopped paying us; our sales cycles lengthened, current startup projects stalled; we knew we had to buckle-down if we were going to survive at a time when the streets of downtown SF were quickly turning into a ghost town.

My operations guy canceled our fruit basket… I was devastated—I told him that was one thing that had to stay in the budget; I even offered to pay out of my pocket. Like a good ops guy, he respectfully pushed back; the basket was no more. It was not that we needed the fruit so much as it was a sign of scary (read: terrifying) time to be an entrepreneur in a startup. What was next, staff layoffs… or worse?

That same week, I remember the Executive Team getting all of the employees together, including interns, and telling them: “Put on your helmets, we are going to war. As of today, every one of us is a salesperson.” We gave everyone a call list, and all of us sold—all day, every day.

Together, the Team pulled through, and eventually, the squeeze lightened. Ultimately, between selling and the unwavering support of our investors, we made it through that year and continued to grow the business of our startup until our exit. We could have very easily given up, but we did not—we would not.

Today, despite the fact that the Company is no longer a startup and is in new hands, I sent a fruit basket to the office. They will not likely understand the significance of the basket, but it puts a smile on my face.

I firmly believe there is a difference between failing and giving up. One is okay; the other is not.

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