As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Keeping that Fire in the Belly Feeling


I’ve been mentoring a company founder who is very disturbed to find her normally abundant energy flagging. The 18-month-old business has experienced a lot of external obstacles and has also not been properly funded, so it’s especially hard to keep slogging on. Ebbs and flows of enthusiasm are a constant bedfellow of company founders but rarely openly discussed.

As such, these all-too-real conversations with the founder caused me to reflect on what I do to keep my sense of urgency, purpose and energy alive, after seven years into building The Grommet. I’ve found it convenient to chunk our history into three chapters:

Chapter One: Survival. 2008-2012 was one long slog during which my energy was generally super-human high, with the exception of a couple especially draining periods. By the way, having energy does not mean never being tired: I don’t deny the massive fatigue I felt every week of those four years. But my sense of urgency, purpose, and commitment were very, very steady. The forces keeping me going were rather simple:

  • Excitement about seeing our vision come true, via many incremental “firsts.” This was precious, as was the success we experienced through regular love letters from the makers whose businesses we launched.
  • Our team. Everyone says that, right? Everyone has the best team. But the important thing about that early team is that they are showing up every day to follow their founders at a time when the path is murky and success is not within sight. That team member’s faith and personal investment in the face of other job opportunities is incredibly motivating to keep a founder going.
  • Having a common enemy: i.e. death. Our demise was always just a couple payrolls away and that was as “energizing” a factor as you can imagine. I would not wish this existence of living with the wolf at the door on my worst enemy, but it kept the fires in my belly very much alive.

Chapter Two: Redemption 2012-2015. The Grommet experienced massive triple digit growth in revenues and customers in this post-economic crisis period. The sheer joy of finally having the resources to build the business properly was all it has taken to keep my energy up.

When I hit a period of malaise (and I do) the number one thing I can do to get over it is to get out of the office and visit customers, or give a public talk. When I see our business reflected in the eyes and insights of outside parties I am re-centered and re-energized.

In fact the founder who is flagging found this worked for her recently on a particularly bad day: she went to an evening meetup that recharged her batteries. Just talking about her business with fellow industry participants gave her perspective that she easily loses in his lonely hours at her desk.

Chapter Three: Escape Velocity. 2015 and beyond. This period is one where I anticipate needing to dig especially deep as we work through what many consider the toughest period of scaling: going from 50-100 employees, at several years into the venture.

You’re no longer the scrappy upstart. But the business is still fragile in its own way. It has not necessarily fully claimed its corner and certainly has not scaled to full sustainability unless you are incredibly lucky in your timing, resources, and operational execution.

You have employees who have absolutely no idea of the sacrifice and sheer determination that built this business from nothing. But you absolutely need more specialist team members and their fresh perspectives rejuvenate and refresh the organism.

This is the period that honestly most worries me. It will call on my leadership skills and those of my senior team to keep up the energy, urgency, and fire in the belly. I’d love to hear advice and perspectives on how to successfully keep those belly fires burning while navigating the company to the next, more mature, level.

4 Responses to “Keeping that Fire in the Belly Feeling”


    Enjoyed this post. These of course are psychological as well as strategic questions. Interesting to think about how your leadership needs to shift/evolve.

    I’m sure you’re shifting gender pronouns is intentional; wow, I found it very disorienting. We simply don’t have gender neutral pronouns, which is problematic in this age of gender fluidity.

    I’m sitting in the hospital in NH with my mother, who fell and broke her hip yesterday. Surgery late today. Holding her own mentally, to my surprise. We’ll see.


    Sent from my iPhone


    • julespieri

      Margaret, I think these are mainly psychological questions. It’s why first time and younger founders have to push so hard–as they don’t have the full emotional ballast they will likely develop with life and startup experience.

      The pronoun thing is not intentional. Correcting!

      Good luck to your mom. Yikes!!


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