The Three Seasons of a Start Up

Mother Nature is wise and has given us seasons.  Not just outdoors, but there are also seasons in life, work, and business:

  1. WINTER is a time to REGENERATE:  sleep, think, contemplate, rest, re-charge, dream, get ready.
  2. SPRING is a time to CHANGE: act, create chaos, pivot, switch, adapt, move.
  3. SUMMER is a time to GROW:  stretch, extend, strain, go far, push, drive.


It’s a simple concept:  a winter of regenerating, a spring of changing, and a summer of growing … then falling back through autumn (the fourth season), to regenerate again.


It’s important not to skip any season.  But why?

You, your career, and your business all need each of these unique seasons.

This cycle exists in the life of a startup, and the life of a human, and the lives of plants and animals.  And its just like the seasons. You, your career, and your business all need each of these.


namastay in bedI love sleeping;  I sleep soundly, rarely remember my dreams, can fall asleep pretty much anywhere and at any time.  Not everyone shares my passion for sleep — and those that don’t sleep well are missing out on this important phase of re-charging.

Seriously, there are countless studies and articles that say sleep is essential to memory, focus, maintaining a healthy body weight, managing stress and more. I hope I’m not telling you something new. We should all know that sleep helps our body perform the crucial functions of restoring and rejuvenating:

Our bodies all require long periods of sleep in order to restore and rejuvenate, to grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.


And your mind isn’t inactive in this phase – it’s actually very active, making connections and drawing conclusions. Those brilliant “aha” moments in your morning shower are most likely from your brain working hard overnight.

In a business start up, the initial sleeping phase is the real birth of the business – the idea phase. It’s when someone noticed something that could be better or saw an opportunity to do something differently. And he or she started talking to their friends about it, and contemplating how to fund it, and who they might enroll to support them, and who might advise them. Just quietly — like the river under the snow.

Sleep, think, contemplate, rest, re-charge, dream, get ready.

In nature, winter is sleep time. Whether you think of yourself as the quiet stream, an acorn waiting to sprout, or a black bear that is hibernating — winter is for sleeping — storing up for the chaos of spring that is ahead.


acornThen comes the change – if you’ve been sleeping you stumble out of bed to the shower or the coffee machine. The start up is gaining momentum just like the winter river that starts to gather steam as the snow melts into it. Or maybe it’s like the acorn that sprouts its tiny green leaves or the black bear that shakes off that long sleep.

Act, create chaos, pivot, switch, adapt, move.

It’s chaotic – its the birth of something new; its the metamorphosis; it’s the entry into a new world. It’s exciting. And sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes it hurts. But it will end — just like spring turns into summer.  And that’s when the growing starts.


The small startup starts to act like a “real” company.

The little acorn grows into a tree.

The little cub turns into the grown bear.

The growth and change is not so chaotic — but it’s stretching.  It’s just not in the same chaotic way. The days of summer are long, and so are the work days in a start up.  Employees are exhausted, capital is tight, everyone is firing on all cylinders.

Stretch, extend, strain, go far, push, drive.


There comes a point when things need to change — the product-market fit is off, your customers start churning, or your employees no longer know why they’re working so hard, or they’re simply exhausted. You or your company are hitting a wall.

There are countless examples of this. You can read about several in The Hustle blog series called “Sh*t, I’m F*cked” which profiles entrepreneurs who describe moments when they thought they were about to fail, like Brian Scudamore of 1-800-Got-Junk.

That’s when something needs to change … reflection, assessment, contemplation and regeneration are needed. Time to retreat into the deliberation phase of winter.

Retreat into winter — restore depleted energy, reflect on the options, and gather the necessary energy to force the change and bring on the chaos — whether it’s Brian Scudamore letting his COO go, or Howard Schultz deciding to spend $30MM to take 10,000 store managers to New Orleans to do 50,000 hours of community service; leaders have to deliberate and then act. And then the growth can follow.

And at an individual level, people do the same retreat. Whether you are contemplating a new career, saving up to pay for your MBA, or harnessing the resources for the next start up.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and founder of Square, Inc., must have gone through lots of regenerating, followed by change and growth.  According to Forbes he is “a self-taught computer coder, (who) dropped out of NYU, became a certified masseur and dabbled in fashion design before gravitating fully to tech.” Phases (call them journeys if you like) are necessary — regenerate, change, grow, then repeat.  Just like winter, spring and summer — then fall back around to winter.

So, don’t forget to rest and give yourself time to re-charge and maybe deliberate.  Then embrace the change — a chaotic but temporary state —  followed by growth, followed by regeneration (again), and change (again). And so it goes.  Or, as Winston Churchill said,

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often

So change, and change often. But grow and regenerate in between.