Emergencies and unexpected developments are part of being an entrepreneur. No matter how well you plan or how far ahead you think, you’ll eventually be forced to pay an unexpected expense, deal with an equipment malfunction, or face the consequences of a full-staff departure.
There are always ways around these challenges, whether you take out a short-term loan or hire temporary workers. But how you respond to these challenges will define you and shape your business for years to come.
Take inspiration from these successful businesses, all of which were saved from a risky situation, thanks to quick-thinking and quick-acting leaders.
FedEx bounced back after running low on cash.
FedEx couldn’t have foreseen the tumult from high fuel costs in the 1970s, with pilots using their personal credit cards and avoiding cashing their paychecks to keep their planes fueled. At one point, the company faced millions of dollars in debt, with $5,000 in reserve.
That’s when founder Frederick Smith knew he had to do something fast. His decision was to fly to Las Vegas and gamble the last of the money. Though it was an unconventional decision, it earned him $27,000 — enough to keep the company going for another week. That bought him enough time to start fixing other problems in the business, and he did, ultimately building FedEx into the powerhouse it is today.
Airbnb used clever products to raise funds.
Back in 2008, Brian Chesky and the other co-founders of Airbnb were desperate for cash. They were turned down by seven major investors in Silicon Valley, despite having a strong idea and a promising start. They were desperate to get enough cash to keep going.
Making use of the political climate of the time and knowing they had to sell something to stay afloat, the time used cardboard and hot glue to make special-edition Cheerios boxes sporting “Obama O’s” for Barack Obama and “Cap’n McCains” for John McCain. Surprisingly, this simple idea helped them raise tens of thousands of dollars, which was enough to keep the company going through this rough patch.
GoDaddy held on past the dot-com bubble.
GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons led a challenging life before he decided to become an entrepreneur in the mid-1990s. He founded GoDaddy in 1997, and for a few years, things were running decently — GoDaddy couldn’t be called a massive success, but it wasn’t on the brink of collapse.
But by 2001, things were slowing to a crawl, and Parsons’ bank account was down to its last millions. Parsons thought about abandoning ship but reminded himself that even if he lost everything, there would still be new opportunities available. He held on, and a few months later, the dot-com bubble burst. The economic shift forced thousands of businesses to switch to GoDaddy’s inexpensive web services, and the company made enough money to re-establish itself.
Intuit reinvented itself in 1985.
Intuit had been around for a few years when it started running out of cash in 1985. Co-founders Scott Cook and Tom Proulx found themselves unable to pay employee salaries temporarily, and several key employees left. The remaining four, who believed in the future of Intuit, stayed on and worked for free for six months. Together, this small team managed to land a handful of high-profile clients and perfect their core products (including Quicken). After creating a new revenue stream from advertising, the company overcame this massive hurdle to become a smashing success.
Uber remained resilient in the face of every challenge.
It’s hard to see Uber as anything but a tech juggernaut these days, but its history is full of bad luck and hard challenges. The company started as UberCab back in 2009, but got a cease-and-desist letter in 2010, which forced a major name (and branding) change. Not long after, a major funding deal from Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen fell through.
Despite seeing enormous growth in brand recognition, coverage and profitability, the company has faced lawsuits, sexism and sabotage allegations and complaints about privacy and safety. Rather than succumb, Uber’s leaders have tried to work through these issues, improving their products, culture and team along the way.
This isn’t to say that your business is likely to bounce back after a disaster — only that it’s possible. You still need a calm perspective, the resolution to adapt and survive and, of course, a strong team to help execute your plan. Still, it’s comforting to know that even some of the most successful businesses in the modern world are here not because they never had to face a chaotic emergency, but because they did — and triumphed.