I was chatting with a startup veteran friend of mine recently about the difference between startups where a founder is the CEO and those where an outside "hired gun" has taken the CEO role. I recall a recent blog post* which said that a key difference is what happens when things get difficult, or major issues crop up that threaten the company's viability. Conventional wisdom is that in such situations, the hired gun will cut their losses and move on to the next thing (often without really trying to get past the obstacle), while the founder hangs in there, stays optimistic, and is often seen as being in denial. Any sane outsider would look at it and say "this is futile", or even "it's already dead", but the founder/CEO is sure that there is a customer or product or feature or angel or acquisition or partner or marketing opportunity right around the corner that will change everything.
Our conversation turned to companies where this state of denial is so strong that any sane observer would look at it and say "this company is already dead", but the CEO soldiers on, often keeping their very loyal team equally committed. We were reminded of a scene from the movie "The Sixth Sense":
Cole Sear: I see dead people...Walking around like regular people...They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.
Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?
Cole Sear: All the time. They're everywhere.
We decided to call such startups "Sixth Sense Companies" - they are already dead, but they just don't know it.
The question is, are these CEOs really deluded, or are there examples of startups that were "Sixth Sense Companies", written off by everyone, by all rights should have shut down, but were revived by their passionate CEOs and brought back to life? Fred gives us a few candidates, but I don't know these well enough to say if they were "all dead", or only "mostly dead". There's a difference, as Miracle Max tells us:
Miracle Max: WIt just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What's that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.
Feel free to comment with nominations for Sixth Sense Companies - the "all dead" ones - that made it back.
*(tried to find it but couldn't; feel free to direct me to it in the comments and I'll link to it)