Boost Productivity

How to get out of the pre-launch “Trough of Sorrow”

In the startup world, there’s a famous chart that investors like to show entrepreneurs to demonstrate the emotional rollercoaster of starting a business.

It goes something like this: you get your first business idea and you get REALLY excited. But soon, the hard work required dawns on you and the setbacks begin to test your resolve.

GL Curve1

It’s in this “Trough of Sorrow” where an entrepreneur’s perseverance is everything, and it’s where many give up. If you’re not careful, you can let the short-term setbacks derail what would have been a six-figure business.

So how do you get through this messy middle, the stretch when you have an idea but no customers? It’s the kind of stuff EVERY entrepreneur goes through, but not many discuss openly.

So we asked a few of our Zero To Launch grads to tell us in their own words how they dealt with the inevitable down times after the excitement wears off. Here’s what they said:

1. First, find your tribe

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Amanda Smith, Solace Lessons, simplifying gardening for modern life.

Most recent news: Virtual Summit that netted 5,100 subscribers and $20,000.

You need to make sure to find your people. Find the people that are going to mentor you and that you can help mentor.

Building your online business is a lonely road. I was lucky I was shown the importance of community from the beginning, otherwise I wouldn’t have had direction and I would have floundered a little bit more.

The key is to allocate a certain amount of time each week to talk to people and to reach out to other people. I try to set aside five hours and hit that five-hour goal every week.

Build relationships with these people. It’s not just a one and done conversation or experience unless they just don’t resonate with you. Growing your business is an adventure in self-discovery and having these people around to support you, specifically because they are on the same path, makes your path easier. You will see yourself in their successes and failures and vice-versa. The real learning and growing happens in those moments.

2. Remember the humanity

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Sarah Jones, Introverted Alpha, founder of dating coaching company for introverted men.

Most recent news: Just crossed $500K lifetime revenue.

My advice is to not be so money-focused at first. Instead, just try to help people you care about and the rest will follow. Thinking this way frees you to not be…weird. Case in point: I emailed my list for a year creepily asking for the sale and often came up empty. Then I sent one casual email on a whim totally unrelated to what I was selling…. and the responses came rolling in!

So many people offer the sale and then draw back into their computer. No! Remember you’re helping PEOPLE. And the more you do that the healthier your business will be.

When you finally see a sale come through, email that person and thank them and offer to keep in touch as they go through it. Say, “I’d love to be right there with you to see what kinds of questions I could answer.” PLEASE DO THIS. I’ve moved people from a $300/hour coaching to a $3,000 product to a $5,000 high-touch product this way.

And as it gets more results and you realize it works, keep increasing the price. I kept increasing the price because I kept increasing the high-touch aspect.

3. Put aside your ego

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Tree Franklyn, Find Your Inner Happy, courses for sensitive people.

Most recent news: Featured in an episode of the podcast Entrepreneur on Fire.

There are always two levels of work: the physical action work and the emotional work. The emotional work involves invisible scripts, mindsets, and insecurity. The physical action work involves things like sending an email, getting on a customer research phone call, or writing sales copy. That underlayer of emotions can affect the physical work and make everything daunting and heavy. It’s what makes us watch Netflix for two hours instead of spend 20 minutes submitting a guest post pitch.

An example: While taking Zero To Launch, I had this moment of “I know better, I don’t need to do this step, I can skip it.” But after floundering for a few months, I realized that’s just naive.

I have no clue what I’m doing, so I learned to ask people for help. I didn’t have a good feel for my audience, and it held me back at first. Once I was able to put my ego and fears aside, I was able to take the action steps necessary to pinpoint my exact audience.

4. Don’t launch until you do in-person research

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Camille Virginia, Master Offline Dating, offline dating coaching and courses for single women.

Most recent news: Opened private coaching program.

When you take too much time off from talking to your target market and go bury yourself in creating a website or an online course, you lose all perspective. Which is why I suggest doing lots of in-person workshops or coaching before even touching a product.

I think when you’re forced to articulate your solutions to someone who is sitting right there and you can watch their reactions and hear their questions… that’s instant feedback. I basically had my course all outlined and validated from small workshops I would host in my apartment. I would teach, see reactions, gather feedback immediately using a form, and tweak along the way until the course designed itself.

It’s one thing to validate your idea with people online, but to have real life people show up and give feedback, that’s a whole different level.


The tactics may vary but the end-goal remains the same: get to launch. Giving up when you’re pre-product but post-idea can mean leaving thousands of dollars (not to mention a huge positive lifestyle change) on the table.

Have you made it to launch? What would you say to someone who is in the “Trough of Sorrow”?

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There Are 6 Comments


Eric Szczerbaty

I really liked this post! It’s so cool seeing the success stories of people like Amanda who worked so hard on finding the right idea at the intersection of a need and something she’s passionate about.

The lesson on the humanity is where I’m at right now trying to be a speaker for my target audience (early career professionals ages 24-32) to see if they have the problems I’ve seen a few of my friends in that age group have at a larger scale.

Also, currently on the app thumbtack to directly engage and be a coach with that audience seeking career advice.

rattapon gurdsuk

I’m in trough of sorrow. This article help me to rise again.
Thank you.

Sean, The “start up curve” looks realistic, even though it might not be supported by a regression analysis 🙂 Thanks for sharing! And Congrats to Amanda, Tree, Sarah and Camille!

So happy to hear this helped Rattapon. Keep pushing ahead on your business, just check-in regularly with your audience to ensure you’re providing the value they seek. The rest will fall into place from there.

Comments are closed.