The Trough of Sorrow

Paul Graham has a famous graph for new products called “The Process” where things start off with exuberance before quickly cooling down and going through a long low period called the “Trough of Sorrow”:

The trough of sorrow is real. Startup life is like a roller coaster with high highs and low lows and the product process is closely related. Now, the big question is what do you do when you hit the trough of sorrow. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Celebrate the small wins – Even in the trough of sorrow some things will be going well. Look for these small wins and celebrate them.
  • Find peers in similar situations – Everyone goes through the trough of sorrow on the way to success. Seek out like-minded people and share experiences with each other.
  • Reach out for help – Plenty of other successful entrepreneurs have already persevered through the trough of sorrow and can give guidance on what worked, and didn’t work.
  • Talk to customers – Find the small (possibly tiny) group of customers that absolutely love your product. Listen to them. Ask them for help. Get strength from the fact that they love the product and that there has to be more people like them out there.

Most entrepreneurs don’t make it through the trough of sorrow. Sometimes the market isn’t ready for the product. Sometimes the product isn’t any good. Yet, sometimes, with enough fortitude and strength, the trough of sorrow is conquered and lift-off happens. Entrepreneurs that make it through this rite of passage appreciate the success even more.

What else? What are some more thoughts on the trough of sorrow?

One thought on “The Trough of Sorrow

  1. Man, I love this post.

    I felt like I was going through this myself recently and a friend pointed out your post. My startup is boot-strapped, profitable, but not growing at 10x MRR (only 5x), but I feel things are stagnant and not going anywhere.

    This helped. Thx.

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