Startup advice

PERFORM IN TIMES OF CRISIS by Cristobal Alonso and Stoyan Yankov

Back to News

We asked our CEO, Cristobal Alonso, and our long-term productivity coach, Stoyan Yankov, who also happen to be the co-authors of the long-awaited  PERFORM book, for exclusive insights into the sequel. They shared how the process unfolded, where the inspiration came from, and the key elements behind the writing. Here’s a glimpse into their journey.

On July 18, 2022, while Stoyan was in Tel Aviv conducting corporate training, I sent him a voice message with a spark of inspiration. A conversation with a reader of our first book, “PERFORM: The Unsexy Truth of (Startup) Success”, had ignited a new idea.

“Hey, I loved your book and the methodology. It gives a great overview of how to set a company on the path to success. But what about the times when you are ‘in a hole’; when you are struggling?” my friend asked.

Recognizing the importance of this topic, Stoyan and I embarked on the journey of writing “PERFORM in Times of Crisis.” A few weeks later, in Tallinn, my right-hand man, Billy, and I joined Stoyan for intensive brainstorming sessions. Little did we know, it would take nearly two years to complete this book.

Why Did It Take Us So Long?

First of all, for those of you who have written a book, you know it’s not a walk in the park. You have to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours researching, drafting, editing, and re-writing. Just like in our first book, Stoyan and I decided to include many examples from successful founders and business leaders. This meant conducting over 100 interviews and ultimately including 60+ examples in the book. We curated which parts to include and obtained confirmation from the PR teams of the founders. Each chapter draft was then sent to several people for feedback, and we decided which parts were relevant to address.

Secondly, during this period, we both faced numerous challenging moments. Ironically, while writing a book about #CrisisLeadership, we had to navigate our own crises. It was one of the toughest periods in the VC industry, with many startups and founders experiencing crises in their companies. Cash flow and revenue generation issues were rampant, affecting us in various ways. We had to apply a lot of the advice we were giving, which is always the most painful medicine.

In many ways, I think this made the book more authentic and gave it an extra personal touch.

PERFORM in Times of Crisis, progress meeting in Copenhagen, Jan 2023

Driven by our experience and all the learnings and research, we decided to structure the book in a way that addresses 5 fundamental questions:

  • How do you build a resilient culture?
  • How do you plan for and respond effectively when a crisis hits?
  • How do you communicate internally and externally during and after a crisis?
  • How do you manage layoffs and rebuild once things improve?
  • How do you manage your mental state & your team’s emotional temperature in the toughest times?

As mentioned before, we included learnings and examples from over 60 successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, such as the former president of Starbucks, the founder of Vivino, and the founder of Reebok. Additionally, we featured insights from companies in the Startup Wise Guys portfolio, including Ondato, Fractory, FinMap, GoRampBotsCrew, BazaIT. Contributors also include SWG coaches like Patrick Collins, Zane Bojare, Patrick Mork, and Merilin Maher. Hopefully, you can relate to and resonate with these stories

To give you a glimpse, here are a few key takeaways from the book that might inspire you to look further:

1. Act in Line with Your Values, Even in the Hardest Times 

Your actions during tough times define who you are as a leader. It’s easy to lead when things are going smoothly, but true character is revealed under pressure.

Screenwriter Robert McKee says: “True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

2. During a crisis, make sure these 4 areas are well taken care of 

Do whatever it takes to prevent them from being affected. It should be like your morning routine every day. You wake up and you check how each of these areas is doing, what are the risks for them to be further affected, and how to prevent and minimize the risk.

3. Be transparent & honest, and provide frequent updates

In many countries, leaders hesitate to share struggles with their teams. However, the most effective leaders know that real strength comes from being open and vulnerable. Even if you don’t have all the answers, people need a leader they can trust. Avoid fueling drama by sharing the truth. Show up with strength, confidence, and compassion, and your team will likely step up to help and support.

4. Letting people go is the hardest part of the CEO’s job 

Exhaust all other options first. If it becomes necessary, do it the right way. Communicate with care and respect, help affected employees find new opportunities, and be there for them. It’s one of the most painful experiences, but sometimes it’s necessary to “keep the boat afloat.”

5. Learn to manage your mental state and remain calm even in the most stressful situations

Howard Behar, the founding president of Starbucks International, wrote the foreword for the book and shared many valuable lessons. One that resonated with us: “There are no stressful situations, only stressful responses.”

In a crisis, everyone looks to the leader. If you panic, it’s game over. Entrepreneurship is about managing stress and uncertainty. When faced with a crisis, the question is: what are your tools to regain a calm, confident state of mind? Every leader gets stressed, but the most effective ones bounce back quickly and take control.

Lastly, we want to emphasize that a crisis, while dangerous, also brings opportunities.

(In Chinese, the word for “crisis” is composed of two parts: danger and opportunity.)

In the book, we included perspectives on both how to address challenges and seize opportunities that may arise. At the end of every chapter, we share an opportunity story – a practical case from a startup or founder about leveraging a crisis to create an opportunity.

Paraphrasing our good friend and leadership expert Patrick Flesner: “These days, leaders find themselves navigating not through the shockwaves of a sudden crisis but rather the enduring tremors of a sustained crisis.” Good leaders need to continuously find sustainable solutions and opportunities amid this sustained crisis.

This was the case for us with this book. Initially, we suffered a “book creation” crisis, struggling with structure, creativity, and timelines. Eventually, all these challenges pushed the content forward; we found our way and managed to create a book we are proud of.

The book is now available on Amazon and has already reached #1 Bestseller and           #1 New Release in several business book categories.

Thank you, everyone, for your support! Let’s #KeepPERFORMing even in a times of crisis.

You can get your copy already today!👇