Staying Afloat: How Startups Can Overcome Financial Hurdles and Thrive

The startup ecosystem thrives on innovation, agility, and the relentless pursuit of growth. However, navigating a startup through difficult times can be exceptionally challenging. With the current economic climate marked by macroeconomic uncertainties, stringent fundraising conditions, and lower valuations, many startups are facing short runways and insufficient metrics to attract new funding rounds. Are you a founder in a similar situation? This article explores practical strategies that can help increase your runway and keep your startup afloat during these turbulent times.



Macroeconomic Uncertainties

The global economic landscape is fraught with uncertainties, from geopolitical tensions to fluctuating markets and inflationary pressures. These factors collectively contribute to a more cautious investment environment.

Fundraising Difficulties

Raising capital has become increasingly challenging, with investors demanding more proof of traction and sustainable business models. Lower valuations are now the norm, making it harder for startups to secure the necessary funds without significant dilution.

Short Runway and Metrics

With a short runway, startups find themselves in a race against time. Metrics that might have been acceptable during more prosperous times may no longer suffice. This scenario necessitates immediate and tough decision-making to ensure survival.



In such challenging times, founders need to consider all possible avenues to extend their runway and sustain operations.

  1. Cost-Cutting Measures

Reducing operational costs is the most immediate and often necessary step. This might include:

  • Downsizing staff: While painful, reducing the workforce can significantly cut expenses as payroll costs usually account for the largest share of OPEX. Focus on reduntant roles and underperformers and move from full-time roles to part-time roles, where possible.
  • Reducing overheads: Negotiate lower rents, move to a smaller office, or adopt a fully remote model. Remove all unnecessary spendings and focus on a zero based budget where you start from 0 and build up with only the essentials needed to operate the business.
  • Streamlining operations: It’s important for a startup to remain with a stratup mindset and not loose its identity in overly compliated internal processes, hierarchies and bureaucracy. Eliminate non-essential functions and focus on core activities. Identify inefficiencies in the internal processes, simplify procedures, consolidate tasks and reduce waste.
  • Leveraging technology: Take advantage of new technologies to improve productivity and reduce costs. With new releases of Chat bots every other day, try and experiment with what works for your business and automate routine and mundane tasks to improve your productivity.
  1. Renegotiating with Stakeholders
  • Suppliers: Negotiate extended payment terms or discounts. In uncertain times, vendors may be more willing to negotiate pricing and deferred payments in order to retain business.
  • Customers: Offer incentives for early payments or bulk purchases. Similarly to other businesses, incentivise your clients to pay upfront and lock them on multi-year contracts.
  • Investors: Consider down rounds if necessary. Diluting equity might be unavoidable, but a smaller percentage of a good outcome is better than a larger percentage of no outcome.
  1. Focus on high conviction ideas

Focusing on core competencies is essential for startups, especially during challenging times. Core competencies are the unique strengths and capabilities that give a company a competitive advantage in the market. For startups, maintaining focus on high conviction ideas is crucial for achieving success, especially in the early stages of growth. For instance, rather than diversifying into new, unproven markets, startups should prioritize refining their primary products or services, leveraging their specialized knowledge and skills to maintain and strengthen their market position. By doing so, they can build a robust foundation for sustainable growth and long-term success.

Similarly, if your startup is providing one main product but is also engaged in R&D for several other ideas, it is wise to streamline your focus. Prioritize the primary product and possibly choose one additional idea to pursue further, cutting out the others. This strategic narrowing of focus frees up essential resources, optimizes costs, and reduces distractions. By dedicating more time and energy to high conviction ideas, you enhance your chances of refining these offerings to better meet market demands and find the perfect Product-Market-Fit for you. Staying focused ensures that the startup's resources and efforts are aligned with its most promising opportunities, fostering sustainable growth and minimizing the risks associated with spreading too thin too early.

  1. Exploring New Opportunities

On the other hand, if you’ve been stuck on your initial idea for several years and you have hit the wall in terms of new users and overall growth, you might need to look for other ideas. Staying in business and waiting for the right opportunity can open new avenues. This could mean changing your business model or pivoting to a new product, service, or market. Be flexible and open-minded about where your business could go next. In order to take advantage of a new market opportunity or a new emerging trend, you need to make sure to stay in business for as long as possible. And for that, some of the cost-cutting strategies to lengthen your runway come into play.

Some real-life examples:

A notable example is OpenAI, which started as a non-profit focused on artificial intelligence research. Over the years, OpenAI pivoted to a for-profit model, becoming a leader in generative AI. This strategic pivot allowed them to attract substantial investments and grow their capabilities, illustrating the power of adaptability and openness to new directions.

Another great example is Netflix, which started as a DVD rental service in the early 2000s. The company was facing intense competiiton, it was struggling with profitability and was on the verge of bankruptcy. The company pivoted to a subscription-based model and began to invest in streaming technology in 2007. The pivot allowed the company to scale rapidly and become the behemoth it is today.

  1. Bridge Rounds and Grants
  • Bridge Rounds: These short-term funding rounds can provide the necessary capital to tide over difficult periods. Although they might come with less favorable terms, they can be crucial for survival. Talk to your current investors and discuss the possibliity for a bridge round to secure your runway until you reach the required metrics for the next big round.
  • Grants and Government Support: Explore grants and government programs designed to support startups, especially those focusing on innovation and technology. There are many different organizations, programs, competitions related to ESG or innovative technology (EIC) in the EU, so if you are an innovative tech startup or you deal with environment and sustainability issues, take advantage of these Grants.
  1. Down Rounds

It’s worth doubling down on this point for a moment. In difficult times, securing funding at a lower valuation (down round) might be a necessary compromise. While it results in greater dilution of ownership, it can provide the much-needed capital to keep the startup operational. While this might not be the best outcome that you hoped for, it might be the best decision on the table, so be open about to the possibility. This might be what’s needed to give you the time to pursue this new opportunity or idea that helps you cross the chasm.  It’s important for founders to check their ego at the door and consider all their options reasonably, so that they stay afloat for as much as possible. Remember, maintaining a smaller stake in a thriving company is more valuable than holding a larger stake in one that fails.


⇒ Navigating a startup through difficult times requires strategic thinking, flexibility, and the willingness to make tough compromises. The current economic environment presents significant challenges, but by considering all possibilities and implementing measures such as cost-cutting, securing bridge rounds, renegotiating with stakeholders, and being open to down rounds, startups can increase their runway and sustain operations. Stay vigilant, adaptable, and ready to seize new opportunities. The ability to pivot, much like OpenAI or Netflix, can lead to substantial growth and success in the long run.

⇒ Maintaining resilience and a proactive mindset during these challenging times can make the difference between a startup's survival and failure. By making every effort to stay in business, founders can position their startups to capitalize on future opportunities and navigate through the storm to achieve their ultimate vision.

Wrriten by Angel Atanasov

At CFO Insights, we have supported many companies to analyze their financial position and identify alternatives to achieve profitability. With the right combination of expertise, preparation, and actionable insights, managers can successfully direct their company through a crisis—and arise stronger. 

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