Jun 23 2022

Two Great Lines (and One Worrisome One) About the Current Macroeconomic Situation

I was trading emails a few weeks ago Elliot Noss from Tucows about the current state of the economy after being on a panel together about it, and he wrote:

The market is fascinating right now. Heated competition AND layoffs and hiring freezes. It feel like an old European hotel where there are two faucets, one is too hot and the other too cold.

While a quick rant about European hotel bathrooms could be fun…we’ll just stick to the sink analogy. As anyone who has ever tried to use one of these sinks that Elliot describes knows, they’re hard to use and illogical. Sure, sometimes you want freezing water and sometimes you want scalding water (I guess), but often, you want something in between. And the only way to achieve that is to turn on both freezing and scalding at the same time? That’s weird.

Then I was on another email thread recently with a group of CEOs, when John Henry from Ride With Loop said this:

Whatever the climate, we all surely agree there is no bad time to build a good business.

How true that is!

But here’s the worrisome part. It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen next. We are in uncharted territory here with a land war in Europe, a partial global oil embargo of a top tier oil producer, a pandemic, supply chain problems, etc. etc. There are days and circumstances where everything feels normal. Plenty of businesses, especially in the tech sector, are kicking ass. And yet there are days and circumstances that feel like 2001 or 2009. It’s tough to navigate as a startup CEO. Yes, it’s obvious you should try to have a couple years of cash on hand, and that you should be smart about investments and not get too far ahead of revenue if you’re in certain sectors (presumably if you’re in an R&D intensive field and weren’t planning to have revenue for years on end, life isn’t all that different?). But beyond that, there’s no clear playbook.

And that’s where the worrisome line comes in. I saw Larry Summers on Meet the Press last weekend, who predicted that

a recession would come in late 2023.

Wait, what? Aren’t things messed up now? Yes, inflation is high, the stock market is down, and interest rates are creeping up. But the economy is still GROWING. Unemployment is still LOW. Summers’ point is a reminder that contraction is likely, but it may still be a ways off, it depends how the Fed handles interest rate hikes (and about a zillion other things), and it’s impossible to predict. That was more worrisome to me. If we’re navigating choppy waters now, it may not just be for a couple of quarters. It may be that 4-6 quarters from now, we are in for 2-3 quarters of contraction. That is a more than most companies are able to plan for from a cash perspective.

Frothy macro environments lead to bad businesses getting created, too many lookalike businesses popping up, or weak teams getting funded. When the tide goes out, as they say, you can see who is swimming naked. But if you’re building a good business, one that has staying power and a clear value proposition, with real people or clients paying real money for a real product or service, and if you’re serious about building a good company, keep on keeping on. Be smart about key decisions, especially investment decisions, but don’t despair or give up.

We’ll all get through this.