What are my options besides bankruptcy when my company is failing?
When a startup or young company is failing, or in a crisis that is life threatening, there are three main courses of action to consider:
1. An orderly shutdown without a bankruptcy filing. In the U.S. you can be forced into bankruptcy by 3 creditors but this does not normally happen without a lot of money owed. It is n expensive process and the creditors have to hire lawyer who could charge them $10K to $20K for handling it. Generally a waste of money and time for all involved unless there are large assets to divide. You simply shut down and walk away. Some creditors will not get paid. That is the cost of doing business - there is always risk extending credit. This is NOT a bankruptcy. It is a shut down.
2. Do a "Pivot" - This means changing the focus, story and market entry strategy significantly from what you have been trying that has not attracted the customers and/or capital you have been seeking. This new story may attract capital and more customers.
3. File bankruptcy (Chapter-7) which will dissolve the corporation and divide the assets between creditors in proportion to the debt to them. Equity holders will generally get wiped out and receive nothing.
If you do a pivot you can also ask creditor to discount the debt owed. They may understand they have a chance of something or nothing. It is not uncommon for them to give 50% to 85% discounts to get something later. If there are many some will cooperate and other may not but it is designed to take the pressure off for a time period so you can do the pivot.
It is not an easy time for anyone but it is business in the Darwinian world of capitalism. Over 60% of businesses will fail in the first 5 years. The root cause is they lack the mentorship and experience to be successful. Lack of capital and sales is always the excuse in the mind of the entrepreneur but usually this is a rationalization and they had a poor strategy or execution or both. It takes decades to be able to model a business in your head and make adjustments without month, even years, of trial and error. There are also many great ideas that are not good businesses for complex reasons. Anyone betting on a business would be wise to allocate $500 to $1,000 per month towards coaching and consulting from an experienced entrepreneur. Complex businesses should form an Advisory Board and offer some stock, and/or cash to that team. This may sound expensive but compared to the alternative, which can be loss of everything, even your home and retirement, it is pretty cheap.
One other thing, which is a mistake many entrepreneurs make. These mentors should never be lawyers or accountants. These people are trained and think in a particular way for their profession which is not appropriate for entrepreneurship. Lawyers try to manage risk to zero and are very expensive. They can drive a company into bankruptcy as they live in an artificial construct called “law” which does not help figure out a business. Accountants are simply bean counters that make sure the tax issues are covered financial and records are done. Any experienced CEO will tell you these people are not startup advisors and they should be used only in their specialty areas. Most of them want to pretend they have expertise they do not have and sell you more hours. Don’t fall for that one. In fact the typical personalities in these professions is called the “Black Hat”, meaning a worst case, sky is falling, ultra-conservative style and attitude. The opposite of what is needed in entrepreneurship. When starting a new business you are in the risk business and must take some chances and make reasonable compromises until you reach a level of revenue to support doing everything exactly “right”.