Sometimes when the going gets tough, team members gets discouraged. Though we embrace failure here and eat it like lunch, some people are not confident enough in themselves to take failure positively.
In what ways have you tried giving your partners some boost in their self confidence in themselves and the business (without hurting their ego)?
Or... is this all futile?
Actually, I think that "Is it all futile" question tells me that this is a guy that is really in the trenches, not just talking about it. If any entrepreneur says that they have never asked the question, they aren't being honest with themselves.
The truth is that it isn't all futile, though it can feel that way. More than likely, you have some people on your team that shouldn't be there. That doesn't mean that they are bad people or that they have no talent or even that they are bad employees. It just means that they shouldn't be working for your company right now.
Adversity is tough and most people don't deal with it well. This is especially true of most employees. If they were wired to thrive in that environment, they would be entrepreneurs themselves.
That is why it is particularly tough to staff a start-up. It is all fun when you can talk about all the future success you will enjoy, but it starts to suck when you have one problem after another with your product, when you can't make payroll that first time, when you have to lay people off because sales weren't what is expected, and so on.
At the end of the day, all you can do is to lead the people that can be lead. Unless you are especially gifted at personal motivation, you probably won't be able to make someone feel better about the problems you are having if they don't want to feel better.
If that is the case, you might need to clean house a bit. If you can lift up an employee/partner and help them perform when things suck, keep them forever because you can't place value on that. If you can't, let them go. It will be kinder them and to you. It will give them the opportunity to find something that fits their personality better, and it will keep them from poisoning the attitude of the people who are trying to thrive in the situation you are in. An employee with a bad attitude costs a lot more than the wage you pay them. Trust me.
Of course, if this employee also happens to be a shareholder, you have to be careful and consider the ramifications. In that case, a good business attorney is in order. Hope this helps.
The "Is it all futile?" question has a pretty demotivated sound to it.
While you cannot determine others attitudes in adversity, you'll certainly set the tone and others will key off your attitudes. Leadership here is a two sided coin. On one side you have to discipline yourself in the face of adversity to lead with a consistently positive, balanced, reasonable attitude. On the other side, you have to come long side those struggling in a moment of discouragement with words of encouragement and assistance rather than judgment for their weakness. This will build great camaraderie and perseverance in a team.
My simple mantra is to compliment others when they do something well. Genuine compliment, not phony. This should be a daily thing.
What someone is struggling and getting discouraged, I listen first. Go to lunch, coffee, for a walk. Hear what they have to say. What do they worry about in terms of the business? Then talk through those concerns, truthfully, providing positives to try and motivate them. (If you can't think of anything then that's a whole other problem.) If they worry about themselves, same thing. But also talk about what they can do to address their own weaknesses. Could be mentoring, training, help...whatever it takes.
But overriding theme is to communicate. It's amazing how often companies of all sizes do that poorly and amazing how much good it can do to do it well.
Like a couple of other people said, startups are tough. And yea, it's super easy to get psyched in the mode of romance around future rewards, but when you're redlining in the cashflow account and your back is up against a wall, you need the psychology to muscle through it. If you don't have it, and you don't actively work toward getting it, you're missing the underlying mental component needed to make anything happen in life, let alone a startup.
Skills can be learned. Deals can be done. Mechanics can be taught. But the sheer positively psychotic, wherewithal to drive through the inevitable black days is a critical imperative that you must have over all else. - If someone can't juice themselves up to execute and be functional, it's hard to help them fix that. They need to learn, mentally, how to fix that.