But for many entrepreneurs, the battle wounds never fully heal. That was the case for John Pope, CEO of WellDog, a Laramie, Wyoming-based energy technology firm. On Dec. 11, 2002, Pope had exactly $8.42 in the bank. He was 90 days late on his car payment. He was 75 days behind on the mortgage. The IRS had filed a lien against him. His home phone, cell phone, and cable TV had all been turned off. In less than a week, the natural-gas company was scheduled to suspend service to the house he shared with his wife and daughters. Then there would be no heat. His company was expecting a wire transfer from the oil company Shell, a strategic investor, after months of negotiations had ended with a signed 380-page contract. So Pope waited.
The wire arrived the next day. Pope--along with his company--was saved. Afterward, he made a list of all the ways in which he had financially overreached. "I'm going to remember this," he recalls thinking. "It's the farthest I'm willing to go."
Since then, WellDog has taken off: In the past three years, sales grew more than 3,700 percent, to $8 million, making the company No. 89 on the Inc. 500. But emotional residue from the years of tumult still lingers. "There's always that feeling of being overextended, of never being able to relax," says Pope. "You end up with a serious confidence problem. You feel like every time you build up security, something happens to take it away."
Pope sometimes catches himself emotionally overreacting to small things. It's a behavior pattern that reminds him of posttraumatic stress disorder. "Something happens, and you freak out about it," he says.