The Trough of Sorrow is a term coined by Paul Graham, Co-founder of Y Combinator. Y Combinator is one of the most prestigious technology startup accelerators in Silicon Valley. It have launched more than 3,000 companies, including Stripe, Airbnb, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox, Twitch and Reddit.
Trough of Sorrow refers to the period of struggle a startup faces following the initial excitement phase. This often corresponds with the challenge to find product market fit. Sometimes, this Trough of Sorrow come after a seed funding. Paul Graham created a visual that depicts the startup curve and the trough of sorrow.
Getting through all the challenges following the initial excitement, is really hard. The startup is often consistently one month away from failure (runway). This huge stress, and responsibility can wreak havoc on the mental health of the novice founders.
The trough of sorrow is a mix of feelings, including depression, anxiety and extreme levels of stress. This feeling is often associated with early phases of the startup life.