One of the worst feelings in the professional world is having to let people go not due to performance (that's easy) but due to financial constraints. I've been reading about the latest rounds of lay-offs in our sector and it's pretty sad.
It's times like this that I'm so glad we've decided to stay lean. Yeah, maybe a project gets delayed here and there but I'll take that over having to tell someone they lost their job not because it was their fault but because it was my fault for not planning properly ahead of time. It's just unfortunate that it took a soft investment market for companies to realize they should pay attention to pesky little things like revenues and/or profits. My personal philosophy has always been that if cash flow cannot support a full-time employee (salary, benefits, taxes, etc) PLUS at least 25%, then don't hire that person. If it's a revenue generating position, have the person work on commission until they generate enough cash flow per the last sentence. Maybe it's time start-ups began running their businesses like nearly all the other businesses out there (ie, make profits now) instead of waiting for that next round or the buy out.
I'm reading Jessica Livingston's "Founder at Work" book and one particular chapter is quite appropriate. It's about how Charles Geschke and John Warnock only needed about $50K to start Adobe and that shortly thereafter they got $1 million plus contracts from guys like Apple and others to license their printing software. Why don't entrepreneurs think like that any more? Build something, make more money than you spent building it, repeat. Maybe that's just too pedestrian for today's founders but that's one way to ensure your business is recession proof. Another great read is Paul Graham's article about starting a technology company during a recession.