Fear and Startups

I have been thinking for a while what to write about here.  It has been a bit since I have written anything and that has contributed to some writer’s block.  Today that changed.  I was reading an article on the OC VC Blog about fear (Overcoming Fear) and thought, that’s it! Fear! It is the thing that everyone is talking about these days. It can be easily said that it is the predominant driver of most people in our current environment.

I began thinking about the fears you encounter when running a startup. The biggest is…fear of failure! Fear of failure kills more startups and delay more action then just about anything. I have encountered the nastiness of this fear and it’s ability to cause procrastination to set in with such a vengeance that everything slows to a crawl. My solution is to ignore the fear of failure. I don’t base my actions on success or failure but on passion and motivation. In reality there is no failure. Either you do something or you don’t. This leads to the next big fear…

The next biggest fear is…fear of immensity! I’ve had this fear creep in anytime I think about what I want our companies products to become. I see these beautiful applications and services all done and gleaming brightly in the sunlight, with extraordinary features that everyone is in love with, then I look at where we are…and the fear creeps in. How can our little team build this thing, were we crazy!!! You can see where this thinking leads, usually to paralysis. So I look at the little steps instead. If I can just do a little bit every day, just something to forward the cause, then something amazing happens. You step back one day and realize the immensity of what you have accomplished! There is a corollary to this fear….

The next fear is…fear of competitors! This can be as paralyzing as fear of immensity. What are they doing? They got how much funding?! Who is their new partner?!? We’ll never catch up…you see where this is going. So I ignore my competitors. Well not really ignore, I just realize that they are running their race and we are running ours. I have found over time that most competitors don’t meet my expectations. It is a common trap to believe that just because a competitor has money or connections they will actually leverage those assets successfully. It rarely occurs. So, if it rarely occurs, why worry about it or be fearful. Just build your product or service and make your customers happy. Let your competitors fear you, don’t fear them.

The next fear is…fear of loneliness. Running a startup can be very lonely. Most people don’t understand what you are trying to do. You can’t really talk to them in terms that they understand. If you work for 2 months adding something ground-breaking to your product or service and 3 AM some morning you get everything to work for the first time it’s time to celebrate!!! But who is there? Usually you and your computer. Maybe one of your partners is around, but even then they may not understand everything behind your accomplishment. Not being able to share in your success can make you feel lonely. Just the fact that you may be the only one that believes in your ultimate success can make you feel lonely. To handle this loneliness I have found that it is best to include everyone you can in your business. You talk to your girlfriend or wife about it on a regular basis, you let your friends know what is happening. Then, when you have success, you can share it. Another thing is to get out of the office. Go to a Meetup related to what you are doing, attend a conference. These things can boost your morale, make you excited about what you are doing, and get other people excited. When other people are excited about what you are doing the loneliness vanishes.

The next fear is…self-doubt. In the Web 2.0 world this is an easy one to catch. Everyone is building something or launching something new, all of the time. It used to bother me when people would say how easy it is to create a company these days. Most of the time it comes from people who have never created a startup in their lives! You will also find yourself wondering if you are in the right business, especially when that new flavor of the month comes around. I push back on this fear by remembering that I am building something to last. That it may take 3-5 years to become profitable, that it can take even longer! If I am building something to last that is profitable and takes care of the needs of my customers then there is no way that the flavor of the month, or people that don’t understand what it takes to build a business, should have any impact on me!

This all brings me to the big fear of the day…fear of the future! Everyone these days is afraid of what the future will bring. Will I get the funding I need with the economy so bad? Will my customers still continue to pay me? Will I be able to continue to pay my employees? Is everything going to collapse into ruin!!! This is were you need FAITH! This is where the Overcoming Fear article inspired me to write this. Faith is many different things to many different people. To some it is religious and spiritual, to others it is not. No matter what, faith ultimately is the belief that there is something better out there. That if we work hard and do the right thing we will survive and thrive. I have faith that I will succeed so I keeping moving forward building my company. I have faith in my family and friends, so I don’t worry about loneliness. I have faith in my abilities, so I can erase self-doubt. I have faith that my competitors aren’t as good as I fear they are. I have faith that I can overcome the immensity of my dreams. Ultimately, I have faith that I can be a success.

…but then again, we entrepreneurs are a little crazy!!!

– Doug K.


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