The fear of inadequacy almost prevented Kevin Rose from starting Digg, a social news site that, at its peak, attracted 38 million unique visitors a month (and landed Rose on the cover of Inc. magazine). Though Digg's popularity eventually waned, Rose went on to launch other companies, including Revision 3, an online video company he sold to Discovery Channel, and Milk, a mobile development lab that Google acquired last year. Now, as a partner at Google Ventures, Rose advises other entrepreneurs on conquering the fear of failure. --As told to Issie Lapowsky
Back in 2003, I was hosting a cable television show, The Screen Savers on TechTV. It was a pretty geeky show focused on tech, everything from reviewing the latest software to talking about motherboards.
Because we were based in San Francisco, we were able to get some really influential founders on the show, including Steve Wozniak and Stan Lee. I was a geek in my early 20s, and I would get so nervous. These guys were larger than life to me. My palms would be sweaty. My heart would race.
The turning point for me--what made me stop being so nervous--was when I realized that these guys were just real people who decided to pursue their own passions. Something flipped in their brains, and they said, “You know what? I don’t have to work for someone else. I can go do this myself.”
Because of that realization, I decided to try to create this social news site I’d been thinking about for a few months. In 2004, I quit my job to work on Digg. My parents were pretty pissed off that I was leaving hosting a national television show.
Trusting myself was still a challenge, even while building Digg. As a result, one big mistake I made was giving away a lot of control rather than figuring things out on my own. I hired a CEO in the first six months, and started bringing in outsiders to take over the pieces of the business that I was unfamiliar with. Because I wasn’t formally trained in business, I felt like I needed to hand responsibility off to someone else. I learned a lot from these people, but if I could do it again, I would have taken the Zuckerberg approach: If you don’t understand something, you don’t hand it off. You surround yourself with people who can bring you up to speed.
There are a couple of types of founders I meet with on a daily basis now that I’m at Google Ventures. Some of them have already started. They’re raising money, they have a technical team identified, and they’ve made the leap of faith.
Then there’s a whole other breed of people waiting in the wings. These are the people I meet who come up to me at conferences, looking for validation. If there’s any piece of advice that I have, it’s that if you have an itch you need to scratch, something you feel needs fixing, no one else is going to build it for you. You shouldn’t look to someone else for validation. You have to really believe in yourself and know that, worst-case scenario, if it doesn’t work out, you still built something really cool.