A few weeks ago, I was reading through an old journal of mine and I came across a few entries involving a certain idea I was really excited about at the time. In each entry, I spoke about the breakthroughs I'd had that day, how the project was shaping up, and what an impact it was going to make. And the present me started thinking "Oh yeah! I remember this! What happened to this project?" Well, the answer was only a few pages away.
November 10, 2008, I wrote: "I woke up and looked at my project on paper and then I started thinking, people are going to think that this is either really, really cool - or really, really stupid." Yes. Looking back, I could literally pinpoint the date that fear got the better of me.
I've been pondering this for a while. Then last week, I decided to call an associate of mine who has just had a bout of good news. His startup is about to hit billion-dollar status and he just opened an international office. "Did it feel totally surreal to be there at the opening?" I gushed. "I mean, did you ever think that the idea you had in your mind would blow up to be this big?" He laughed at me and then said:
"I'm always afraid that it's all going to go away."
Fear. Again. For entrepreneurs, it happens at every stage of our careers. Ours is a dream job for millions, but when fear sets in, it certainly doesn't feel that way. Why design a life for yourself and not enjoy it as much as possible?
I suppose I've been feeling afraid lately and decided to open up the discussion to other entrepreneurs to see if they had those same feelings. My suspicions were correct. Here are three of the common fears felt by entrepreneurs - and some creative ways of handling them!
Fear #1: Going in the Wrong Direction
"The biggest thing that kept me up at night in the early days of our startup was nailing down our customer-product fit," says Jonathan Herrick, Co-Founder of Hatchbuck.
Having previously grown several startups, Herrick knows that choosing the wrong demographic for your product is a viable fear. "If you lose focus on your target audience and your product isn't engineered to solve problems for your radical buyer, you can start burning through more cash than needed - and then you'll be facing another common fear for entrepreneurs: making sure you have enough capital to scale."
To quell that fear, Herrick and his team keep focused on research, data, and analysis. Knowing they've left no stone unturned when it comes to accommodating the right customers helps them stay grounded in reality.
We live in an age of incredible data - which can be leveraged to ease our minds about the direction of our business. It's less of a guessing game than it was ten or twenty years ago. We have access to customer information through big data, social media listening, and Google analytics. The numbers don't lie - so make them your friend and let them guide you to a business of more predictable success.
Fear #2: Losing it All
Fear of failure plagues many entrepreneurs. Adam Legas, Founder at NanoHydr8 knows that devastating feeling. In 2008, his previously successful real estate business lost millions of dollars when the market crashed. This could have caused many people to be gun shy about ever starting a business again. Legas, on the other hand, dealt with the blow by channeling his inner athlete.
His dad had taught him MMA style fighting before he was old enough to drive. "That MMA training was what made the difference for me in nearly every aspect of my life," Legas recalls. "When my real estate business crashed, I wasn't afraid to start up again. I relied on the mindset I had developed in MMA training to push on and startup another company - which is killing it."
You must have confidence as an entrepreneur and whatever extracurricular activity helps give you that - try it. You might also find that engaging in said activity clears your mind and relieves your stress - which certainly couldn't hurt your business either!
Fear #3: Falling Short in the Eyes of People
This seemed to be the most common theme amongst the entrepreneurs I spoke to.
When you're starting a business, the people closest to you are so proud of you and your family and employees are all counting on you to succeed. With that, comes the heavy burden of being able to live up to their expectations.
"Attracting those initial seed investors after years of work can be just as daunting as it is gratifying," says Bobby Lady, Founder of CITYZEN. "Very quickly, planning turns into execution, and the feeling of falling short to not only myself, but also those who believe in me, carries real consequences."
Fear of failure is not pretty. You might stay awake wondering how your possible failure might affect all the people around you - or what they might think of you for failing. Do yourself a favor: don't. This will only keep you in your head and stop you from succeeding.
Lady suggests that using fear to fuel action can be powerful. Alissa Barthel, CEO for PunkRawkLabs, agrees. "There's really no getting around confronting your own fear of failure," she says. "You unequivocally have to put every ounce of soul you have into it, or you're guaranteed to fail."
Remember that old journal I talked about and how I used it essentially to detail the demise of my idea? It's because I was using it the wrong way. Many folks have found that writing down their fears in a journal helps transform those fears into action.
Every time you start to feel fear, try writing down exactly what you're afraid of - then come up with 10 solutions for each fear. You might just find that you are not only relieving your fears by addressing problems, but also innovating new ideas that you would have never dreamed of.
I actually started writing this article because I personally was feeling fear. And because I was feeling fear, I opened up a dialog with other entrepreneurs who were feeling what I was feeling and found strength in numbers. One of the most poignant insights I received was from Kenneth Christensen, Founder of Christensen Hymas.
Christensen is an avid cyclist, who happens to be an attorney that specializes in accidents involving road bikes. Which used to be a total buzz kill for him - until he read an article by Julie Hatfield that changed his perspective. "She basically said that the more cyclists there are on the road, the likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls proportionately," he explained. "That's the same in life. Just being there, and showing up, sets an example in business."
I likened his words to "just showing up" to the entrepreneurial community and sharing our experiences. When we are able to open up to one another and genuinely talk about the challenges we face, we learn from one another and feel support from each other. And that is one sure-fire way to keep the fears at bay.