Startups have the potential to stress out the people in charge. Founders have big ambitions, and there are so many things that they can't control that could get in the way. Entrepreneurs could get stressed out by all the uncertainty, or they could be energized by the fresh challenges uncertainty presents to their skills as leaders and problem-solvers.
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn's co-founder and former CEO, experienced such uncertainty as a source of "constant anxiety." As he told The Wall Street Journal, such anxiety goes hand in hand "with starting and growing a business." And he advised entrepreneurs to have or to develop "a high tolerance for uncertainty, error, and correction."
Hoffman had good reason to be anxious. As he pointed out, just like a telephone network, a social network is of no value unless enough people are using it. As he said, "If you have a telephone network when none of your friends do -- whom are you going to call?" Solving that problem translated into high anxiety until LinkedIn could attract at least a million users -- the critical mass it needed to be successful.
Here are four ways to channel the anxiety that Hoffman hated into thought and action that get results.
1. Form a Team Charged With Creating the Future
Don't take all the responsibility on your shoulders. Instead, create a team of people with expertise in the key business functions -- such as marketing, engineering, and sales -- that your company will need to excel in to grow.
Charge the team with thinking through all the uncertainties that could both help and hinder the achievement of the ambitious goals you are setting for the company. Encourage the team members to do their own research -- listening to potential customers and partners and industry experts.
Finally, pick team members who will not be shy about debating with others to come up with the best ideas to create the future.
2. Imagine Four Different Scenarios
Charge your team with creating several different scenarios for how the future will evolve. That starts with making a list of things you know and things you don't know about the future. Next ask the teams to rank the things they don't know in order of importance to your company's future.
For the two most important unknowns, imagine two possible outcomes. For example, let's say you run a restaurant. Two of the most important uncertainties might be the price people will pay to sit in restaurants and how many former customers will return.
From here you could construct four different scenarios, from great to terrible:
- Many customers come back and are willing to pay higher prices
- Few customers return -- but they are willing to pay higher prices
- Many customers return but will not pay higher prices
- Few customers return and will not pay higher prices
3. Build Strategies for Success in Each Scenario
For each of the scenarios, your team should develop the best strategies they can imagine.
For the best scenario above, your team might imagine being able to expand the dining area enough to enable all parties to socially distance and charge a much higher price to cover the additional costs.
For the worst scenario, your team might reduce the floor space tremendously and limit the menu to fewer, lower-priced items that you could prepare at an even lower cost.
4. Execute the Best Strategies and Invest in Those That Get Results
The final step would be to try out the best strategies for the scenarios that your team considered the most likely based on all the independent research the team members had conducted. You would measure the success or failure of these strategies every week.
For the strategies that were faltering, you'd try to find out why and fix them. You'd investigate why the successful ones were winning and invest more to spread your success further.
Doing these four things will channel the anxiety of uncertainty, error, and correction into thoughts and deeds that help realize your ambitions.