Fear has been my constant companion all throughout my startup career.
I remember feeling I might be laughed at as I was about to present my idea to potential partners or investors.
I remember that crippling feeling. That extreme doubt I felt when I was about to resign from my fulltime job.
I remember hearing all the “no’s” in this journey, the disheartening voices and fearing they actually might be right.
After developing several startups (both successes and utter failures), and the unexpected growth of the JGL audience, you’d think I finally would be free from fear’s clutches.
It’s still there.
I’m still scared things might not work. I’m scared people will laugh. I’m afraid of what other people might think. I’m afraid a new startup idea might flop.
The difference now is, not only have I learned to live it, but I have learned how important it is to EMBRACE IT, especially in today’s business climate.
Let me explain.
The industrial age is dead and dying, along with all its guarantees (being an employee of one firm for life, worry-free retirement, etc…).
Innovation is the new currency.
Innovate or DIE. (RIP: Kodak, the big-label music industry, the dodo, etc…)
Companies know this.
Witness how ALMOST ALL companies have “innovation” as a company value, or how billions are poured into R&D.
This is true for both companies and of people.
For example, programmers now cannot invest too heavily in being an expert in one platform. HR people are finding out that job descriptions are getting obsolete (or at best, very high maintenance) because they change all the time. The best corporate managers are those who are able to maintain excellence despite getting deployed to handle very different things and cope with a diverse set of problems.
So how does one cope in this new dynamic?
How does one THRIVE in this new dynamic?
You HAVE to take risks.
Risks automatically comes with a possible downside. That downside is something we fear. (no fear? then it might not be that much of a risk for you)
You want to THRIVE in this environment? Then you have got to face your fears.
Quick story. After our first, well-attended Juan Great Leap conference in Ayala-TBI, we were brainstorming as to what to do next. The safe route would have been to do another keynote / panel discussion affair. But then an idea came to mind: what about a group speed dating activity which involves 20+ entrepreneurs?
We all saw the positive possibilities, BUT…
It had never been done before. It would be a logistics nightmare. There were so many questions. Would people hear one another? What if nobody came – this was something very different, so people might not immediately see its value.
It was either going to be work splendidly, or it would crash and burn. There was little in between.
While we were talking about this. A familiar feeling made itself known to me.
This was the precise point when I knew we HAD to do this group speed dating thing.
Reverse Spider Sense
Spidey’s spider-sense tells him if he is in any immediate danger (spider sense tingling!). Fear has become something of a reverse spider-sense for me. If it tingles – there is opportunity!
Now, when evaluating opportunities, I LOOK for that fear.
Is the fear in me?
If there is no fear, then it could mean either of 2 things:
1) I am not interested in the opportunity.
Subconsciously, I already know I don’t find (or at that moment I am not finding) the opportunity presented interesting. Perhaps because its not within my realm of expertise, or perhaps I just think it isn’t feasible for me.
Possible scenarios like this would include: someone inviting me to invest in a startup in a field I don’t really understand that much, or listening to a salesperson pitch a product I have no use for.
2) There isn’t a great deal of risk
If there isn’t a risk, then I am not too worried about it. Chances are great the possible returns won’t be so hot, either. I can say yes to the opportunity, but it won’t really keep me up at night imagining the possibilities.
Possible scenarios like this would include: someone wanting to give me a 1% share for a startup in return for monthly advice, or doing maintenance work in the office, or choosing what tiles would suit the office bathroom.
But if there IS fear?
Then I probably would be asking a LOT of questions about it. I would be nodding or shaking my head vigorously. I would be up – a lot of times all night – thinking of the pros and cons.
If there is fear, then I know that my subconscious is HIGHLY considering this course of action. It ALREADY knows if the opportunity in question is internally feasible for me or not. I wouldn’t even feel the fear if it were OUTSIDE my capabilities. (see #1 above) Fear tells me there is a possibility I can pull it off.
I ALSO know that this would be something WELL WORTH doing, or at the very least, worth a much longer consideration time. Fear is a sign that the returns would be awesome.
This could involve pursuing a huge pivot for our firm, or pondering the high cost of a GREAT hire, or asking someone to be key member of the founding team or the board, or doing a sales presentation to the CEO or the MANCOM of a potential huge client (not really a decision, but an opportunity nevertheless), proposing to my wife, saying goodbye to my decade-long HR career, or even me in my room, musing about a potential strategy.
Fear has ceased to become crippling. It has become my friend. It can be your friend too.
Hoooh! My friend, Your Friend…Whatever Peter! I’m miles away from that! I’m afraid to even tell my friends I’m thinking about starting something!
It’s a process (like EVERYTHING worth its while), will NOT come overnight, and there are no shortcuts.
Here are some tips that may help:
1) Surround yourself with healthy risk-takers (don’t know anyone? go to startup events, go to open coffee – LOOK for healthy risk-takers)
In some ways, this might be like swimming. The only way for you to learn is to dive in.
There is one HUGE thing that happens when you fail – YOU REALIZE ITS NOT THAT BAD.
Because of our primitive survival instincts, we pre-programmed to assume the WORST. (OHNO, I will be out on the streets if I fail! I will be the laughingstock of the barkada, nay, the whole country! Woe is me! WOE IS ME!)
It’s not that bad.
Of course, I’m not saying you should DELIBERATELY fail – but try doing things out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you can try starting the thing you’ve always wanted to do but always feared, but do so by…
Start with low-risk items, and gradually proceed with bigger ticket risks.
Got an idea?
Level 1: Do a powerpoint (not so risky)
Level 2: Invite close friends and present your idea (a tad risky)
Level 3: Invite not-so-close friends you think would be an expert on your idea and present (riskier)
At this point, you’re BOUND to get some negative comments / rejection already (this ALREADY could be felt as a huge failure for some people)
Level 4: Recruit a Co-founder. Among the people you’ve talked to, do a formal proposal saying that you are DOING the idea and you NEED their help as a partner (risky)
Hey guess what – you’ve started a startup!
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