As a founder, fear never really leaves, it simply evolves. When we first conceive our ideas—the only fear that exists is that we may never act on them—that we might not take the time to focus, launch our site, and pursue our dream. It’s a fear. But compared to the ones that follow it’s a manageable one.
Once we take the leap, we tell our friends, and we quit our job, the fears begin to pile up. What if no one likes the product? What if we never get users? Don’t get press? What if no one gets it or is willing to pay? What if we can’t get another job? What if we can’t raise capital?
And at that point all we want is to raise Venture Capital. Everyone is saying we should bootstrap but they haven’t been crashing on a couch for 1.5 months and eating mac n cheese or peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches for every meal. They can afford to pay for the one-month unlimited card on the NYC subway and they receive a check in the mail every other week, which helps them pay rent. They can take a cab home when it gets late—and they can buy a drink at the bar—because the $10 beer won’t break them.
And raising capital feels so good. It’s a drug—once you take some all you want is to get more. Raising capital means validation from a few really smart people. It means a salary and a bed (or at least a cot from IKEA). It means being able to pay for a flight to SXSW, though not a ticket to the actual talks. It means telling your friends that you are actually employed and it means no longer being embarrassed over calling yourself an “entrepreneur.” It means awesome company t-shirts.
For a few days the fear goes away—and then it comes back, stronger. We realize that the fear isn’t gone, it’s just different. It’s the fear of monthly board meetings, missing projections, the terrifying feeling we get when we realize our teams have children and rely on the paychecks we give them to make ends meet. It’s that “holy shit” feeling when we remember that our team has taken the leap with us—because we convinced them to. It’s the fear that the clients who use our product rely on it for their own businesses to succeed. It’s the fear that we’ll never be able to raise money again if this fails. It’s the fear that our friends expect us to be millionaires, CEO’s forever, and that next year we might be asking them for a job.
And at that point all we want is to be profitable. All we want is to earn a margin on some of the revenue we earn. And we think about how good it would feel to pay back our investors, and how good it would feel to know that payroll will get met each month. Do our friends even realize how amazing the concept of a salary really is?!
And we get to that profitable moment—the fear goes away, for a few days, and then it comes back. What if our biggest customer leaves? What if our key employee quits, gets sick, or leaves the country?! What if we raise another round of venture capital and we’re expected to increase revenue by 300% by December? What if the magazine article we somehow were featured in totally over-estimated us, and our parents have to exaggerate while speaking with their friends to keep the façade of confident, success?
And then some entrepreneurs sell their companies, become millionaires, buy a house and save money so their kids can go to college. And those entrepreneurs become afraid that they’ll have to do something else, something bigger, and the whole world will be watching.
Fear doesn’t go away, it simply evolves. And that’s okay, because it’s the fear that drives us—but it’s up to us to embrace that fear and channel it, rather than let it drown us. It’s up to us to recognize the fears and go after them. It’s the scary parts of our business (like talking to potential clients to make a sale, or firing a troubling employee) that play the most critical roles.
We are founders, and we are afraid, but it’s okay, because so is everyone else. Social media sometimes convinces us otherwise—we see our peers on stage giving talks, featured in Fast Company and Inc, and think “they must know what they’re doing.” But they don’t either. As soon as we’re convinced we know what we’re doing—we don’t. As soon as we’re not afraid, we should begin to worry.
It’s not just you, we’re all afraid, and that’s okay, because we’ll make it.