It’s okay to be afraid of failing

Since dropping out of college and starting a company, I’ve had a lot of people approach me about how they can get into the startup scene. I tell them it’s pretty straightforward:

1. Apply to a startup

2. Work at a startup

Or, if they want to start their own company, the process is even simpler:

1. Start your own company

At this point, I typically get several types of responses [1]. Here’s one in particular that I want to address because it irks me the most:

“I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I want to start it off slow. I’m thinking about first applying to a larger company like x and y, do z amount of years there until I can get enough experience and then apply to a startup after z years.”

If you find yourself thinking somewhere along these lines, I’d probably ask you:

“What’s stopping you from doing it now?”

And the general consensus we get to is that we’re trying to reduce risk because for one reason or another, now is just not the best time.

Why do we try to reduce risk? Well, it’s because what if things don’t work out? How will I pay the bills? What if no one wants me? What if I’m not good enough and get fired? If we do it now, if we quit our jobs, if we applied to a startup, we’ll probably fail and let’s be honest with ourselves, we’re afraid of failing.

I think it’s completely okay to feel this way and any reasonable person would probably agree with you. I completely agree with you. You’re probably going to fail,but it’s not going to be that bad. [2]

It’s okay to fail

Failing is a positive step towards success. It’s really true. How much experience can you realistically expect to gain from working x years at a larger company?

The fastest way to gain experience for a startup is to do or join a startup. There’s no other way around it.Sure, you may get a bit more programming or design experience under your belt in x years, but I can guarantee you that in a startup, you’ll get the same amount of experience in at the very least 1/2 the time.

Even if you failed, it’s probably not going to be as bad as you think. The worst part might be the embarrassment, but it’s improbable that you won’t be able to find another job elsewhere if things don’t work out. Your career isn’t over and you’ll also have all that added experience under your belt.

Ask yourself: Is it more so that you’re afraid of failing because you feel like you won’t be able to eventually dig yourself out of it? Will you really lose something you can’t regain? Or it something else like afraid of humiliation? [3]

We’re all afraid

Besides the ones that I feel are completely delusional, I highly doubt there’s anyone in early stage startups that has never thought to themselves, “What if this doesn’t work out?”

Looking at it once from the outside, I always thought there had to be a special breed of people that were born to do startups — that PG was some sort of unique subspecies of human that has transcended the current human genome. [4]

In reality, I don’t think there’s anything more special about startup folk. In the end, we’re all just people. It’s not like there’s any additional experience you have to gain to be on par with someone who works at an early stage startup. You’re more than capable right now.

Literally the only difference is that for one reason or another, either through a “Oh screw it, I’m just going to do this #YOLO” moment or by chance, we somehow found ourselves doing what we do now.When you tell me you want to do a startup and I ask you, “Why not do it now?”, you give me an excuse and just don’t do it. That’s the only difference.

The actual barrier to joining a startup isn’t that high. You just have to want it and just do it. The rest is all in your head.


[1] Another common response I get is how they have an idea, but completely swamped at work. In x months, their schedule will open up a bit more and rather than quitting their job, they’ll do it as a side project first.

[2] The post is targeted towards young adults that don’t have too many commitments such as a family or a huge mortgage.

[3] This section is meant to only address why failing might not be so bad. There are also many reasons why now is the best time to do a startup that I don’t cover. Like in my above footnote, it’s ideal because you at this age, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have a wife and kids. You’re youthful, you’re naive and bright-eyed.

[4] I can’t confirm 100% that PG is not part robot.

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