How to Overcome Start-Up Fears
By Ron Koss
Few entrepreneurs talk about "start-up fear." But it's real, and if you don't deal with it, it can stymie your success. Earth's Best Baby Foods cofounder Ron Koss shows how facing your fears can be motivating and self-enlightening--and in the end, will help you make smarter business decisions.
Adapted from the new book, The Earth's Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution
Here’s a question to consider if you’re contemplating starting a business. What would be worse: never leaping into an idea you’re passionate about because you’re afraid to fail, or leaping into that idea with all you’ve got, yet still possibly having to face failure?
What is failure? I had to confront this question unexpectedly when my twin brother, Arnie, drove into the Ronald McDonald House parking lot (1984) where my wife and I were comanagers, and announced, “I’ve decided to do the organic baby-food business. We’ve talked about it for years. It’s still a great idea. No one else has done it. Why not us? I’m doing it with you or without you.” And then he drove away leaving me in turmoil.
Here’s the question that dramatically settled into the pit of my stomach, as I watched Arnie’s red van disappear down the street. What if I lived my life and never “went for it” and never stuck with something through thick and thin, no matter what? What if I had to look back on my life and face all the reasons why my dreams didn’t come true and my ideals were never expressed? What if I knew that I only got my toes in the water of life, but never submerged myself, never swam to the other side because, through my toes, I anticipated the current to be impossible, or the other side undesirable, or my expectations to be unattainable?
The fear of such a life overwhelmed my fear of making a mistake, of failing in someway.
To be clear, the start-up anxieties did not disappear, but my resolve and readiness to go for something I believed in catapulted into the foreground. It was a never forgotten moment in my life. The result was the founding of Earth’s Best Baby Foods, the first organic baby food company in the United States, and now a $150 million dollar enterprise owned by the Hain Celestial Group.
Here are 5 powerful tips to either overcome your start-up fears or alternatively honor them.
- Answer the question, “what if” for yourself. There are only two scenarios: if I do, and if I don’t…leap into the start-up. So make the quiet time to answer these two questions and put your thoughts in writing. You might be surprised what emerges.
- Don’t keep yourself isolated in a vacuum. Avoid going in endless circles and torturing yourself with “go nowhere” mental gyrations. Break out and talk with the smartest people you know. Network. Get perspective. Be curious. Ask questions and engage with others who took the leap or chose not to. The input will be stimulating, guaranteed, and the next step(s) forward might reveal itself.
- Know your nature, and honor it. Most entrepreneurs are eternal optimists, and this predisposition often leads to trouble on one hand, but possibility on the other. They envision success and tend to be enamored with their great idea and perhaps even themselves. What about you? Are you preoccupied with failure, or more certain of success? If your answer is “failure,” it’s a potential tip-off that there maybe some mismatch between you the adventurer and the prospective start-up venture you’re imagining. Go back to Tip #1, the “What if” question, and imagine that you’re saying goodbye to your idea. You’re putting it to rest. Sit with that for a few days. Given your nature, is that a good decision or a bad one?
- Trouble is inevitable, so don’t plan on avoiding it. Strategize on how you’re going to meet it. If this prospect is not exciting and doesn’t galvanize you to be ready to work 24/7 or at least 12/6, your start-up fears might be your friends. Start-ups are demanding in ways that are likely to outstrip your imagination. If you’re not filled with passion, you may not have the necessary fuel to escape the force of gravity that all start-ups are subject to. There’s no way to be halfway pregnant and there’s no way to be half-way starting up.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses. In relationship to your start-up idea, are you resourceful enough to plug the holes and address your weaknesses? Are you a collaborator? Can you energize others and build a support network? If you’re inclined to put your head down and bull forward, think again. Surround yourself with the expertise you don’t have and your start-up fears are more likely to be overcome. Remember, as an entrepreneur you don’t have to be “everything.” You just have to try to anticipate everything (no one does) and be resourceful, finding the help and support you need to go the distance.
Make use of your fears. Listen to them. Understand them. Talk to them. They can teach you a lot. But they are not the boss of you—or shouldn’t be. Empower yourself by not eliminating your start-up fears, but by meeting them head-on and overcoming them.
Ron Koss is coauthor, with his brother Arnie Koss, of The Earth's Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution (Chelsea Green Publishing, March 2010), a lively business memoir that recounts the founding of America’s first nationally distributed organic foods company.