Every aspiring founder feels it; the fear that creeps in when you contemplate fouding your own startup. It makes sense. Startups are hugely risky with large opportunity costs and as a founder you take on a lot of the responsibility. So how does an aspiring founder stop this fear from being preventative?
A first step is to start thinking in the present. Many of the things that aspiring founders fear are too far in to the future to really be thinking about. How will I raise money? How will I manage fifty employees? How will I grow my revenues? All these concerns are in the distant future and whilst its natural to plan ahead these fears are premature.
That is the reason why I love the YCombinator approach of “make 100 users happy”. Whilst this embodies their product centric ethos, it also serves a second purpose, to meaningfully reduce the fear of founding a startup. Making 100 users love you seems like a much more manageable task than building a huge company straight off the bat.
Indeed, all the early tasks of a startup seem much more manageable than those listed above. Talk to users. Think about the market. Build a product. These are far less scary challenges than management, fundraising and execution.
At the root of this fear, is self doubt. Specifically, the fear is whether they can do it. Can I be a CEO? Can I manage a growing company? Can I lead a successful strategy?
To combat this the same philosophy can be used, stay in the present. To build a product you don’t need to act like CEO. To get your first users you don’t need to manage employees. To build something people love you don’t need to have thought through the ten year strategy plan.
In his recent essay Before The Startup, Paul Graham makes a beautful point that should serve to ease this self doubt of aspiring founders:
“What you’re trying to estimate is not just what you are, but what you could grow into, and who can do that?”
I think it is important for aspiring founders to realise that at the begining they don’t need to be a CEO. They don’t need to be an expert in raising funds. They don’t need to know how to manage hundreds of employees. When an aspiring founder thinks about founding a startup, they are guessing if they can grow into the leader their company will need in the future. It is in this guesswork that most of the fear lies and as Paul Graham says, who can estimate that?
In the general case, most aspiring founders factor in the future challenges into their present fears without discounting their present fear by their inevitable personal growth.
By facing the challenges chronologically aspiring founders would be surprised how much they grow as the company does. By staying in the present aspiring founders can reduce the fear of starting up and might just go one to prove their self doubt wrong.