I woke up in the middle of the night full of fear and self-doubt.
I realised that in 10 weeks I will be voluntarily unemployed, living in a city still largely foreign to me, in a country where I barely speak the language, running a business that is still undefined.
I imagine a ticking clock sitting on a little mantlepiece in my mind counting down the days until we run out of money. Counting down the days until I have to find another job I find uninspiring & lacking in purpose.
I imagine the days, spent of adrenaline, frantically trying to work out what exactly we should be doing & praying that we can close our first few leads.
I thought of the myriad, endless, complex paths we could take with this new business. Each decision we make has huge implications down the road & closes off doors to other decisions & opportunities. How do we know we’ve made the right ones?
I find myself at the entrance to a maze with no clear idea about where to start or where I am meant to end up.
Entrepreneurship is always going to be scary – you are trying to solve unclear problems that no-one else has solved – but it’s different when you actually experience it.
The Survivor Myth
If you are considering becoming an entrepreneur, then it is highly likely you view the whole endeavour with rose-tinted glasses.
In the media, we see the success stories of Facebook & Uber emerging from nothing; of young, disruptive companies ‘making it’ against the odds. We cheer on these under-dogs as it validates our belief that the sky is the limit; we can achieve anything with the right idea & some hard work. The survivor bias, however, distorts reality.
You don’t see the scrapheap of companies that never made it. You never hear from the founders that dabbled with entrepreneurship, got their fingers burnt & then decided it wasn’t for them. You forget the early success stories that quickly fizzled out into obscurity.
You don’t hear about the dark side of it either: the high rates of depression or the ego-mania that comes with rapid success.
To reduce the fear, the modern gurus of marketing, such as Seth Godin or James Altucher rightly suggest building up a business as a side project before taking the leap full-time.
Almost all budding entrepreneurs can validate an idea & its monetisation strategy in their spare time to make sure that it is not just some ego project, but a product users actually want.
Say you want to sell hand-made Pokémon jumpers to die-hard Pokémon fans. You can set up a $100 e-commerce website, make a handful of jumpers, find out where die-hard Pokémon fans hang out (online or in person), market to them & see whether you generate any sales. If your jumpers are flying off the shelf, then you can confidently quit your day job. Just do the maths & estimate how much you would be earning with more jumpers & more time to work on it. If you’ve got no sales, go back to the drawing board & try again.
The issue here, however, is that some business models are difficult to validate whilst in full-time work when they conflict with your day job.
If we were to let some of the articles we’ve written out into the world right now, there’s a high chance both of us would be fired. They are fairly damning of a company culture & leadership we both strongly disagree with, so we have to publish anonymously.
Berlin is also a small world, so starting an event to validate the concept would be tricky. One of our colleagues seeing a Meetup run by both of us, linked to our online content, would be a clear sign we were heading for the exit. That’s fine in a few months, but it’s a little premature at the moment.
We have an idea we believe in, but we’ve not validated it. We haven’t tested any monetisation strategy, nor have we pinned down exactly what it is we are trying to solve.
Thus the waking up at 3am worried about my plans for the future.
Learn to accept it
I am now on my third business & now accept that the fear will never go away – however well you plan & execute a new venture.
However successful you are, you will always live with self-doubt. Taking risks triggers that feeling within us; it goes against our survival instinct, working as a mechanism to protect ourselves against any potential threat.
Validate your ideas as early as possible. Rationalise & substantiate your fears so they don’t seem so scary. Reduce self-doubt, anxiety & fear wherever possible & in whichever way works for you.
Just know that, if you take this path, it will always be there. If you want a life of comfort, safe in the knowledge of where you will be & what you will be doing in 30 years, then stick to the 9-5.
Entrepreneurship is for those that want more. It’s for those that see where they want to end up, but head off into the unknown without a map & a faulty compass to get them there. It’s for those that remain firm when the seas inevitably become rough along the way. It’s for those that know they will face fear & uncertainty, but will get through it to get where they need to go.