When people aren’t asking me whether I’m still an eligible bachelor or why I got fired from Facebook, they're asking me how I’ve bounced back from my many failures (gee, thanks!) and how I started a successful business. They aren’t asking to make small talk—they are looking for a way to overcome their fears and get on the road towards accomplishing their own goals. Put simply, they are asking because they’re afraid.
The core fear entrepreneurs share is the fear of failure, but that fear looks different from each individual’s perspective. I’d like to present seven fears that I hear most often along with simple solutions as to how you can break through them.
1. "I don’t have a good idea."
There are some legitimately bad business ideas (like, say, a popsicle stand at the Arctic Circle), but often when we tell ourselves an idea is "bad," we’re being overly critical or sabotaging ourselves before we even start.
Ask yourself why exactly you think your idea is bad. Be specific. Ask some folks you trust to give you their honest feedback—but no more than three people. If you or your appointed truth tellers do find flaws, come up with concrete ways to fix them.
If you decide an idea truly is bad, you can scrap it and start over. Limit your time spent fixating on one idea. If it’s not working, learn from it and move forward.
2. "I’m afraid to quit my day job to pursue my dream."
It’s hard to leave behind the perks of a day job: regular pay, a nine-to-five schedule, health insurance, and the status of being able to identify yourself with a role and a title. But the benefit of being your own boss and following your own passion usually outweighs the risk. Ask yourself over and over, "What do I want to do?" Don’t let the comfort of a day job hold you back from taking that big risk that could make your dreams come true.
The first step in leaving a day job is reminding yourself that ‘day jobs’ will always be there. If you need to go back, you can, but treat this as a safety net in case of an emergency, not a convenient excuse to give up if your idea doesn’t take off right away. Trust me: if you have fun doing what you’re doing, the money will come.
3. "I barely have time to plan—how will I have time to keep a business going?"
You have more time than you realize. Spend a week or so really evaluating where all of your time goes, and compare that to where you want your time to be going. Start small. If you’re truly passionate about your idea, you’ll find a way to carve out the time you need. Find a way to chart accountability metrics every day. Focus on what efforts are actually getting you results, and slash or delegate everything else.
4. "I need to do more research (or finish beta testing, or build a better website, or . . .)."
It’s important to be prepared—after all, if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail, as the saying goes. However, there won’t be a single, definitive moment in which you declare yourself completely prepared and ready to launch a business. Even the CEOs of mammoth success stories like LinkedIn and Google consider their companies in "permanent beta"—nothing is ever finished. Let research, testing, and improvement be a part of your ongoing business plan, not a process that has to be fully completed before you can start.
5. "I don’t want to be judged or shot down."
We want everyone to like us. We want every pitch and proposal to result in a "yes."
If you’re worried a judgmental friend might criticize your business plan, it’s okay to keep it under wraps at first. It’s also okay to ignore their "advice" completely. Trust only those who have a history of honest feedback; don’t let anyone else’s ego get in your way.
Make it easy for collaborators and investors to say yes to you. Don’t be demanding—show them what you want rather than telling them. Most important, remember that you have absolutely nothing to lose by asking, and everything to lose by not asking.
6. "I don’t want to go broke."
A lot of young entrepreneurs have the idea that they’ll need to pour thousands of dollars into a startup. That’s an awful excuse not to start a business. It’s possible to start a business for $50—that’s how my company AppSumo was founded.
Make a realistic and feasible investment into your startup that fits both the business and your own financial situation. If the amount of money you think you’ll need makes you panic, reframe your plan.
7. "I just don’t like failing."
Here’s the thing: You’re going to fail. You need to fail. In fact, you should go out of your way to subject yourself to failure and rejection. It doesn’t sound fun, but it builds a resilience that’s key to being a successful entrepreneur. Work through it, stop letting fear hold you back, and push yourself to do things you thought you couldn’t. When failure comes, shake it off, learn from it, and move forward. The next step forward is the most important step.
—Noah Kagan is Chief Sumo of AppSumo and writer at Okdork.com. He was employee No. 30 at Facebook and employee No. 4 at Mint, where he was director of marketing. He has since founded two multimillion-dollar businesses and is also an instructor at creativeLIVE, where he shares his expertise on moving past fear to get what you really want.
[Image: Flickr user Keith Williamson]