Startup Founder: Managing Fear

I’m feeling immense waves of fear as we move to a beta release for http://www.tweettronics.com. Some of the fear is irrational, and some of it rational. The rational stuff I handle through traditional risk management: identify the fear, convert the fear into clear risk statement (So, the fear that our system will be crushed by hackers and our business will be destroyed becomes one or more risk statements such as this one, “Risk our System database will be corrupted by hackers”), we look at the impact, we find evidence that supports the existence or likelihood of the risk (have we done enough architectural process and QA to know about this possible risk?), we look for ways to mitigate the risk, we look at how much time/effort/expense is needed to do the mitigation against the impact of the risk, and we prioritize our response. The non-rational stuff I constantly address at a personal level by being aware of it: untangling it from the excitement of launching a business, respecting my fears for they may contain real concerns that have to be managed, and fears that are driving from our particular psychological makeup.

Fears are useful in helping to recognize real concerns. But fears can be unhelpful in that they may cause you to avoid taking action, delay addressing real concerns, and make you feel miserable. In a competitive business you don’t want to be avoiding or delaying anything without due consideration, and fear is not consideration. So learning to feel, unpack, and manage your fears is something you can expect to spend some time on.

Dealing wit hfear is not easy. And it’s especially difficult if your doing a startup on your own. It helps to have support of your team, partners, and friends. With the team you have to get to the rational side, and with your friends you can get into the irrational stuff without causing too much havoc. But it is truly difficult.

I’ve seen founders fail when they are afraid of their own weaknesses and inabilities, so they cannot rationally deal with their shortcomings. It jeopardizes the entire effort when this happens, because they are not managing themselves, so they cannot manage others or the situation well.

Risk Management is an effective process for dealing with fears and risks in a clear headed and rational way, and it has some useful ideas that can be applied by anyone to manage their fears, especially a startup founder who faces so many different risks and so much responsibility.

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