June 20, 2012
I returned from my cross-Canada cycling trip on Saturday, June 16th, in one piece, with all body parts still connected and no tire marks across my back. It was an astounding trip with two-thirds of the distance getting completed in the last half of the trip. You can read about it here.
I learned a lot of things about this great country, but there’s one that I want to share with you that specifically ties into the start-up world: you can’t begin any new project or enterprise with even the slightest expectation that you’re going to fail.
I’m not saying you foolishly go ahead with something as big as starting your own company without being prepared, or assessing the risks. What I’m saying is you start by envisioning what you want by assuming that you can’t possibly fail.
This isn’t something that’s easy to do. It’s been drilled into our heads since early school years that we must expect to fail. Every newspaper article or popular TV show is about people that fail. That’s what makes news afterall. It’s hard to find stories about people that were successful, and even when you find one, someone will be quick to point out why that couldn’t be you.
But for one moment, try this: you can do something and you will not fail. What comes to mind? For me, it was going on a 6 week cross-Canada cycling trip. It was something I has always wanted to do. Of course there were lots of challenges but in the end I did it.
Back to start-ups.
If you knew you could not fail at creating a start-up what would it look like? Would it be a “one-man” show or would you employ hundreds of people? Would if be a life-style business, one that would allow you to live anywhere in the world, take vacations when you want, perhaps supplement your current income or would it be an all out, go big or go home kind of venture? Maybe it’s the next Facebook? What kind of business would it be? One that requires you to interface with real people, selling door-to-door or one where there’s little interaction and everything is automated?
All of these are possible and neither is right or wrong. It depends on what you want and you need to figure that out beforehand. Maybe you really don’t want to start you own business. Maybe something else comes to mind, and that’s ok too.
Once you’ve envisioned what it is that you want, and it’s something that makes your heart beat a little faster and it’s something that gives you butterflies in your stomach, then it’s time to identify your fears. What are you afraid about that would keep you from attaining your goal? List them down. Then start thinking about how to overcome those fears.
Some of your fears will be unwarranted; they’re in your head and aren’t real. Some of your fears will be warranted, and that’s stuff you need to get to work at. Like making sure you have a good idea, one that has true value that customers would pay for. Do you have the time and the skills? If not, how do you get them? Make a plan and set a time limit. Of course, all of these things can be overcome, as they have for thousands of years by entrepreneurs just like yourself.
Everyone you know will tell you what you’re trying to do is going to be hard, if not impossible. Many will say it’s been tried before and they failed. People love to give advice, even if they have no personal experience. Thank everyone for their input and get back to your list of things you’re worried about, the valid ones that need to be addressed. And when people tell you to “fail fast” or “start with failure in mind” politely tell them to go to hell. No one ever accomplished anything worthwhile by starting with the notion they were going to fail.
Try this little exercise. It doesn’t hurt a bit. What possibilities do you envision? How will you make your dream a reality?