Are you thinking about starting your own business, and launching
out on your own without the security net of a boss, a team of
experienced managers, and a track record? If so, you're probably
familiar with that sinking feeling: start-up fear. Before you
succumb to the fear, doubt, and worry that grip you in the gut, ask
yourself: What would be worse - never leaping into an idea you're
passionate about because you're afraid to fail, or leaping into
that idea with everything you've got, knowing you could possibly
I stared down start-up fear and the prospect of failure in 1984,
when my twin brother, Arnie, drove to my job in the middle of a
workday and announced, "I've decided to [go into] the organic
baby-food business. We've discussed it for years. It's still a
great idea. Since no one else has done it, I say, 'Why not us?' I'm
doing it with you or without you." Then he drove away, leaving me
frozen with self-doubt, fear, and confusion.
Many questions hit me like a brick wall as Arnie's red van
disappeared down the street. What if I lived my life and never
"went for it" - never stuck with something through thick and thin,
no matter what? What if I were to look back on my life and face all
the reasons why my dreams didn't come true and my ideals were never
expressed? What if I only dipped my toes in the water of life, but
never threw myself into the cold and invigorating current just
because I anticipated it would be too daunting or uncomfortable to
reach my goal of getting to the other side?
The fear of such a safe, drab, worry-filled life overwhelmed my
fear of making a mistake, of failing in some way. To be clear, the
start-up anxieties did not go away. But my determination to go for
something I believed in became the deciding and dominant factor.
I'll never forgot that moment, and it colored all of my business
The result? My brother and I cofounded Earth's Best Baby Foods, the
first nationally distributed organic food to sit next to its
mainstream competitors on supermarket shelves. Earth's First was
also the first organic baby food company in the United States, and
is now a $150 million enterprise owned by the Hain Celestial Group.
If you are a training and development professional thinking about
starting your own independent operation, you can benefit from the
same rules and guidelines I learned while launching our start-up.
Here are five powerful tips to either overcome your start-up fears,
or honor them.
- Ask "what if." What will happen if you leap into
the start-up? What will happen if you don't? Spend quiet time
contemplating the answer to these two questions. I recommend you
write down your thoughts so you can revisit them and add to them. I
guarantee you will be surprised by your answer.
- Don't isolate. Don't torture yourself by worrying,
fretting, and plotting in private. Break out and talk with the
smartest people you know. Network. Get perspective. Be curious.
Engage others who took the leap or chose not to. Ask a lot of
questions. Bouncing ideas off of others is always stimulating - and
the next steps forward might reveal themselves.
- Know and honor your nature. If you are like most
entrepreneurs, you are an optimist. This predisposition often leads
to trouble on one hand, but opportunity on the other. What about
you? Are you preoccupied with failure, or more certain of success?
If your answer is "failure," consider that this could be a sign
that there may be a mismatch between you the adventurer and the
prospective start-up venture you're imagining. Return to the "What
if" question, and imagine that you're saying goodbye to your idea.
Sit with that for a few days. Given your nature, is that a good
decision or a bad one?
- Don't plan on avoiding trouble. Instead,
strategize on how you'll meet it head on. If the idea of battling
dragons is not exciting and motivating for you, and if you can't
imagine working 24/7 or at least 12/6, your start-up fears might be
your friends. They may be warning you off from a career idea that's
a bad fit. Start-ups are demanding in ways that are likely to
outstrip your imagination. If you're not fired up with passion, you
may not have the necessary energy to deal with the many obstacles
and hardships that will come your way. Just as you can't be halfway
pregnant, you can't be halfway starting up.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses. In lieu of your
start-up idea, are you resourceful enough to plug the holes and
address your weaknesses? Are you a collaborator? Are you an
energizer - someone who can fire up supporters and build strong
networks? If you're inclined to put your head down and push
forward, think again. It's much more useful to surround yourself
with people who have expertise that you don't have. Doing so
alleviates a great deal of start-up fear. Remember, as an
entrepreneur you don't have to be "everything." You just have to
try to anticipate everything (no one does perfectly) and be
resourceful, finding the help and support you need to go the
When it comes to start-up fear, my advice is to make use of that
fear. Listen to it. Understand it. Talk to it. Learn from it. But
don't let fear get the best of you. Empower yourself by not
eliminating your start-up fear, but by meeting it head-on and
Ron Koss is co-author, with his brother, Arnie
Koss, of The Earth's Best Story: A Bittersweet Tale of Twin
Brothers Who Sparked an Organic Revolution (Chelsea Green
Publishing, March 2010), a business memoir that recounts the
founding of America's first nationally distributed organic foods