A classic Halloween horror scenario is a person hearing a knock on a door, opening it, and being met with terror and doom. That’s how many feel about trying entrepreneurship. They fear that by opening the door to an entrepreneurial opportunity, they risk inviting terror into their lives.
The list of fears around entrepreneurship can be long. People fear the pitfalls they’ve heard about, such as product fails, financial struggles, and unending work. And they fear the weaknesses they know in themselves or their business models, such as whether they can evolve into a salesperson, whether they have the ability to persevere through the hard times, or whether others will notice that their technology chops aren’t as strong as they’d like them to be.
But often, the bigger fear is what’s waiting around the corner. It’s the fear of the unknown. Those pitfalls no one mentioned, or the weaknesses that went unnoticed. The fear of what may be is often what prevents people from creating their own future, preferring instead to take the known that’s handed to them.
A Fear with Many Faces
Fear of an uncertain future can take on many forms. It’s ability to change shape and rear its head at unpredictable moments is a powerful deterrent to many who dream of being entrepreneurs. By recognizing some of its forms and effects, aspiring innovators can develop techniques to lessen its impact.
· Fear of failure
Google “fail” and “entrepreneur” and myriad stats pop up citing the likelihood that an innovative venture is doomed to failure. It’s no secret that launching a new product or service into the market place is a difficult task. But instead of abandoning the idea, there’s a better way to manage this risk, and that’s using Effectuation.
Effectuation, the mindset of successful entrepreneurs discovered and defined by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, provides a framework for creating new ventures that manages risk while simultaneously pushing growth. Through such actions as setting your Affordable Loss at the outset and growing through the creation of a Crazy Quilt, an entrepreneur lowers their own risk while gaining access to far more resources through strategic collaborations with others.
Beyond a framework, the research on Effectuation shows that the mindset of successful entrepreneurs can be taught and can be learned. Anything done for the first time can be scary or intimidating. Effectual research has shown us that practice and repetition of these entrepreneurial behaviors is an effective way to reduce the fear of failure that many novice entrepreneurs feel. It boosts confidence and optimism, reducing this fear to one of caution rather than deterrence.
· Fear of success
For some, the fear of succeeding can be as paralyzing as the fear of failure. Imagine hearing a knock on the door and opening it to find a stampede of customers. For experienced entrepreneurs that might be a dream come true, as they’ve developed the skills to handle this level of demand. For a novice, it can be overwhelming.
Experience is a strong tool for battling this fear. Research shows that this fear is greatest at the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey. Once innovators launch their ventures, they learn quickly that amassing a horde of customers isn’t easy and that product sell-outs can be few and far between. What’s more likely to happen is that demand is lower than anticipated, leading one to get creative about drumming up business instead.
Another strategy to address this is to parse the launch into smaller steps. Stage manageable pilots and controlled marketing to build confidence and test your products, processes, technologies, and teams. The overnight success stories you read in the magazines are almost always years in the making, full of small steps and pivots rather than single moment launches.
· Fear of losing control
Businesses start with a single idea. However, growth requires interactions, and interactions inevitably lead to change. When thinking up a business idea many think in terms of segments. Yet when an idea is in the world people relate to it one on one. As such, each individual reaction will vary. In order for an idea to become greater than just a passing thought, it has to be embraced, lived, bought, and believed by others. This requires some amount of ownership on their behalf. Other stakeholders have to feel that they have skin in the game and an opportunity to shape the future of the innovation.
For some, this is the scariest fear of all. They fear that by the time the product becomes “successful” it will have morphed into something unrecognizable. That it will have so many handprints on it they no longer feel attached to it.
Understanding the intrinsic motivation for starting the venture can prevent this. Ask the following:
o Why am I doing this?
o What do I hope to get out of this?
o What do I hope that those who participate in this venture gain?
o What are my non-negotiables?
Setting these parameters upfront will give the entrepreneur control over what’s important, and will leave room for others to influence the outcomes of the venture as well.
So Do You Open the Door?
Despite identifying the fears looming for prospective entrepreneurs and outlining strategies to address them, they don’t go away. They’re going to continue to be there, lurking in wait for the next daring soul attempting to create something new in the marketplace.
But just because you can’t predict what’s on the other side of the door doesn't mean you shouldn’t open it. It doesn’t mean you can’t face it, react to whatever it might throw your way, and walk away better for having done so. The end of your entrepreneurial journey doesn’t have to look like a typical horror flick. Because in this movie, the ending is what you make it.
--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC