Dealing With Startup Uncertainty

I was asked a great question yesterday from someone who is just beginning their startup journey:

“How do you handle the uncertainty of being a founder?  I mean, there are so many unknowns how does one even start?”

long-pathThere are a few ways to take this question but the one I see and hear the most from people is from the angle of how different a startup is from a typical job.

Most of the time a job has a description, some requirements, parameters, metrics to be measured upon, and a boss to report to. In and of itself, a job is limited and defined.  And most people are comfortable with being limited, since the limitations that are placed upon them at least provide an outline of the playing field where they will have to perform.  Do what’s expected of you and stay.  Don’t do what’s expected and you’re let go.

Requirements + measurement = outcome.

This is not so in a startup, or is not as apparent I should say.  The unknowns are vast and immense – such as what market are we focused on, what’s the product going to look like and how is it function, whom should be my cofounder(s), what ownership levels does everyone receive, what happens when people aren’t using our product, or when a larger competitor copies what we are doing, when do we know when to pivot or quit, when should we sell, etc…

In my opinion, the best approach to dealing with such uncertainty is to understand what a startup is and what the journey is all about.

According to Steve Blank, a startup is  “an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”  Clearly he’s stating that during the early years of a startup everything is uncertain.  The whole purpose of a startup is to go from uncertainty to certainty – or from nothing but an idea to a repeatable and scalable business model, to use his words.

The secret to being an entrepreneur is becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Just as Lewis and Clark set out from St. Louis towards the west, they had no clue where they would end up.  They just went west!  They were comfortable with not knowing what they would encounter during the journey or where they would end.  Lewis and Clark were explorers, but they were also the epitome of an entrepreneur.

Coming to terms with the fact that thousands of decisions lie ahead in the future and are totally unknown today is the #1 thing founders need to do on the outset of starting a company.  And simply focusing on the two most important decisions sitting in front of their face is the 2nd most important thing a founder must do. Tomorrow, two more things will present themselves and will need to be addressed, and you will focus your attention on those.  Outside of establishing a vision and plotting the direction of how to get there, most other aspects of building and growing a company will fall into place.

How do you climb a hill?  One step at a time.

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