This is a really good question. Fear is the number one thing entrepreneurs need to come to terms with. There’s nothing like the fear that comes from putting something into the world. It actually never gets any easier or less scary – you just develop skills to cope with it and realize that it’s all part of a beautiful process.
There is a concept in business called a glass ceiling. A metaphor that The Wall Street Journal described as an invisible barrier. One that arises in business that keeps a given demographic from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. Did you come across such impediments when launching your startup?
I think being an entrepreneur is really hard and the psychological challenges that come with being an entrepreneur are very hard to cope with. There are tons of haters. There are people who don’t understand what you’re working on. There are incumbents who will tell you the idea is stupid. There are investors who will tell you no. There are colleagues who will doubt you. And when you go to bed at night, there’s an internal critic who also has some thoughts to share with you. There is a gauntlet of negative reinforcement facing entrepreneurs as they go through their journey. It’s very hard to ignore the critics and focus on your vision. It helps me to remind myself that they don’t necessarily disagree with me; they just can’t envision the same future I’m picturing, into which the idea needs to be relevant.
There’s the typical fear of being judged – Did there ever come a moment when you stalled or questioned your business venture and overcome fear?
You always feel judged. It feels identical to what it feels like to streak naked down a busy city street (High School football initiations 1995). It takes so much courage to launch stuff and try new things. Which is why I really have trouble with critics. It is SO easy to look at what other people ship and opine over what’s wrong with it. But my heroes are the creators, the people that are fighting through this fear and this risk every day and still creating new things that move our imaginations forward. I still have these feelings today. The creative wave is the same every time. You’re really excited, then you’re unsure, then you’re positive it’s the worst idea you ever imagined, then you get excited again and then you love it again. It’s like a wave.
You can’t give up at the low point of the wave. Ride the wave.
What do you think people are most fearful of when looking to start a business? Do you think it’s the transitioning from a job with a steady paycheck or maybe it’s because one is trying to prove themselves, their family and their friends that their idea is worthy?
My past career was in the poker industry where I got to work with some of the best poker players of all time. One crazy un-human thing they had in common was they had no fear of going broke. They’d been broke. They met the devil and looked him in the eye and worked their way back. So now they weren’t afraid of it anymore. They’d overcome fear. People definitely overestimate their personal risk, to the point that psychologists have shown that people will turn down very lucrative offers to avoid risking anything. It is very hard to be an entrepreneur.
The irony is that even the best parts of being an entrepreneur can hardly be enjoyed while inside the tornado. People have to become better at analyzing their own risk and making better decisions. Some people aren’t in a position to risk a job for a dream, and that’s totally fine. Other people might end up serving Americano’s but that’s still a far cry from how most people think about their downside. And I haven’t even gotten into enjoying the journey….
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither were some of the world’s biggest businesses…. How long did it take to develop the idea of Abacus?
In 2015, it took us 6 or 9 months to develop conviction in what we thought advertising might look like in 2020. Remember what I said, first you have to figure out where the world will be. Only then can you decide what to create into it. If you focus on today, you’ll be obsolete by the time you’re good. You need to predict into the future. So once we had an idea where the industry was headed, we could sort of reverse engineer what we need to be to have value in the future. We’ve pivoted a few times to meet the changing consumer behaviour as well as the needs of modern clients. And recently, we’ve set our sites on 2025. Watch this space 😉
The unsung hero of invention is innovation, Do you encourage new and innovative ideas with your staff?
Everything we do is somewhat innovative because advertising is so traditional. Even simple things that seem obvious aren’t commonly adhered to across the industry. Anyone pushing the boundaries of social, mobile, and content are contributing to what the future of advertising looks like. We spent 3 years at Abacus trying to educate. In our 4th year, we chose to work with innovative brands and help “create” the future of advertising instead of simply “advising” the future of advertising. Most of the industry moves forward because innovative advertisers show what can be done and give permission to other brands to do the same. We want to be a part of that.
You always have to have your head on a swivel. It’s never standing still. As new information and changes occur, you need to always be re-calculating and re-evaluating your position. The worst thing you can do with new information is ignore it because it’s not convenient.
If you think you won’t succeed, most likely your business won’t either. If you could give one piece of advice, How would you break your paralysis, overcome fear, and get past being scared of failure?
Practice! Seriously practice. There’s no substitute for thinking and doing and creating and shipping. Start small – write a blog, teach a course, record a video. Then build up. Create and try to sell something. Promote stuff and see what happens. Become curious and poke the box. Fail like crazy, just keep your risk very low. The time to fail is when nothing is on the line. This is how you’ll learn. As your projects become bigger, the fear of failure increases too. Get used to it. Ship before you think it’s ready. Ship stuff that you’re not fully OK with. And most importantly, only trust the advice of two types of people: those who have successfully done it a bunch of times before and your customers. Everyone else will have ideas but this is not the time.
Title Photo by Gavin Whitner