Self-Doubt: The Unspoken Truth of Founding a Startup

Founding a startup has been a dream of mine, for as long as I can remember. I methodically went about learning as much as I could about what it took to build a company from nothing to a going concern.

I don’t remember the exact moment (I was between 8 - 10 years old though) when I realized that in order to build a business, I had to come up with an idea first. Ever since then I conditioned myself (almost literally) to constantly come up with ideas. So much so that I became the annoying sibling/son/friend that always had a new idea. Luckily for me, I have another friend that was just as prolific, probably even more prolific, at coming up with ideas as I did [wassup Simms :)]. When I was ridiculed, I wasn’t the only one receiving it. As a result of that, I have learned to speak less, and do more. I only share with a select few (my poor wife has to bear it all the time - for better or worse, right ?).


But somewhere along the way, I realized that there is more to building a successful business than coming up with an idea. So I set out to do everything I could to learn about business and startups before jumping into mine. For instance:
  • I have read every single Paul Graham essay
  • Subscribed to Inc. magazine for three to four years while I lived in the US - read each issue cover to cover for my entire subscription.
  • Subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine and did the same.
  • Read most of Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston (Paul Graham’s wife)
  • Read books/articles/stories about many tech founders from Fairchild Semiconductor to Facebook. I know many of them by name and obscure facts about many of them, e.g. Apple had three co-founders (not just two), etc.
  • Convinced I was going to do a tech startup, I did my undergrad degree in Computer Science and did my MBA with a concentration in Finance (finance is the life blood of every company, right?) after.
  • I love economics, finance, and all that good stuff. I day traded currencies for a while. I understand markets - supply & demand and the battle between Capital & Labor.
  • I know all the startup theory - Lean Startups, Customer Development, etc.
  • I have decent-ish karma on Hacker News.
  • I worked with a startup company for a while, and understand the internal struggles of having to produce a lot with very minimal resources.
  • Once I finally decided to take the plunge and do my startup I taught myself all the programming I need to know to build the product I wanted to build.
  • I finally launched and got a good reception from many quarters. People like what they see. Had a few bugs, but have squashed most of the ones brought to my attention so far, and making good progress on the rest.
Now what? Now I have to go and sell it. Oh Crap! 

This is where the self-doubt kicks in.

Sure, I spoke to a bunch of people before building it. I validated the idea and I knew that this was a particular problem, because I experienced the pain and I know others that had this problem too. But now… I have to collect money from people. People I don’t know, and who don’t know me.

The transition from hardcore development to sales/marketing has been a tough one for me. I think I underestimated the mental switch needed to jump from one to the other. Especially since I don’t have the luxury of having someone else carry on with the development while I do the sales. If I do nothing, nothing happens. Knowing that, makes the self-doubt worse. But, it also makes it better. Because I know that if I do nothing, nothing happens. So I have to do something, so I end up doing something.

Self-doubt, when you are doing this for the first time (or second, third or fourth time) is perfectly normal. That’s how it is when you are just learning to ride, drive, fly or anything else new.

The trick is to persevere, because the only way to become confident in your abilities and be successful is to push through the doubt and get better little by little.

So stop distracting yourself with Hacker News, TechMeme, TechCrunch or any other activity/site you use as an excuse to escape the doubt you feel when you think about what you have to do.

Take a deep breath, and push through.

As the saying goes…Keep Calm, Carry On.

P.S. I help businesses get feedback from clients on their images, simply.

P.P.S. I was inspired to write this from a wonderful blog post and the ensuing discussion on Hacker News.