strategic consultant to:  

~ serial CEOs & CTOs in software, Internet, technology & digital media
~ experienced consultants in all fields to maximize their practices

There comes a moment in most startup ventures when you, the CEO, wake up in a cold sweat and face your fears that failure is near. Seeing anew all the time, investment, financial risk and doubt you have overcome in the last year or two, fear gets past your barriers sits on the bedstead.

The response to this is action on the market front, and privacy on the “sharing” front. You should speak of this fear only to your most trusted advisor who will know what you mean. You must not share these fears with your employees, market partners or investors, all of whom are looking to you for leadership and confidence.

Yes, the demons in your head are scary. They send you a chant, a threat, an image of yourself “broke and alone.” The consequences of all that risk you carried are valid. But these consequences are not new—you have known about them all along. They have been here, and will continue to be here. Only your fear of them is new. And your fear will pass if you continue to act aggressively towards your goals.

So, when your demons come chanting, get out of bed and read this list:

  • Do not focus on the future and possible failure of your venture: you are scaring yourself and this fear could be your undoing after all your good work. You do not know what will happen in the future, or what new opportunities are about to appear.
  • Focus on full execution. You must be in place to provide the excellence only you can provide, and the leadership to your team and to your market partners, especially those who are less experienced than you might have hoped.
  • Do not share your fears with anyone but your most trusted advisor, and your family, if you have been confiding in them all along. This is what you’ve always heard about how it is “lonely at the top.”
  • Being a CEO is about leadership. You must lead both your team and your market partners through this time to success. 
  • Do not focus on your possible personal failure. To fail at a startup (especially in these economic times) is not personal failure. It is just that this business may not make it in these times. It is not that you have failed as a person. I tell my clients that they are real entrepreneurs when they have “won one, lost one, and built the 3rd one.” 
  • When and if the time comes to close the business, you will tell the truth about what happened, and everyone will understand. But that time is not now. The investors understand their risk through their due diligence and your ongoing reports and meetings. The employees understand their risk, as they joined a startup with less than market-value compensation. Your family understands even if you don’t share the details with them – how could they not know? I believe everyone involved in a startup understands the risk they are taking, and will not blame you, if you are sincere with them (later, when and if the time of failure comes).
  • Do not carry this burden of everyone else’s expectations at this time. Just keep executing. Focus on what you have accomplished so far, and carry on in that attitude of success.
  • Do not let the public see you as anything but fully confident – that is what they buy into – you and your vision and your achievements.

If you lose this company, you will re-trench, you will change some things, and you will make new choices. I know entrepreneurs who have lost their first business, and gone on to build several more.

One is starting venture #5. He said to me recently – “I don’t regret losing that first company – I regret how much time it took me to get over losing it.” He is correct.

So, when the demons come in the night, get up and act on those tactics that can overcome the fear and move the business forward. It is the only way.

The iChing has a reading that goes like this: “Be like a clock in the thunderstorm.” When all is raging outside, just keep on keeping on, calm and ticking.