2017 / 25 July

Founder’s fear or founded fears

As we gear up for launch, a moment of truth is on our horizon. The first time we’re really going out to market with a product that will provide value to the dietetics industry. It’s been two years in the making, and if we are doing things properly, there will be many more years of making.

We just ran another round of user testing and I was happy to observe the ‘ah-hah’ moments, where first time users started to extract little pieces of functionality and little pieces of innovation that will make their life easier. And that’s our goal.

User testing is simulated but it’s not real. Going to market is a whole other ballgame that’s going to throw out questions we never considered, and we’ll learn things faster than ever before.

Then I sat down for a quick planning session with our investors. As with any start up, we have a limited runway and the question of what next is very prevalent. We bounced ideas back and forth to understand at what point we can start generating revenue. This wasn’t a conversation purely about money, but designed to make me think about value and what our product means to the sector. When you have invested so much in something, understanding when you’ve done enough to ask for money is a really big challenge.

I have a tendency to push back a bit on that as I want to build out the best product we can, but I know that a tipping point will occur and revenue will be real. The question was asked what I was hesitant about and why… and after thinking for a while, I finally admitted that I was a bit fearful about the decision to switch on revenue.

I think fear is an interesting emotion to try and understand as part of starting a business. I do not fear that we have built something totally off the mark. I do not fear that we don’t have incredible tech, a great team and we’re solving a very real problem. I do not fear that our business model options will start to prioritise themselves as we learn from our audience. And mostly I do not fear that what we have built is not worth paying for.

But in saying that, the fear will remain until a dollar lands in our bank account. All the testing and modeling in the world will get you closer to the mark, but until someone agrees in the value you put forward and is willing to pay for it, there is still a big unknown. I believe those unknowns are amplified in health because dollars are stretched so thin and so many people are vying for selection.

There is a general view in technology development to push live as soon as possible and learn as you go. That 51% is 1% too much effort for launch. But I have often made the comment that this doesn’t fly in the health sector.

Whenever that moment ends up occurring and what I won’t know until that moment is whether this feeling is simply the general fears of being a founder, or a founded fear that we may have missed something critical.

While 100% may never exist, the closer you are to that mark, the more impact you will create. But what is that number and when is the best time to make the call?

Perhaps this is the question that I’m most fearful of. And it’s not that I’ll get it wrong, but I may not get it as right as I could have. In a start up, it’s a battle of hypotheticals, unknowns and external pressures. Anyone who doesn’t understand the fear of decision making is either not invested in their product or hasn’t done enough research. If you believe you have all the answers, you have not asked enough questions.

I think fear is something worth discussing in more detail amongst start up founders. As a CEO it’s hard to discuss fear with your colleagues. You are meant to be the one with resolve. So where do you go if you’re not totally sure or the sleepless nights and continuous internal dialogue starts to get too loud? I think there is the opportunity to be honest and call out the fact that starting a business is steeped in fear.

It’s not the only emotion (by a long shot) but we get so caught up in wanting to highlight success (or at least projected and publicised success) that everything else gets left behind. Fear is something to embrace and be energised by, but not to be overwhelmed by.

When we launch, we’ll already be further ahead than most ideas and most start ups. There is a lot to be proud of and celebrate. But this is a moment in time, and one of many to come. If I am to do my job successfully, a little bit of fear is always going to exist and I am happy to both call that out and use it to motivate me to do the best job I can for the people around me who matter most.

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