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Eliminating startup fears: a practical guide for young founders

By Daria Yaniieva, Investment Director at Sigma Software Labs, Oleksii Solntsev, CEO and co-founder SmartZavod, Anastasiia Smyk, CEO and Co-founder, INPUT SOFT, Andrew Manuilov, CEO and Co-founder, IOON

Your fears are logical, young startups, and to be honest, there is no magic pill to overcome all of them. While launching your first-ever project, fears most likely will be your background ghosts who always try to play a cruel joke on you, imposing your inner doubts and uncertainty. The bad thing about that — you can’t fully avoid it, the good — there are secret antidotes to every worry you might be poisoned with. Alerted today, alive tomorrow! Let’s go through the most common fears:

Poison #1 — I’m not ready for a startup

The startup world is not for everyone, that’s for sure. There is a lot of work to be done, uncertainty, overtime, lack of resources, and money. At that stage, deep self-reflection is required to define whether it’s a reasonable deal for you. Just ask yourself sincerely at which point you are now, what you want to achieve, and what is your inner reason to build a startup. Through the gamut of motivations, there are two which could prove your intentions and readiness:

  • you feel the uncommon problem and come up with a unique solution. On top of that, you are so obsessed with the idea and ready to work 24/7
  • after working for the companies, you don’t have this feeling that you’re in the right place, and you realize that you have unfulfilled entrepreneurial potential that doesn’t let you sleep. So basically, you decide to create a startup and from that time you are in purposeful search of not-invented solutions to start working on them.

Poison #2 — the team is not effective, processes/tasks are messed up 

Ok, you are totally right. At first, it’s a challenge to organize startup processes properly and sort out the priorities from the bunch of tasks. The antidotes that might help to cope with that:

  • using the right tools — everything is clear about that, just choose instruments that suit your team the best
  • find an ideal combination of team members. The finest mix is:
    • a hacker — person with a problem-solver mentality who is always looking for different ways to develop and improve the value of the product
    • a hustler — simultaneously the doer and the taskmaster of the group, setting the pace and making sure everyone else keeps up 
    • a visionary — the one who sees the big picture, always looking to grow and expand the business, and is ready to adapt and pivot if the circumstances call for it.

Poison #3 — it’s problematic to stay motivated constantly

Yeah, many teams and founders face frustration and lack of encouragement on their startup path. So the first thing you really need to do is to change your perspective on things and try to assure the importance and impact of your product. To handle that, you can simply talk to as many people as you can getting consistent feedback about your product, thereby verifying the real state of things and fueling yourself with the right energy. Another practical approach that startups usually miss is to track the progress even in a simple or funny manner: how many meetings have you had this month, how many lines of code have been written, how much feedback have we gathered — any other logical and non-logical metrics that could help you to keep up the rapid pace as well as fall back on something when you are drained. 

Poison #4 — fear of not finding the right co-founder

Whether you want to partner with a co-founder right from the start or you are looking for a co-founder after your company has already been up and running for a while, finding someone who will go a long way with you hand in hand could be a challenge, accept that fact. To make this process easier, focus on organic search from your network (classroom, university, current workplace, social media, existing network, hackathons, and other related events) that allows you to meet the perfect founding partner from your inner circle, rather than rushing into a partnership that could be less than ideal and end up hurting your business. However, not every investor supports working with family, friends as it could be a conflict of interest. But doing business with a stranger could be worse, right? 🙂

Poison #5 — no money to create the product

If you are afraid of not having money, then bust a gut to make your project brilliant, so it surely attracts some money:) Jokes aside, nowadays, there is a variety of ways to start building your product without having a penny, and we are not talking about the obvious approach — raising huge investments. 

  • Money is important, but connections and people are most meaningful in the startup world. Probably, at early stages, you need a lot of consultations in diverse areas: marketing, pitching, fundraising, etc. But instead of hiring people, you can look for extra opportunities and ask your network for help. You will be surprised how many people are ready to support you with a 15-30 min consultation and help you facilitate some processes.
  • Another approach is to apply for an incubator program. Yes, the size of grants is usually small, but it could be a great boost for your future raising as well. Anastasiia Smyk, CEO and Co-founder of INPUT SOFT startup, has a great case on that: 

“Our first investment was 3,000 euros received through the incubator program in the spring of 2021. We got a boost for the development of our startup and ended up spending 3,000 euros to apply for the Web Summit conference in the fall of that year. At Web Summit during those three days, we met our future investors — Techstars. We had a 30-second pitch with them, and they told us we should apply for the accelerator program. We applied, went through all the stages of interviews, evaluations, and they invested in us. We are part of Techstars now. So, those first three thousand we won at the demo day had a significant impact on our development and our history as a startup.”

Poison #6 — lack of fundraising experience

Before starting your fundraising journey, however, you must lay the groundwork by doing your research, leveraging your network, and reaching out to potential investors. On that way, you will face a lot of challenges:

  • Filling a dozen of applications. Yes, it could be annoying and challenging but from another perspective, it gives you an additional chance to deeper understand your product, team, weak and strong points. Fill out 100 application forms, you will receive about 50 responses, maybe 10 of them will give you a personal follow-up, and maybe one of them will invite you to the interview. That’s OK, that’s normal!
  • Before fundraising — know your problem. You should know exactly your solution. Perfectly, if you can explain it in one sentence: one sentence — problem, one sentence — solution.
  • Bring all co-founders to the meeting. Investments in early stage startups are usually about investing in the team, not in your metrics or idea, but in your potential. Prove your team can fulfil the mission and cope with all the fears, all the troubles, or all the pivots.

For more tips on fundraising, read our article. (Link to one of our content)

Poison #7 — my startup will fail

Failing is a part of our lives, and the only way to protect yourself from failure is to do NOTHING. But you are not that type of person, right? There is no silver bullet for avoiding failure, but plans B, C, and D could amplify your confidence and help to navigate your startup on a challenging path. Another trick that a startup can make is a 180-degree turn-pivot. It’s an anti-crisis tactic for startups, which means a change of the startup course, strategy, or idea. 

YouTube, Netflix, Slack, and hundreds of other global brands pivoted:

  • from a dating site — to YouTube
  • from online game Glitch to Slack messenger
  • from home-delivery DVD rental service to Netflix

How to understand that your startup needs to pivot? Simply when your hypotheses don’t work anymore and indicators fall drastically. 

So, the feeling when you don’t know how to move forward because of fear is the worst you can experience while building your product. It’s like standing on the edge of a swimming pool, ready to dive in, but instead just waiting. Being aware of such fears while keeping in mind all the antidotes will help your team to go the turbulent startup way with the right energy.

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