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What’s The Real Reason You Haven’t Started The Business You Dream About?

Odds are you’ve thought a lot about creating a new business on your own. You’ve read books and blogs, shared ideas with friends, and probably even discovered that someone else brought “your” ideas to life. Yet for some reason, good or bad, you haven’t made a clear decision to start or not start a business. And if you’re like a lot of people I know – you’re no closer to a resolution than you were last month.

I recently spent some time with my friend Joe helping him decide whether he’s ready to leave the friendly confines of a well-paying corporate job to join the uncertainty of a start-up. As it turns out – the reasons he thought were driving his decision to potentially start a new business weren’t the real reasons at all. And maybe, just maybe, it’s not just Joe and this also pertains to you.

For me to discover the truth behind why I was or was not creating something on my own – it took years and the benefit of hindsight. As a strategy consultant with Accenture, I lucked into the amazing opportunity to create a new business selling a technology solution to Caterpillar dealers globally. Even after launching this new business, I was reluctant to leave the safe harbors of a steady job and work to create something new on my own. Two years at a top MBA program and over 3 years in management consulting, including a successful business launch, and I told myself I wasn’t ready. Worse yet…I believed it.

But enough about Joe and me. Let’s look at the good reasons why people don’t enter the start-up world. And to be clear – there are a lot of good reasons to not create something on your own. I tip my cap to those of you who actively consider life in a start-up and choose another path for good reason. After all, life doesn’t begin and end with careers that use words like co-founder, cap table, burn-rate, runway, pivot, convertible note, accelerator, incubator, and hoodie.

Start-Ups Have a 90% Chance of Failure

Who the hell joins a company that has a 90% chance of not being around in five years? You might as well go work for a yellow pages company, right? If you’re risk-averse and value knowing you’ll have a job as long as you perform, don’t go into the start-up world. If GM and Chrysler were start-ups, they wouldn’t have filed for bankruptcy and restructured with the help of Uncle Sam; they would have failed. Big names aren’t only a symbol of success that people love to throw around at cocktail parties – they are also names that are more likely to be around in five years. Need stability? Congratulations – you’ve identified a good reason to not create a start-up.

Time With Loved Ones

Hey – I get it…nobody wishes they spent more time at work on their deathbed. Significant others, parents, children, siblings, and friends are important parts of our lives. We derive value (or as economists say, “utility”) from time spent with these people. If you choose to leave your legacy on earth by spending as much time as possible with these amazing people in your life – more power to you…you’ve identified another good reason to not create a start-up. Start-up people believe in quality over quantity, but I could never fault someone for choosing another way to leave his or her legacy.

Focus On Your Day Job

Here’s a little secret – most start-ups were created as a moonlighting endeavor by someone who with a full-time commitment. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook while attending Harvard and Guccio Gucci started, you guessed it – Gucci, while working as an immigrant hotel worker in London and Paris. If you want to create something new, you’ll need to spend a ton of time and energy on top of your day job. You’ll have nights with little to no sleep and plenty of weekends moonlighting with your new endeavor. Inherently this extra work will strain your current work, and if you simply don’t have the bandwidth to work 60 hours at your current job and spend 30 hours working on something new – maybe the time isn’t right for you. If you’re not prepared to have your day job strained, you’ve found a good reason to not create a start-up.

Time to Recharge Your Batteries

Everyone sources personal energy differently. Some get charged creating something new, while others prefer to re-charge spending a day sleeping or reading a book. Be honest with yourself. If creating new solutions to problems doesn’t energize you, it might not be realistic to believe that you’ll have a stockpile of energy big enough to keep you going week after week with almost no time to do anything but work. If you don’t have interest in in going round after round solving without a serious recharge, you’ve identified a great reason to not go into the start-up world.

Okay…so that’s a few good reasons why you might not start something new, but what if we’re just using these very logical thoughts as a way to stop ourselves from thinking about the real reason we’re not going out and creating something new?

What if we are just afraid to fail?

What if we are worried how we would be perceived if we failed?

What if, secretly, you’re scared to death of failure?

And maybe you’ve never really failed. After graduating towards the top of your high school class, did you go to a top 100 university? Did you graduate with a college degree (making you one of the 33% of people with a college degree in the richest country in the world), get a solid job, and then work your ass off to put yourself on an attractive career trajectory? If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance the answer is yes to all of the above.

So, what would happen if you were to try something new and fall flat on your face?

What’s really the worst that would happen? Would your savings account will take a hit? Do you believe in your heart that you wouldn’t be able to provide for your family? Are you scared of asking friends and family for money? Are you too risk-averse to pause retirement contributions for a couple years?

For many, the worst case doesn’t involve living below the poverty level, or for that matter, anywhere close to poverty. Indeed, the real concern might be that we’re afraid to see ourselves fail and dent the perception we have of ourselves with a tinge of failure.

See the difference here? Fear of failure is logical…but fearing a change in how you might perceive yourself is totally illogical. The former is a good reason to not create a startup. The latter? It’s a terrible reason to not create something new.

Only you can answer if you’re legitimately afraid of creating a bad environment for you & family or if you’re afraid of changing your perception of yourself. If you want to make a clear choice about starting the business you’ve been thinking about for a long time, start with answering what you’re really afraid of. I’ve seen lots of people avoid this question. Sometimes it’s avoided by not thinking about it and other times by choosing a good rational reason and telling people the off-the-shelf “rationale” reason enough times it’s believed as the real reason.

Maybe – just maybe – it’s worth your time and thought to discover the real reason behind your thinking. Find the real answer to what you’re afraid of and you’ll have clarity around whether you’re ready to start something new.


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