Will you be able to finish this article? Do you have the attention to read (versus, let’s say, watch a 30 seconds clip)? Do you have the grit to power through a hard topic and think about it thoroughly? We all doubt ourselves sometimes, in small things like this, all the way to life decisions like marriage, parenthood, and direction in life.
Indeed we all feel doubt in various times in our lives, but it really hits you hard as a startup founder.
Doubt is by far one of the strongest emotions you feel as an entrepreneur — every freaking day you are faced with reality that contradicts your assumptions, investors/mentors/advisors who throw you in different directions, numbers which do not add up, and unproven product and strategy. As a startup founder, you are constantly feeling doubt. Mix that with grit which you need to be successful, and it feels like being dead tired and hyped, so much you cannot sleep.
The Delayed Effect of Doubt
One of the interesting things about doubt is that it comes at a delay. You think an idea is awesome! you are confident that it is the best thing since sliced bread, you feel zero doubt.
You wake up the day after. Your mind does not have the same “YES YES YES!” voice it had last night. You start to think about why this idea will not work. Doubt creeps in slowly.
You talk to a few people and they tell you what they “think”. They take your wonderful idea and pour cold water on it — “X is already doing it”, “It will never work because of Y”, “I think you actually need to do Z”. Their new/modified ideas sound much better than your own idea (because they are new and shiny ideas, at the zero doubt stage) and you are already thinking about pivoting your idea. Many of the people you meet along the way seem like dedicated gardeners that feed and water your doubt, and it in turn, grows.
There is very little cost in telling someone why their idea will not work.
Then comes reality, the true bastard in this story. Freaking reality sucks — it shows you, in plain facts that some/all aspects of your idea are not actually working in real life. The user wants something else, or more commonly — they just do not care about your beautiful idea.
Every idea is a starting point. You need to continue and iterate until you get it right.
Reality is not good or bad, it is what it is. You will feel the world’s love if your idea is great and your execution of it is better, and you will definitely feel the world’s endless indifference otherwise. This is true in entrepreneurship and many other aspects of life.
The Good Doubt vs the Bad Doubt
So should we get rid of doubt? is doubt purely negative? Of course not.
Doubt is a great emotion that helps us get our heads out of our bums and look at the facts. Without doubt we would not evolve, Without doubt we would keep blindly running into walls of reality. We would not question, we would not revolt, we would not be human.
So, we are stuck with freaking doubt for life. How do we use it as a superpower? The answer is to separate doubt from despair, and to associate it with hope. And here’s how to do that.
Turn doubt into a tool for good and you will never fear doubt again.
Talking with several serial entrepreneurs (make no mistake, doubt NEVER goes away, everyone has the imposter syndrome) they tend to look at their doubt fondly:
“Here is a list of assumptions I am making and here is a list of test to prove/disprove them.”
“Tackle your biggest doubt first — entrepreneurship is like Hurdling.”
“Entrepreneurship is trying to prove that your idea is bad, and failing at it.”
How to Deal with Doubt
Here are the steps I take to deal with doubt, and turn it to a tool for good:
- Don’t panic.
- Recognize and list my doubts (assumptions, risks, you name it) by order of severity, from the highest to the lowest.
- Write experiments to see if you can validate these doubts. (user research, product feedback, engage with potential clients)
- Execute on the experiments and LEARN.
- Goto 1 and repeat
Bad use of doubt leads to despair, good use of doubt leads to learning.
When reality slaps you in the face, you have two options — to evolve your idea, or give up. Most give up to be honest. But if you have a lot of grit and will, to power through doubt and to evolve — you sometimes run into a sliver of truth about the world, a sliver of useful product, a sliver of a great idea.