What strategies do you use to deal with uncertainty in your startup?


2

Startups are full of uncertainty, which typically gets (a little) less as the business grows. Lots and lots of questions about almost everything that the founder doesn't (yet) know the answer to. To me, the uncertainty makes working on a startup interesting, challenging and also frustrating at times.

My theory is that people give up on their business ideas because they don't know how to progress when they meet uncertainty - as they inevitably will.

So my question is, what do you do that is effective at helping you through times when you are facing a lot of uncertainty in building your business - beliefs, behaviours, other?

Strategy

asked Jun 8 '10 at 20:03
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Susan Jones
4,123 points

2 Answers


2

Great question. I'm sure the answer will vary for each person, and perhaps each person within a given startup. For me, the foremost strategy is always keeping an eye on the greater goal.

For instance, if WordPress was my startup, my goal might be something like: "To give everyone a voice; to allow anyone to publish anything at anytime." That's a broad enough goal that ties back to a personal passion & belief. The exact execution of a goal will vary because of the inevitability of uncertainty. But if the greater goal ties back to something I am passionate about, and is broad enough to interest me, then that motivates me to continue despite setbacks.

Some tactics I've used to reinforce a goal is:

  • Declare it openly to friends & family. This uses the peer pressure effect to keep me accountable, and is a tactic some weight trainers recommend to dieters.
  • Post it someplace immediately visible. I once had a goal I placed in a sign above my bed. It helped remind me why I was waking up every morning. You can put this sign above your desk or anywhere else that you frequent as well.

Other strategies for dealing with uncertainty:

  • Talk to a mentor or advisor. It isn't always easy to find a good advisor within your industry, but if you can, they can be invaluable, especially in times of stress.
  • Talk to other entrepreneurs. As evident by online communities such as this one, there are many entrepreneurs willing to lend a shoulder in times of duress. Commiserate with fellow entrepreneurs. Who knows, perhaps they've dealt with the same uncertainty before and can offer solutions.
  • Talk to a trusted friend. This is similar to an advisor or mentor, but isn't in your industry. Such a person could be a parent, best friend, or spouse. It should be someone you can totally open up to. Perhaps they won't have the exact answers you need, but as a sounding board, they can be refreshing. Sometimes it's nice to talk to someone outside of your industry.
  • Relax. Uncertainty can increase stress for some people, so decreasing it can help clear up your mind for problem solving. I don't mean to sound spammy, but I've written about some of the advice I've gotten on how entrepreneurs deal with stress (some of which is duplicated here, since I thought it was relevant to this question). As ancillary info, that may help some people.

One last note: one of my mottos in life is the Serenity Prayer:

"Grant me the courage to change that which I can, the serenity to accept that which I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference."
I think this applies directly in entrepreneurship. As you said, there will always be uncertainty. It is inevitable. The best you can do is accept the factors you cannot control (the economy, natural disasters, etc), exert control in the factors that you can change (product features, prices, etc), and know which is which.
answered Jun 9 '10 at 10:23
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Mike Lee
1,356 points
  • Thanks for the comprehensive answer Mike! Putting a sign or text somewhere visual really works for me. I had been meaning to start work on my business idea for ages. One day I cut out some headlines from a business magazine ("Go start a business, Just Do It!") and put them just behind my monitor where they are in my peripheral vision all the time. It wasn't long after that that I started taking action. – Susan Jones 8 years ago

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Measure, Measure, Measure. Uncertainty is a way of life in startups. Agree to what outcome your effort should produce, and define what metrics you will use to determine success or failure. Analyzing data, feedback and insights is where the true value comes from - and allows you to move forward.

answered Jun 8 '10 at 23:33
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Jim Galley
9,952 points
  • I like the idea of setting outcomes and measuring effort towards that. I think that would also help with motivation and focus. And I agree with measuring key metrics too. What's that quote: "You get what you measure" – Susan Jones 8 years ago

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