By: Chris Waits

Ideas are everywhere around me and in me – all the time. I have several a day.  When they come upon me it is such an overwhelming feeling of joy. Pure joy.

But something stops me getting beyond the idea, something prevents me from putting the hardwork, taking the risk to uncover the diamond in the chunk of coal. I call this Startup Agoraphobia and I want to overcome it.

What is Agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is basically the fear of crowded/public places and the net effect of it is that it’s sufferers are scared of going outside of their homes.

It has troubled me for years and, to be honest, I have ignored it and rolled with the flow – delighting in my ideas and seeking nothing more.

All that ignoring has proved to be an investment in dissatisfaction – one that has paid huge dividends.  I am plagued by what my ideas could become, growing increasingly dissatisfied with my day job (as a very successful agile coach) and being a general grumpy ass at home.

My list of ideas sitting on Trello – taunting me, daring me to open the door and take them for a walk outside to play in the sunshine with other ideas – perhaps have sex and become bigger, better and sexier!

This condition was self diagnosed after I read the very special book The Startup Owner’s Manual by the absolutely delightful Steve Blank (and Bob Dorf).  My diagnosis emerged early,  one of the cornerstones of Steve’s approach to startups is ‘getting out of the building’.  This literally means taking your idea in some form and verifying it with potential customers and testing whether the value as I imagined them actually are helping someone address a problem they have.

Inaction is The Sum of My Fears

As I digested this simple and exceptionally reasonable piece of advice, it dawned on me that I was afraid of ‘getting out of the building’ – shit scared in fact.

My name is Mike and I suffer from Startup Agoraphobia. I’m afraid of getting out of the building. I need help.

I am trying to unbundle this fear and it is multi-faceted (the best fears are!), this is what I discovered about my condition:

  • I’m afraid of my safety being violated (the relative safety of having no criticism of my perfect idea).
  • I’m afraid of hearing the truth of reality. For example that not enough people have this problem for there to be a sustainable market.
  • I am afraid of risking my time on an idea and for it to be a failure.
  • I’m afraid that I do not know enough, have enough skill or ‘wisdom’ to build a successful startup and getting out of the building will prove as much (to myself).
  • I’m not afraid that the idea,once it was outside , would be considered a ‘stupid’ one.
  • I’m not afraid that the idea would be stolen or duplicated.

Fear can paralyse and I often feel near-paralysed by these fears.

I thrash, spending more time on things than is needed, doing lower priority tasks and avoiding the tasks that require me to step outside.   This is dangerous!  It invites assumptions and speculations to dress up in the stockings and frilly underwear of fact.  In time I will come to falsely trust in them and BOOM!! I will end up broke!!

Jump In, The Water Is Lovely And the Sharks Have Been Fed.

I no longer want to be afraid of getting out the building. I want to test my ideas outside the building, I want them to dance in the Sun and have sex with other ideas and emerge richer and better tested.

I have two advisors to my startup and they are totally brilliant   They are people I respect deeply and trust implicitly.  They fill the role of psychologists (even if they don’t know it!), helping me challenge my fears and encouraging me to keep taking the small steps.  With their help, I  am getting out of the building, slowly and getting better everyday.

How I am addressing this condition is fairly dynamic, but here are the key things I do/have done:

1. Reframe My Fears: Reconsidering what I am actually afraid of in terms of my needs that are not being met is a hugely powerful thing. I am learning this from the work of Marshall Rosenberg in his seminal work on Non Violent Communication.  For example my fear for my safety can be reframed as having a need to get positive and constructive criticism so that I can improve.  By sharing this need with those I meet outside the building, I stand more chance of actually getting the need met.

2. Maintain Focus:  I have a plan – it’s flexible and changes often, but when I start feeling paralysed, I look at it and it reminds me what I agreed to do. I review it daily (first thing) and adjust as necessary.

3. Commit to something with someone:  Peer support is important, I commit to share progress with my advisors regularly (roughly every 5-7 weeks).

4. Keep Things Visual:  This is very important for me – I have my funnels drawn and coloured and my tasks on Trello, permanently showing on one of my screens. I also have my various business model canvases visible permanently (they are hosted on the delightful bmfiddle app).

5. Define Clear Goals and Milestones to Them:  I need baby steps or I will run right back indoors and never come out (really!).  So each of my experiments has tasks that I need to complete and ultimately execute.

All these amount to small steps that are breaking the chokehold of inaction that I often face.  They are small steps, but they lead out of the darkness of Startup Agoraphobia. They help me open the door and get through the fear of stepping into the sunlight.

What About You?

I would love to hear from you if you are struggling with getting out of the building?

What techniques do you apply to keep focused and open? Maybe we can share our techniques and help each other?

Who do you have to support you through this challenge?

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