Fear Is A No-No

At the VCs Who Code panel at Google I/O yesterday, Dick Costolo asked the assembled VCs the biggest no-nos in a startup. Everyone gave excellent answers but my personal favorite came from Brad Feld who said "fear is the biggest no-no."

If I look back over 20+ years of entrepreneurs I've backed, the ones who were anxious and afraid of failure most certainly had worse outcomes than the ones who were agressive and confident. You simply can't be tentative in a startup. You have to go for it at every chance you get.

And if the leader of the organization is anxious, his or her fear pervades the organization. Everything comes from the top in a company. So it is best to have to have a leader who exudes confidence.

You can certainly have too much confidence. Arrogance and cockiness can be as harmful to a startup as anxiety and fear. A person who is quietly confident makes the best leader.

So if you are starting a company or building one, face your fears and move past them. It's critically important to your company.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Adi

    I think entrepreneurs need a little fear to push them out of safe zones. Anxiety is definitely a big no. πŸ™‚

    1. Dan Ramsden

      I don’t think Fred meant to say that complacency is a good thing, but fear can be paralyzing. And it spreads, and festers, and is demoralizing.I could not agree with this post more.

    2. Dan T

      Recognition of risks and threats can faciliate the drive, but I don’t think good entrepreneurs/teams have fear, nor do they even recognize what a safe zone is. The thrive in the land of unsafe, because they are not scared, just aware, confident, competent and agile.

      1. Adi

        Lots of nice (too nice?) words in that comment πŸ™‚ I’m an entrepreneur who sometimes feels scared and lost (the feeling of “something is not right”)…then I pull myself together, talk to some people, push in a lot of code and i feel like nothing can go wrong. I’m not saying I’m a good entrepreneur, or that I disagree with Fred, but fear (or nervousness?) will hit an entrepreneur/team every now and then, but one confronts that fear and gets over it. It need not bring down the entrepreneur/team.

    1. JLM

      Never take counsel of your fears.

  2. jonsteinberg

    Fear also crowds out creativity and drive. It takes up valuable shower time. Good post.

  3. Taylor Brooks

    I remember in an interview (can’t remember where), you said you were a worrier and a bit of a nervous nancy.How are you similar/different to Brad in this respect?

    1. fredwilson

      I am a bit of a nervous type. But I am not an entrepreneur. I am an investor. And I think a little fear is healthier in an investor than an operator.

      1. Emil Sotirov

        Self-funded (bootstrapping) entrepreneurs are both.

        1. fredwilson

          good point

      2. JLM

        Fred, what an interesting and vulnerable insight. I must say that I find your candor and honesty to be absolutely endearing and totally refreshing. If I didn’t know better I would think you were me.

  4. Keenan

    People who operate from fear, play not to lose, they don’t play to win. I see this with sales people, entrepreneurs, investors, in relationships etc. When you play NOT to lose you never win. The best possible outcome is you just don’t lose. Facing your fears allows you to play to win. When you play to win, everything changes.

    1. Elie Seidman

      well said

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Totally agree! When I was working for other people’s companies I had a boss who advised me to work as if I were going to quit a few days latter. People who just want to keep their job don’t take risks, but those who *don’t care* being fired are the ones who change things.

      1. Keenan

        Great advice, the key to executing on this philosophy is making sure you live your life so you can quit a few days later or worse yet you’ll be OK if you get fired, when the rest of the org doesn’t want to change.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Great thoughts, Keenan. In the book “The Millionaire Next Door” the author talks about having a “go to hell” fund so that you have the ability to walk at any moment. The idea is to work from a sense of liberation. Something about that has always intrigued me.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      It took me a minute to think through your statement to understand it enough to finally agree with it. I’ve had anxiety and fears, but I feel a bit of differentiation should be made.The fears I’ve had aren’t if my ideas are good or if they won’t work, but fears of what might cause them to not succeed as well, what barriers might be encountered, and that forces me to brainstorm to the point that will make those fears be quelled and turned into what I believe to be a valid solution. And hopefully you gain people resources who know even better than you, or can confirm or fortify your own thoughts/plans.Maybe it’s simply I’ve been facing my fears, and seems like people have to go through those fears for the learning process? Or worry but not fear?I feel like I’m playing to win.

      1. JLM

        I think you are your own “player coach” — smart enough to coach yourself through your fears and talented enough to still be on the field when it comes time to run the play.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Player coach. I like that a lot. Thanks for your thoughts.

          1. Viktor Ovurmind

            One must always remember that the amygdala [ http://www.time.com/time/ma… ] is a pea size area of the brain. When we are overcome with fear, frame it that we literally thinking with our pea brain. Life is a framed perspective.[v.o.M.]

    4. Viktor Ovurmind

      There is a spectrum of emotional gifts we have all been given to discern, so I think we need to experience what fear is, not to discount it or throw it away, experience it and then one will know what it really is. If there is fear in the organization leaders need to deal with truth not fear.[v.o.M.]

  5. HowieG

    If your seeking funding what VC is going to invest in a scared leader or a leader so smug they think they are Bill Gates before they have even sold something? Well said Fred!

  6. jkaljundi

    Many startups are afraid of launching, keep tinkering with the first version of the product, being afraid of customers won’t like what they’ve built. Same goes for pitching and telling what you are building.

  7. Elie Seidman

    You need to be simultaneously completely confident and optimistic and yet totally realistic about what is working and what is not. You don’t see those traits in the same person all that often. It’s more common to see someone who is risk averse (worries a lot) or someone who is cocky confident and arrogant to the point of self delusion.If you spend your time worrying about what the future will bring, then that becomes your future. After all, I don’t think anyone lays on their death bed wishing they had spent more of their life worrying.

  8. robert

    Something that works for me to get past fear is to stop asking “if” we can do something and move to “how” type questions. When you ask “if” something is possible you’re asking for a yes/no answer, and fear triggers the “no” more often than it should. Moving to a “how could we make it” focuses people on the solution rather than the problem.Also fear is difficult to spot when it’s disguised as “common sense”, which makes it even more difficult to address.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a great approach. I like it

    2. JLM

      I cannot tell you the number of times I have been involved with getting organizations to “change” something in the face of conventional wisdom which argues for the “common sense” approach thereby quashing my initiative.I have been able to get them to change by agreeing completely and totally with them and then simply saying: “Of course, you’re right. This is insane. But, let’s just conduct an experiment to see what happens?”In this way I do not have to “win” the discussion, they do not have to “lose” the argument and I get to institute my change and everybody thinks they are right.It is a total cop out on my part only a sliver removed from pandering but it works like a champ.

      1. Tereza

        The other technique that works consistently for me is to set up the line of inquiry such that they think they came up with the idea themselves.Again you have to check your ego at the door.But who cares if it gets the job done.

  9. jaretmanuel

    Quite interesting you should write about this as I was reading over something this morning that I had read in full before.To Act Confident, Think Confident.@JaretManuel

    1. fredwilson

      I use that line from andy all the time. I know many great entrepreneurs who are paranoid but not fearful. Its a nuance but an important one

      1. dave

        Okay — but I think paranoia and fear are pretty close. πŸ™‚

        1. kidmercury

          as a kook, i think have to disagree and side with fred in this beef. kooks are paranoid, but not fearful — if kooks truly were fearful they would not bother with publicizing their message. in our society, the ones who are NOT paranoid are the ones who are afraid, as their fear causes them to behave with intellectual dishonesty, which in turn blocks them from the rational response (paranoia).

      2. Aviah Laor

        Woody Allen said (I think) that when people are chasing after you, paranoia is actually a good thing πŸ™‚

      3. Eric Leebow

        Paranoid and perfectionists are different, yet I think you meant the latter, or to combine them as the paranoid perfectionist. The paranoid perfectionist will do everything in their will power to make sure things go right, whereas fearful will see a challenge and feel the need to jump ship. If you are the paranoid perfectionist, you then can encounter another challenge, and that’s be too focused on the prize, and less on the effort to get the right results. The fearful one sees the challenge and runs away, whereas the paranoid perfectionist will see the challenge and be driven by it. It’s okay for everyone to have a little fear, yet it’s those who can transfer this energy into another direction can succeed.

    2. grshrader

      I was thinking the same thing. And as I remember reading or listening to Bill Gates say “Unless your running scared, your gone” I thought to myself that he embraced and redirected his fears in an exciting way. Like a quarterback getting blitzed by two huge thundering defensive ends. Are you worried about how much you could get hurt, or are you worried about what you need to do to get that ball to your wide receiver before you get pummeled. Are you worried about pain or are you worried about winning. If you’re worried about pain, then don’t take the field.The implication is that what you do about your fears is more important than the fear itself. Or alternatively, what fear does to you is an important success factor.

      1. dave

        Exactly — without fear you probably have died as an infant. Fearkeeps you alive. The question is how do you respond to all the fears,if your response is to never spend a dime, your investors would bebetter off opening a savings account.

  10. Mark Essel

    FDR & Frank Herbert had this one nailed.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Was waiting for someone to mention FDR.

  11. Justin Herrick

    I have to agree entirely,Its about being confident without being arrogant. As you said, everyone has their fears you just need to face them and move past it.

  12. Anon

    He (or she) who hesitates is lost!

  13. johnelton

    Good comments: Reminds me of advice I got from my Westpoint buddy, who said anytime he has someone who gets fear they are on the first plane out as it spreads and festers and at the end of the day that person is no longer effective: true in start-ups as well in my experience.

    1. Eric Leebow

      True, don’t let fear get the best of you. Too often, great ideas take longer or don’t happen because those fear. No matter how great of a believer you are, if your team senses fear, then you’re going to be challenged by it.

  14. jstylman

    I was just having a similar conversation…I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole adult life (really, since I was a teenager) and over the last few years have done a fair bit of angel investing. A friend recently asked about the most surprising observation about that experience so far. I had never thought about it before, however, the answer was immediately obvious: my confidence as an entrepreneur is not transferable to the company I’ve put money into.Regardless of whether an entrepreneur is the arrogant type or the quiet leader you mention in your post, they always assume that nothing stands in the way of at least trying to build a great product, sign a big partnership, or hire a key employee – even if (maybe especially) when they’re in over their heads. In my case, maybe it’s been hubris, or even ignorance. Still, that burning fire is lurking inside every successful entrepreneur I know. From what I can tell, it’s not an acquired skill either. As you astutely point out in your post, founders who are afraid to fail, usually do. My guess is identifying “it” inside an entrepreneur is what separates the the pros (you & the folks on yesterdays panel) from the amateurs/hobbyists (me).

    1. fredwilson

      i think amateur/hobbyist investors can identify “it” if they do enough investing. i think it’s a learned skill

      1. jstylman

        Hope so, definitely some lessons learned already. Thanks Fred.

    2. Tereza

      Josh you jogged my thinking a bit so thanks for an insightful comment.I am not and never have been an angel investor. But I’ve worked on the other side a lot, as the person or one of the people that’s supposed to have the fire in the belly and inspire others along the way. And most people who know me know I can really get quite excited about something.So of say 5 really large-scale either startups or re-positionings or internal startups over my career (plus a ton of other ad hoc projects), two were extremely successful, one moderately successul, and two ultimately failed or petered out in a boring and disappointing way. In every case I entered with a massive fire in my belly, excited to change the world.But in the latter two, eventually the fruitlessness shown through and the fire starts to fade. And the sources of failure were there from the beginning, for sure.In each case we had really good teams. To me the great differentiator of the winners was that they were relatively frictionless. There was money in the market there for the taking. A totally crystal-clear value prop, that we could sell like the bejeebus to customers because we believed it so much…as in, the world can’t keep revolving if this isn’t in the marketplace. These were each actually pretty complicated businesses with executional complexity. But we had the right teams and skills, and most importantly the marketplace pull. The stars aligned, and we took advantage.I liken it to when I played volleyball as an outside hitter, and you are up in the air, time suspends for a split second, you see a big hole on the floor and around our opponents hands, and you kill it so it hits the floor on the other side. Boom.The great losers/disappointments to me were things that died by committee; venture structures that were leaderless; convoluted products and sales approaches; non-decisions. Things and people that were just way harder than they needed to be. It felt like we never even got to game day. And after enough time, that distinguishes the fire from your belly.Then on to the next one!

  15. LenO

    As a recovering VC, and now a multiple-time entrepreneur, nothing was scarier (or more exhilarating) than investing that first dollar as the ‘thrill and excitement of the deal’ now competes with the reality of bringing the company’s vision to fruition. I believe a dose of fear for an investor is healthy and motivating.

  16. dgay07

    A quote by English author Samuel Johnson I believe is appropriate:”Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.”

  17. Dave Pinsen

    How hard is it to be brave when you are playing with OPM?

    1. kidmercury

      if you plan to play tomorrow as well, very hard

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Once you’re in a certain, elite, circle, failure isn’t fatal anymore. This is true in many fields where connections and pedigrees are important and there are high barriers to entry. NFL coaches, for example. How many times to you see a coach get canned and not land on his feet at another team (though sometimes as an assistant or position coach)? Not too often.Another field where this has been true is money management. Think you’d be kicked out of the industry for losing two thirds of your investors’ money in ’08? Think again. I can think of a couple of guys at least who did that and are still professionally managing money.I imagine something similar is the case when it comes to venture-backed start-ups. Lots of start-ups fail. That you once got venture backing probably counts for more on your CV than that your start-up failed. I remember back in ’99 a magazine (Vanity Fair?) asked the founder of one of those Internet bike delivery companies if he was worried of failure. “Why?”, he asked. “If this doesn’t work out, at least I’ll have a great essay for my b-school application” (not verbatim; just my recollection).For that matter, the founder profiled in the great documentary Startup.com is running a public company now.

    2. fredwilson

      hard if you feel a responsibility not to lose it

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Not enough seem to feel that responsibility though. I blogged about one example last year.

  18. Tereza

    I’m sure this is a big reason that serial entrepreneurs have such a leg up on first-timers.They have rational knowledge of what to be “afraid of” (which they call ‘business risks’) and have a quiver of arrows of different tactics to draw from to deal with them.For the first-timer, especially on the young side, it’s hard to not fall into one of the two camps: unearned swagger (arrogance), or irrational fear that someone will jump out and yell BOO!…however you define that.I think for older first-timers, the fear-related problem is unnecessarily seeking permission. No one’s going to give permission. Need to JFDI, and then ask for forgiveness later. WIth a smile.

    1. andyswan

      Every time you win, it diminishes the fear a little bit. You never really cancel the fear of losing; you keep challenging it.—- Arthur Ashe

      1. Tereza

        arthur ashe…..incredible man.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      If only I had read this post first you would have filled in a bunch of spaces with my last post.I think I’m currently learning my way through / facing my fears through the irrational fear that someone will jump out and.. BOO! πŸ˜› But as I’m understanding what I’m afraid of, the more I’ve been considering and understanding them more as business risks.Tereza, I hearby nominate you for some sort of a coach badge here at Fredland. πŸ™‚

      1. Tereza

        Matt that is really kind of you to say.There are a lot of things I don’t miss about working for very large companies. But I really miss coaching people, and the best companies recognize and reward people who are very good at developing people below them. It was one of my favorite things. It’s an itch I don’t get to scratch enough of as an early stage entrepreneur.Not yet, at least.:-)

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Not yet…

      2. JLM

        Matt, the real advantage that women have is a great secret that no man will ever really understand.Childbirth!

        1. Tereza

          Girlfriend, I’ve squeezed out two babies, kept my composure while delivering multiple eulogies (my parents, not my kids). After those experiences, I cannot think of a single thing in the context of business that would come close to that kind of fear or pressure. Nothing I couldn’t figure out one way or another.We’re here on this planet for a very short time. We do the damn best we can for the people we’re with and the situations we’re in, try to do some good and have some fun along the way. And then we’re gone. It’s really that simple.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            I SO relate to the above!!! Babies, eulogies… learning to deal with ANYTHING…figure out ANYTHING!Slightly off-topic, but in a similar vein…years ago, rushing to meet a prospective client after successfully negotiating with my very strong-willed 4 y.o. in order to leave him behind while “Mommy went to work”, I realized that there was nothing the guy could throw at me in the meeting that could top what I’d just been through. Nothing. (I got the client.)(Someday I will document starting a new business while pregnant with my third child and with two toddlers…and after being out of the industry for five years…and that’s only part of the story.)

  19. RichardF

    This applies in all walks of life I believe. When you play sport if you have a “no fear” attitude you are less likely to; get hurt in a tackle, injure yourself on the ski slope or land in the water instead pitch on the green.

    1. Tereza

      Yes and a time-tested technique for high athletic performance is visualization at a very specific level of the steps that will lead you to win….not the actual winning but the component actions.Swimmers envision their stroke over and over. Volleyball player her approach timing and armswing. Actors and musicians rehearse; they always do a dry run on the venue.Really helps the confidence when you can pretend you’ve done it before.

  20. Kevin Vogelsang

    I agree with this for the most part. The leader absolutely cannot be anxious or seem fearful: “The CEO can’t have a bad day.”However, fear is always present. And needs to be. You just can’t react poorly to it. It’s a part of the human condition, and it needs to be used to our advantage.It’s interesting that this topic has come up. It sounds like you may have gotten to this topic in my book, perhaps? I of course disagree on the topic of cockiness, as you’ll see in the chapter on the “Cocky SOB”. There are many nuances to these words. But, all in all, cockiness is extremely valuable when used *at the right time*. (We have no reason to be confident when faced with extreme uncertainty. Cockiness allows you “to just know” and push forward. No matter what.)There are reasons athletes and rockstars are so often cocky. And it’s not necessarily only because they’ve become full of themselves. Cockiness has enabled them to do what they do. Anxiety and fear doesn’t grip them in the moment. Only greatness does.

    1. Kevin Vogelsang

      I think smart people know “when they don’t know”. consequently, when you need to make moves in this situation, the only rational response is irrational confidence (AKA “cockiness”).

  21. Greg Fodor

    I think this goes along with the fact that at some point, you realize you’re never going to make everyone happy. So, it’s not just that you become less afraid of negative feedback or not being accepted, it’s just that you realize it’s an impossible dream to have everyone love everything you do.Once you accept this, feedback becomes less about *you* and more about your *work*. When you’re comfortable receiving both kinds of feedback (positive and negative) on something you’ve made, you transition from the role of a “builder” to an “editor.” Builders build what they’re told, emotionally reacting to the whims of the customer. Editors take what people say, think through why they said it, and integrate it into a cohesive vision. Builders live in fear, editors don’t.

  22. Aviah Laor

    I would say you have to be:1. Stupid.2. Shut down the part of the brain that can calculate even basic probability.3. Focus just on success stories, to achie the maximum polling mistake4. Never ever let the hard facts confuse you, because you never get to them5. Believe. After all, believing does not depend on anything real, so it’s easy.Now, fear not.

  23. Vijaya Sagar V

    Fear can paralyse / cripple. That mere possibility is enough to justify Brad’s assertion. I do not understand why entrepreneurs would reduce the odds of their success by worrying about failure. Especially after having already taken the big plunge πŸ™‚

  24. Guest

    I was thinking the same thing. And as I remember reading or listening to Bill Gates say “Unless your running scared, your gone” I thought to myself that he embraced and redirected his fears in an exciting way. Like a quarterback getting blitzed by two huge thundering defensive ends. Are you worried about how much you could get hurt, or are you worried about what you need to do to get that ball to your wide receiver before you get pummeled. Are you worried about pain or are you worried about winning. If you’re worried about pain, then don’t take the field.The implication is that what you do about your fears is more important than the fear itself. Or alternatively, what fear does to you is an important success factor.

  25. mikepk

    I understand your point, but I think there’s more nuance to it. The key is to not *act* out of fear. The entrepreneur who has no fear, who operates with blind confidence, is just as dangerous as the one acting out of fear. You want to take your fear and make it work for you, accept it for what it is, and never allow it to dictate your actions. There are ways to understand your own fear, like knowing that the things you are worrying about are not the things that will go wrong the vast majority of the time (and being OK with that).

  26. andreaitis

    there’s a difference between being afraid, and knowing what to be afraid of. the first can paralyze, the second allows you to focus, prepare, plan and conquer. i often use the expression ‘appropriately anxious.’ it’s natural to have nerves, but they need to push you forward not hold you back.i was just reading a profile of ‘last rock critic standing’ christopher weingarten ( @1000timesyes ). i’m not sure if he thinks of himself this way, but he is an entrepreneur. he uses every medium, every platform, trying new rev models and concepts to keep doing what it is he loves to do.this quote really jumped out at me: β€œThis isn’t a side hustle. This is my full-time hustle.”gotta be fearless when you’re doing the full-time hustle.here’s the story, an inspirational read: http://www.cjr.org/feature/

  27. andyswan

    Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.

    1. JLM

      The Army about 30 years ago commissioned a very detailed study of the common traits of Medal of Honor winners and they found out the following:MOH winners continued to be willing to act when others were paralyzed by fear. The catalyst for their action was anger. MOH winners got angry at the situation and the enemy and were able to channel that anger into “getting some”!The correllation with anger was so high as to be universal.To draw a current analogy, perhaps in some ways what is happening in the public square today is that people are not just disagreeing intellectually and rationally — they are getting very, very angry and that is transforming itself into a call for action. A call to GET SOME!

      1. Dave Pinsen

        IMO, the most impressive MOH tale in the last half century at least was that of Roy Benavidez.

      2. Tereza

        I love it.So what does that make a very angry mother?

        1. ShanaC

          a smart woman.

        2. Donna Brewington White

          A force to be reckoned with. Perhaps, one of the greatest forces on earth. As in “I pity the fool” who arouses that anger. Just sayin…

          1. Tereza


          2. Tereza

            BTW — YOU who has given birth *four* times.Is there an AVC badge for that??

          3. Donna Brewington White


  28. Apreche

    I can tell you that the reason I haven’t even tried yet is because of fear. But it’s not fear of failure. If I try to start a business, and it doesn’t work out, big deal. What I’m afraid of is ending up homeless, hungry, etc. because of it. If there were some way to guarantee that even if you fail catastrophically, you’ll still be warm and have food the next day, then there would be nothing holding people like myself back. Since there isn’t, we just keep our safe salaried positions and call it a day.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Social assistance and free health care … at least here in Canada I can rely on it for basic needs.I agree with you though that will hold a lot of people back. You need your health and a routine that’s good for you. And a computer..I guess you can try to deal with that fear by cutting back your expenses a huge amount. Brainstorm through what would happen if you fail. Worse case scenario it. This is why I like doing yoga regularly. It relaxes my mind enough to let thoughts and hidden emotions that want to come up- come up and that allows myself to more easily start looking at situations that may be scary.It’d be harder too when you have responsibilities other than yourself.

    2. JLM

      OK, if you fail, you can sleep in my boat house and you can fish off my dock and you can use the grille. Plus I have plenty of frozen deer in the ice box. Your move!

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Is there room for two? I like to cook. Culinary school, yoga instructor / studio owner, Thai yoga massage therapist, Reiki practitioner are all possible backup plans for me. Or high-end dog trainer. πŸ™‚

        1. JLM

          Of course, but I must warn you I have a shih tzu who is easily the smartest mammal in the zip code. No man should freely admit to owning a shih tzu but the truth of the matter is that I apparently exist only to humor and make that damn dog happy. The lab, on the other hand, is a smart as any red brick but immensely happy.

          1. Matt A. Myers

            I’ve been called dog whisperer by plenty … I’m sure there would be a fierce battle with your Shih Tzu. πŸ™‚

    3. Donna Brewington White

      You are not crazy. That’s a valid concern. That’s when you start something on the side and build it until it gives evidence of being sustainable — and better yet is generating revenue.However, if you are truly an entrepreneur you will find a way to work that muscle and you wont’ be able to rest until you do.

    4. ShanaC

      Are your parents alive- siblings? Are you active in a church or synagogue or a mens/womens club?What causes fear is isolation- realities are the ones you in part choose.

  29. Andrew Warner

    How does this fit with what you told me when I interviewed you. You said you were a worrier. That you were up at 3am the morning I interviewed you, worried.I think you know me well enough to know that this comment isn’t meant as a challenge. I’m just curious about the topic.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Spending time to analyze business risk perhaps? To integrate the model and give it time to sink in?I know personally I can do my best thinking when very physically tired, after a day of long unrelated mental work or focus, or when I first wakeup, and thoughts have had their time to work their way into my schema and out comes exciting brilliance with bright lights and cheering! πŸ™‚

      1. JLM

        Intersting insight, you are tapping into your own natural rhythm.I have found myself “working” at the oddest times when I can work like I am eating candy. It is delightful and blissful and there is absolutely no effort to it at all.One of the secrets of life is to be constantly working and vacationing and constantly vacationing and working.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          So I think I will plan to go to NYC during the Mashable Media Summit coming up for vacation and if I can squeeze the $500 for one of the remaining tickets along with paying for a cheap room, and work happens, then cool. :)And I hear you about working with no effort, the delightful and blissful times where everything just flows.

          1. Tereza

            Matt do a quick google search for the conference and “discount code”.Yesterday I scored a $200 discount on one.Also know that often these events take volunteers. Depending on how many shifts they require it could be worthwhile for you.I know every dollar counts, but the exposure is important too.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            Thanks, I’m looking now. Haven’t seen any as juicy as $200 off yet, but I’ll keep digging.Have been talking to someone at Mashable regarding another matter, and asked about volunteer opportunities too. πŸ™‚

    2. fredwilson

      got the same question elsewhere in this thread from one of your viewers. i think investors can and should have more fear than operators

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Which doesn’t mean operators should have no fear… :)I think the way you worded it before made it seem like you didn’t think operators should have any fear… I would say that they shouldn’t have fears that they won’t know how to manage …And with investors having more fear could simply mean that you should pay more attention to the ship in case the operator’s stuck on something? It can be easier to spot an issue or holdup when at more of an external position.

  30. Matt A. Myers

    “So if you are starting a company or building one, face your fears and move past them. It’s critically important to your company.”Word.

  31. Timo Ahopelto

    This is also why ‘big company people’ don’t make it in start-ups.

    1. Tereza

      I’ve done startups, big companies, and startups in big companies.Big companies are not monolithic. Skillsets and experiences vary significantly. Some could transfer to startups. Many could not.For example, there are roles in big companies that are ‘pro-establishment’, and some that are ‘anti-establishment’. The anti-establishment types would likely be must better suited. Also, they many know things you don’t know about how to penetrate and serve big companies, if that’s the customer based you’re going after.I’m all for sweeping generalizations….but not when it means I’d get swept away!

      1. Rocky Agrawal

        Agreed. I’ve done both and I wish I’d had some of the big company experience before the startup experience. Knowledge of how big companies evaluate data, interact with vendors and make decisions is invaluable when you’re at a startup.

        1. JLM

          Early in my business career (after getting out of Army, so 27-ish) the best advice I was ever given was to go to work for the biggest company in the industry I was interested in and learn all of their technical disciplines — strategic planning, budgeting, funding, compensation, incentive compensation, performance appraisal, training, personnel development, legal framework — in support of their core business while stealing (ooops, meant ‘learning’) all of their core systems.Drink from the fire hose. I did.Then find the smallest company in the same industry and apply all of the big company disciplines to the small company to see if they truly work outside the big company petri dish.Apply with an eye dropper. I did.Then go into business for myself.So, that’s what I did.

          1. Matt A. Myers

            Don’t forget to do it better though..

          2. ShanaC

            JLM, thanks. And it is excellent advice to the young people here. learn a lot while young. don’t stop: get in the habit while young though.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      As a very general rule, I hear what you are saying. However, I’ve seen some very brave people in big companies. They sometimes have more to lose and have a bigger tide to go up against. If you are going to recruit someone from a big company for a startup, those are the ones you have to look for. Except, they are probably going to have a few battle scars.

  32. CloudZap

    Is that C.K. Lassiter in the background of your twitter page?

    1. fredwilson

      nope, it’s a paul klee painting called twittering machine

    1. fredwilson

      thanks for sharing that link. i sense that foursquare is beginning to enter the mainstream consciousness. that’s a good thing for them.

  33. Eric Leebow

    Fear is an illusion, that’s all. There is no fear, so have no fear! FEAR is an acronym.FEAR = False Evidence Appearing RealEverything people love and hope for, dreamed and wished for, there is the fear that halos over them, yet it’s an illusion. The biggest of ideas, the transformations that could change everything, these are what people will always question and wonder why or how, it’s blindsided by the illusion of fear. With disruptive technologies where you must walk on a tight rope, those must not look down and see the fall, yet look forward and see themselves walking to the end of the line. There is no reason anyone who is an entrepreneur should have fear if they truly believe in their mission and vision, yet there are things that knock us down, and that’s when we must get back up again.For an entrepreneur to be be a success, their passion and motivation to succeed must outweigh their fear of failure. They should not ignore failure, as even the greatest successes encounter challenges. Doing something great does not have any barriers to entry. For all those who say it can’t be done, they are struck by the notion of fear. It’s the one who says it can, the one who does it, or works with others to make it happen, and has no fear, is the one who succeeds.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      I hate that acronym, because it’s b.s. If your doctor shows you a shadow on your X-ray, or you don’t have the money in your checking account to cover the mortgage, that’s not “false evidence appearing real”. Those are real problems, and scary ones at that.

      1. Eric Leebow

        Sometimes acronyms are not always the best to explain, yet if you know what Fred is talking about, then you can relate to it. It’s letting something get in the way, that should not get in the way. Acronyms not in context can be misleading, yet it was meant for this post. This is about a different kind of fear, the entrepreneurial fear. Health issues, I’m not a doctor, so you’ve just got to trust your doctor and hope you can do something about that shadow.

        1. Dave Pinsen

          The shadow on an x-ray was just an example. I am in reasonably good health (if a tad fat), as far as I know. If you limit it to entrepreneurial fear, then you’re on solider ground.I just gave you a like as well, to take a little of the edge off my previous comment.

      2. ShanaC

        It’s knowing how to act decisively and swiftly in case of problems.Edit: The only reason I say that is because I’ve thought about these issues.1) I would probably call my lender in advance, and also call someone who can help negotiate payments. Apparently there are non-profits that help, although a lot have been strained because of the credit crisis.2)Get an MRI and a second opinion. If both show up positive- Biopsy lymph nodes. Determine based on size, location, and type kind of treatement and extent I can tolerate said treatment. Hopefully be older, so I can call people and start arranging help. stock up on a lot of ginger ale, ginger cookies, and possibly weed, even though I’m not the type.If stage four- plan a vacation to India or france, throw out original plan, and figure out how to afford said vacation.it’s good to have a vague plan.

  34. kidmercury

    anyone who wants to prove their fearlessness should find a way of going kook.

    1. Matt A. Myers


  35. JLM

    I must say that I agree with all the red meat noble assertions that I read herein about fear. They make me nod approvingly. I only wish they were me.I seemingly have lived my life in that manner from outward observation and one would be hard pressed to find any aspect of my life that does not have in some measure a theme of having faced up to and conquered a bit of risk. I just wish I felt like a conqueror. I feel like a survivor and not much more.However from a personal perspective, I must make a self revelatory pronouncement — I am constantly in a state of fear. Not necessarily a flop sweat paralyzing panic but a cunning look thrice before crossing the street, measure six times and cut once type of fear.I am not ashamed to admit it and I am quite comfortable with it. Sure my 24-year old son calls me “Nancy” from time to time and I just laugh. I was a 24-year old cocksure prick myself once upon a time. But then life gave me a lesson or two in humility.I admit to being more scared on my 92nd parachute jump than on my second. Remember the second was an “informed” decision while the first was just a lark cause you didn’t know what to expect anyway.I admit to being cautious with capital having raised over a $B and having never lost a penny of OPM. I’ve been to the pay window more than a few times and I still attribute every single occurence of same to LUCK.I do know that I can organize, lead, run and motivate an enterprise but I am infinitely more calm and careful about other folks today than I ever was before in my life knowing that their lives are more important than anything I am doing. I am kinder because I am fearful of the results of not being kind.I count, doublecount and re-count my blessings at every opportunity and I freely admit to having dropped to my knees on ocassion before a difficult day was confronted. Hell, I did it this week.So, count me amongst the truly fearful. I fear I like a bit of fear. I study every NTSB small aircraft fatal accident report and ask myself if I were capable of making that mistake and unfortunately I find myself more and more saying — hmmmm, maybe! I am no more fundamentally daring with 2000+ hours than I was with 200.I am sure that from time to time, I find myself in a comfort zone and push just hard enough to get a bit of extra zest in my mojito.I freely confess that for more than half of any day, I truly have no clue as to what I am really doing other than I have done something like it before and I have thought it through and it has come time to act and I have no choice but to do something.So I act, dragging my ignorance and fear along like a blind date with a truly great personality who doesn’t sweat too much. I shall not marry that fearful bitch but for some reason, I cannot get rid or her either.But, hey, that’s just me.

    1. fredwilson

      flying airplanes, jumping out of them, dealing with bears in the woods – those don’t seem like the act of a fearful person JLM.i think looking a few times before you cross the street is an appropriate amount of fear. as long as you then step onto the street and go

      1. Viktor Ovurmind

        Where life demands we care, fear is the creator of support mechanisms. Even Mike Tyson [ http://www.youtube.com/watc… ] needed support. Fear can guide us so we can guide fear, even within the startup life.[v.o.M.]

    2. Donna Brewington White

      JLM — I think you are describing wisdom and bravery and the sobriety that comes from a history of exercising both. However, I think true sobriety is only possible when you have counted the cost and then turned your face like flint toward the goal. I don’t think bravery is the absence of fear, but rather the ability to override it or overcome it — sometimes for a greater good — other times just as a refusal to be ruled by it — maybe even anger at the fear, to borrow from your earlier comment.The thing that does not impress me about fearlessness is when it is strictly a matter of naivete. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate that type of fearlessness — if I was building a team, I confess that I’d want at least a few people on it that had some of that naivete translated into fearlessness — like the farm boys turned fly boys who broke the sound barrier because they didn’t know there was one.But I’d take wisdom and bravery over that any day…and a healthy dose of sobriety.It seems that a sense of adventure has to fit somewhere in the formula as well when it comes to venture. This seems to be a common denominator among entrepreneurs and the people who fund them.I’ve been wondering if that sense of adventure is one of the key differences between private equity and venture capital.By the way, as a disclaimer I don’t really know what I’m talking about except that I am a keen observer and being inordinately curious I just happen to make a lot of connections between the dots.

      1. JLM

        Interesting the connection between “venture” and “adventure”. I suspect that my entire life has now devolved into a series of connected adventures. And I suspect that venture capitalists are along for the adventure as well. The entrepreneurs certainly are.Don’t get me started on the subject of “naivete” as I think it may be the root cause of some of the greatest evils ever visited on the world.I doubt we would have any wars if the “old farts” who want to start them had to decide them personally in hand to hand combat or if only their children had to fight in them. Don’t get me wrong there are a whole bunch of bad guys in the world who need killing — and far be it from me to deny them their just deserts — but we call upon the naive 20-somethings to decide things of “international importance”.If I were approached to be a suicide bomber with the lure of 92 virgins, I would have to ask the old fart who was trying to talk me into the proposition why he had never called his own number if this is such a great deal?Just for the record, 92 virgins sounds like a lot of heavy lifting to me, I would opt for 8 truly skillful, experienced and energetic hookers — one for each day of the week and two on Sunday. When in doubt, always go with professionals.

        1. Mark Essel

          Haha, appreciated the thread and conclusion!

        2. Tereza

          You’re on a roll, JLM.Put this in that box too.LOL.

    3. Matt A. Myers

      I take great comfort in your words as they reflect a lot of how I am. I especially liked your inclusion of kindness.I wish I could focus more often on kindness. Not that I am unkind, I don’t think ever to others, more so unkind to myself.Focusing on kindness makes me calm, humbled because it seems to reconnect you from the disconnect or being stuck in thoughts – focusing on kindness grounds you, one might say.And as you said, the most important thing is someone’s life, so be kind … and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.’Be kind’ is a mantra I very much like. Very similar to practicing non-violence.P.S. I love this post of yours. It will be one of my long-time if not forever favourites. Thank you very much for sharing.

      1. Mark Essel

        Me too Matt. JLM got down with his cautious self πŸ˜‰

    4. Tereza

      JLM, do your kids a favor.Print out that comment and stick it in a box somewhere marked Father’s Day. Put a bunch of your other comments in there as they happen.Some day, a Father’s Day will come when you’re not around anymore. They will yearn for a piece of you.They’re too young to appreciate this stuff now. But later….it’s a whole other story.Trust me.

    5. ShanaC

      Very Sober- It’s all you handle the fear.

    6. Carl Rahn Griffith

      Great stuff, as ever, JLM.Best lesson I EVER learnt was getting lost on an early solo flight (think I have told this tale in the past, forgive me, if so) – middle of nowhere (in English scale of landscape terms), running out of fuel, and in an escalating state of panic.I calmed down, assessed the situation as objectively as I could, found a very small airstrip, landed and asked where I was – much to the amusement of the sole person there, a guy working on a Cessna’s engine.You know why I prevaricated so much initially (I realised later)? The potential embarrassment of landing somewhere to ask where I was.Once I overcame that personal pride based fear I could undertake what I needed to do.Same in life/business.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Wow, this is so very true. Thank you.

    7. cindygallop

      Darling, join the club. We’re all scared shitless.But confidence comes from knowing that at the end of the day the only person who can really make things happen for you is you.Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.’The success of your venture depends entirely on you. And that’s actually very reassuring – because if you grit your teeth and decide to make it happen, you’re going to make it happen.Very best of luck. I’m totally with you.

  36. Caterina Fake

    Hey Fred….

    1. Dave Pinsen

      “Fake, fake, fake, fake”.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Curiosity made me click to your blog. Good last post on April 28th.I put university on hold.. twice. :PI eventually want to go back and do research though, but I don’t see easily being able to find funding for creating a computational model for a theory I have for how the mind-body works. I realized it’ll need to be more of a platform that needs to be created and let students and researchers plug ideas into it. Not really much money to be made in that.. but will increase human understanding about ourselves, and of course that has lots of foreseeable and unforeseeable benefits.

      1. ShanaC

        I took leave briefly, it was honestly the most scary thing of my life, and I went back, and the first quarter back was terrible. I hated the situation entirely. I’ve pretty much vowed to myself to never let such things happen again.It did teach me that the worst thing that could happen is fear itself and an inability to confront it. Though college itself was an eh experience in some ways, I can honestly say I did do that because I got over some fears.

  37. Donna Brewington White

    In recruiting for a company, I can pretty much tell you if the CEO is fearful. It pervades the entire organization no matter how large or small and determines who will be able to thrive in that organization.On the other hand, I wonder how much of what seems like fearlessness is actually bravery. What is even more impressive than an absence of fear is the presence of bravery…or courage. Neither is really possible unless fear is an option. Interesting comment about confidence. One of the things I learned from a search firm I worked for is to ask in executive interviews and of references whether the person is “quite” confident or “quietly” confident. Subtle distinction, but nonetheless significant. This is not a stand alone question and coordinates with other questions that help to give a clear picture of the person’s confidence level.

  38. goldwerger


  39. paramendra


  40. ShanaC

    I think the following needs to be recognized about fear:1) having a fight or flight reaction is very normal- fear in and of itself is normal, and healthy (your biochemistry wouldn’t have a fight or flight reaction if that weren’t the case)2) there are things you can do about your fight or flight reactionStart with:get mentorship- surround yourself with a community of people of different ages and experiences so that you can ask questions and get information. they also are places to lean on when things get rough.study regularly in a variety of different topics- those who are armed with information often have more choices (though remember, too many choices can also scare you, hence why friends are helpful)train regularly in a variety of different ways (it’s much easier to shoot a gun in wartime once you’ve trained to shoot a gun, rather than to shoot it cold, with no training)break down tasks- if it seems overwhelming, it probably is cause the problem is too big. Smaller pieces are easier for the brain to chew on.learn about the issue that is bothering you.recognize that you make mistakes.recognize that some decisions are harder than others, and that practice making decisions will make it easier to make the next one (hence why breaking down tasks is recommended)recognize that the fear is normal. You are not strange. Bravery is just practiceI’m afraid of lots of things: Some are silly and I am in the process of getting over by actively doing stuff to stop the silliness. Some are not so silly, and I am regularly doing stuff to get over those fears too. recognizing the normalcy of fear will get you through the decision making process.It’s always helped me in the hardest of times.

  41. David Fishman

    Fear is a natural catalyst => anxiety and worrying is a byproduct. Unavoidable IMHO ….. Buspar FTW!

  42. CJ Westerberg

    Not a great post, Fred.Love VC’s who tell leaders of successful corps. and of start-up’s how to deal, especially those who never had their ass on the line.

  43. Avi Deitcher

    Special Requests: Can you set up a “request board”? On a regular basis, there are topics that occur where people would like to see your feedback (Fred-back?). E.g., Google announced Google TV at I/O yesterday, a direct challenge to Boxee. I, for one, would love to see your input on small startups responding to moves into its market by a large established player. The “fear factor” above drives many to give up (full disclosure: I did that once in my first startup, should have stuck with it, learned the fear lesson fast), there are sometimes good reasons to stay, sometimes to shift, etc.I am sure I am not the only one who would look forward to your thoughts.

  44. Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    One line of you post is an absolute gem — but perhaps it actually undermines your argument (and/or supports my own vision of World 2.0.The line is: “Everything comes from the top in a company”and I posted a description of why I think this lime supports World 2.0 @ http://news.linked.in/134/i…:) nmwBTW: Thanks to John Battelle (who’s “heads up” I followed up on πŸ˜‰

  45. Sushmita

    I totally agree with you. Most startups fail because of the inability to cope with the fears that arise facing tough situations. I recently started as a entrepreneur myself and have sometimes faced tricky situations and it is extremely difficult to cope at times but a non aggressive and a steadfast approach with positiveness definately helps to put your best foot forward.

  46. Anshulsudamagupta

    Rightly said. “An Entrepreneur is one who the ability to rise to the occasion.”

  47. SharelOmer

    Great motivation!!! its hard to lead with confidence, no one really knows ow things will turn out, but with a good team, good idea, some traction, and a lot of faith confidence builds up, and one thing lead to another.Fred, Thank you for providing this great mantra by Brad “fear is the biggest no-no.” !

  48. Renato

    I must not fear.Fear is the mind-killer.Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.I will face my fear.I will permit it to pass over me and through me.And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.Only I will remain.”Dune”, Frank Herberthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wik…

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Amazing book! Bene Gesserits are the Jedis of the sixties.

  49. Carl Rahn Griffith

    It’s remarkable how much this is overlooked – not just by VCs.The number of times I have heard bleating re/eg: “But, it’s such a competitive market, there’s too much competition, etc” and such a stance later being cited by the dispassionate suited execs brought in to run a startup/company, as a reason why they failed.My argument has always been – eg/re if others are fearful of the competition, etc – “Well, it’s a good thing that it is a competitive market we are in, with so many other vendors – it reflects a pretty healthy niche – we will just do a better job than the others and beat them.”Often seems to fall on deaf ears.Combine EQ and IQ and you WILL succeed (and avoid hubris).Rely solely on the suits and you will – all too frequently – fail.

  50. cindygallop

    Couldn’t agree more.Decisions made out of fear are always very bad decisions.

  51. Techwatch

    very true young business people get ahead because they are not mature enough to be afraid

  52. myey flash

    LM, do your kids a favor.Print out that comment and stick it in a box somewhere marked Father’s Day. Put a bunch of your other comments in there as they happen.Some day, a Father’s Day will come when you’re not around anymore. They will yearn for a piece of you.They’re too young to appreciate this stuff now. But later….it’s a whole other story.Trust me. http://myegdown.com

  53. Sam

    Fred,Is there a video of this somewhere?

  54. Camille Rose

    I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve started 6 companies. I’ve won some big time. Lost some even bigger. The hardest was losing $1MM of my own family’s money in a start-up wine business. Family gatherings sucked for awhile after that. But you know what, failure is an event…not a label. You recover, pick yourself back up and try again. Because of this I have no fear. I have persistence, an extremely positive mental attitude and faith that I can accomplish what I want. When you have +-100 years to live…live it. When you conquer your fears to live the life you really want, it’s the highest form of self expression you can ever acheive. It is bliss.

  55. JLM

    It seems like what you are doing is “self coaching” which is how smart folks talk themselves down off the ledge. Risk management, even at the personal level, is a great skill and art. Well done!

  56. ShanaC

    I’m naturally pessimistic- the worst that could happen is I could die- and that’s unlikely. So anything is better. It’s a matter of figuring out how.

  57. Matt A. Myers

    Yup… have to realize first you’re in the state of needing it.

  58. Donna Brewington White

    To your point, I guess fear isn’t all bad. Fear– like pain– has a purpose. It lets us know we’ve reached some sort of limit. It seems like the important thing is finding out whether it is a real limit or a self-imposed limit, whether the fear is based on reality or whether it is based on something imagined or just plain unknown. Anyway, fear is relative. If the thing you stand to gain by confronting and overcoming (or ignoring) the fear is worth the risk, then the fear becomes irrelevant. If it is not worth the risk (of someone’s life savings for instance), then overriding the fear is just stupid. Maybe this is where bankers are vindicated.I saw Keenan’s point to mean that we can’t live in fear avoidance because then we never reach the new capacity that pushing through the fear creates so that what once caused fear no longer does. (You can substitute the word “pain” for “fear”.)I guess the point is to figure out the purpose of the fear/pain and compare that to the larger purpose. Then, pushing through the fear, like pushing through pain, actually creates a new capacity in which the pain or fear becomes irrelevant or even nonexistent. Some just have a greater fear/pain tolerance than others.Or a more compelling vision.