Last month’s post was published days before I completed my first marathon. For me, the run was three hours of joy followed by 96 minutes of unrelenting pain. Finishing provoked elation, tears and disbelief…
But it’s now time to come clean about my deeper motive for running those 26.2 miles. It’s time to confess and confront some demons. Why? Because I know emotions drive behaviour and I see valuable lessons connecting my actions and the way many startups operate.
Fear takes us to peculiar places. Back in 2013 I happened to check my blood pressure on my dad’s home monitor – let’s just say the reading was way too high. But because of a deep-seated fear, I didn’t visit the doc; well not straight away.
Instead I did everything in my power to improve my health. Weight-loss, greater exercise, reduced alcohol intake, end to smoking of any kind and increased fruit and veg consumption. I even bought a Boots blood pressure monitor to check progress.
But despite all efforts there were no major pressure changes. I was no match for family history. Resigned to my fate, I phoned the quack. It was time to confess and confront… the blood test.
Feeling regular and increasing anxiety, I found excuses on 3 separate occasions (over a 12 month period) not to go. And I kept this all private. My crippling fear of needle injections beat me*. I literally ran away – 26.2 miles away.
So apart from being a total wuss, what’s the learning?
For the past 18 months I’ve been fortunate enough to work as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the recently crowned Times Higher Education Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2016 – London South Bank University. Deeply united and brilliantly led, the university’s enterprise team works with thousands of students and staff throughout the institution. And thanks to their diligent and student-focused work I’ve been introduced to many budding entrepreneurs.
And one of the trends I’ve picked up (and to be fair I’ve seen it many times elsewhere over the last 2+ decades) is peoples’ resistance to take their product or service to potential customers to get honest and open feedback.
People are happy to write plans, price materials, attend workshops etc… but going to see a potential customer is sometimes too much. Why? Because like my fear of an injection, people fear rejection.
Meeting potential customers is the only way to grow most businesses, yet many startups have an irrational fear of being told ‘no thanks’ – even though the learning gained from such meetings is often more valuable than any order. Ultimately, businesses that don’t involve customers, die.
To counter this fear of rejection I believe that all start-up programmes need to introduce the issue of rejection early so that people can confront fears, understand how to separate their feelings from their product or service and be given the skills and confidence to deal with the arising issues. It’s a big deal for many people and like my phobia, deeply held feelings are often kept secret.
Business Model Canvass work is all about involving potential customers early and then using resultant information to make changes and/or pivot. So there is no questioning the logic of such work, but as advisors we need to tread carefully with peoples’ feelings.
So how did I deal with my own fears?
Confess and confront
When I realised no amount of running and training would improve my blood pressure status, I knew it was game over. I had to stop being an idiot.
So earlier this month I lay, slightly terrified, on a bed in our local ‘Beechtree Surgery’. The ever-so-patient nurse took my life in her hands and prepared ‘to operate’. Determined not to see the instrument of bloodsucking doom I rotated my head and stared at the adjacent wall.
I felt the needle. Everything tensed. To avoid thinking about the blood being drained from my arm I hummed the French national anthem (loudly) and bit deep into a spare towel. For the record, I have no French heritage but obviously find ‘La Marseillaise’ reassuring.
And suddenly it was all over.
Even on the bed I could tell my legs had gone to jelly. But I sensed an immediate wave of euphoria and as I stood up a few minutes later thanked the nurse profusely for making the nightmare bearable.
Walking back to the car I felt huge relief. I was ready to take on the world.
Key Learning Points: Feelings run deep and drive behaviour. Startups as well as advisors need to recognise this issue and appreciate that fear of rejection is a very powerful force that can stop any business (no matter how promising) from moving forward.