Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ten Thoughts on what matters at a startup: Confidence

Why does confidence matter at a startup?

As an individual you may be leaping from a comfortable position into the uncertainty of startup life. You'll be trying new things and may not be sure what the right answer is. You’ll be exploring the limits of what you’ve learned and reaching into uncharted territory. Are you confident that your skills and experiences bring the kind of value that a startup needs and that you will make a meaningful impact? You need to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how to best leverage them.

Further, you may be going to (or starting) a company that is based on a great idea that hasn't yet been fully realized. Can the company deliver on that idea? Can it make progress even in the face of uncertainty? Can it solve the problems that will undoubtably arise? Can the company team build not just a great product, but a great company? Confidence isn't about being able to answer "yes" to all these questions. A startup, particularly in early stage, is a bet. For many of the questions the answer that you're looking for early on may not be "Yes", but rather "If anyone can do it, we can." Confidence inspires and gets you past the uncertainty. It enables you to push ahead, make progress, and maybe even succeed.

And by the way, confidence isn't arrogance. Temper your confidence with enough humility to be open-minded and willing to learn. And confidence isn't unrealistic. Confidence won't let you become seven feet tall if you're five feet tall and well into adulthood.

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This is one in a short series of posts called Ten Thoughts on what matters at a startup. The thoughts started life as a presentation I made at VeloCity residence at the University of Waterloo. While they're far from definitive, and aren't a top ten, they've mattered to me in my software startup experience.

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