When I graduated from uni with a degree in Political Science, I certainly felt a fair bit of pressure to pursue one of the more ‘traditional’ career paths tied to my degree: Go to law school or head to DC and work my way up Capitol Hill.
But, seeing as I was in San Francisco at the time and I’d grown up around entrepreneurship, I knew I needed to work in startups. It was clear to me that the scrappy founders and operators building disruptive companies that solved real-world problems were the future, and working alongside them would be a launchpad for my own ambition.
For me, the risk was never working in a startup but notworking in one.
When you’re in the epicentre of startup energy and people around you are taking giant leaps of faith in pursuing their own ventures or joining high-growth companies like Airbnb, it’s hard not to feel FOMO.
I always felt that the corporate career path would be there – it wasn’t going anywhere and if I really wanted to, I could go back to that (and later I did when I worked for a large corporate PR firm).
Startups, on the other hand, seemed to run on big ideas and skyrocketing growth. There was a lot more appeal in being employee #5 compared to employee 5-thousand-something at a corporate.
So straight out of uni, I ended up in the most stereotypical startup scenario – working with two founders out of their living room in San Francisco’s Mission District. That startup never took off, but my interest in working within the earliest stages of a company’s growth certainly did.
Fast forward to 2020 and I decided to take the leap and build something of my own. At the start of the pandemic, I left my job in the UK and moved back to the Bay Area. Lockdown felt like the ideal scenario to build something. And so I set off defining a mission and value prop, assembling a team, building (and rebuilding) an MVP, debating our pricing model and organically growing a community around this shared vision. But after my second ‘no’ from a VC, I felt that fear of failure creeping up.
You read a lot about the major founder success stories that you forget that about 90% of startups fail. Even if you get funded, it doesn’t guarantee success. I learnt a lot from this experience but the most important takeaway was that I didn’t actually lose anything by trying – in fact, I learnt far more during that year-long period than I had in the 5 and a half years of working experience I had amassed before.
There’s no such thing as failure if you learn from it. The bottom line is, anyone who has achieved anything great, anyone who has changed the world has, at some point, made a choice to embrace failure instead of fighting it. Now, at Folklore, I join a team of exceptionally brilliant founders and operators and can share my learnings with our community of startups.
Tips for Earlyworkers to come to terms with failure:
Call yourself out: Is it fear or is it procrastination? Fear of failure is often rationalised as waiting for the perfect opportunity, the right time, a less risky idea, a better experience.
Sounds cliche, but a bit of list-making is always a good starting point if you’re feeling paralysed by fear. Determine what are the pros/cons or the best-case/worst-case scenarios and use that to guide your decision-making.
Remind yourself that ‘failures’ are beginnings rather than endings. This extends to all areas of your life.
Deciding to take the plunge into founding a startup and what made me embrace the risk in doing so.
The critical thing about risk and the ‘fear of failure’ is that it’s all relative. Does the risk of jumping in a pool and feeling cold, outweigh the risk of missing out on the thrill of the swim altogether? Does the fear of starting a business and failing, outweigh the fear of never knowing what might have been? The important thing here is that you’ll never know if you never attempt it. I wholeheartedly believe it’s better to have ‘tried and lost, then to never have tried at all’. Life is too short for ‘what ifs’.
The amazing thing you discover about ‘failure’ (although I wish it had a better name) is that it is the greatest source of growth, wisdom, resilience and humility. When you start to understand how much you can benefit from mistakes, you learn to fully embrace them (and in a kind of warped way...look forward to them).
As humans we naturally fear the unknown—and that feeling is something I’m not immune to. But for me, the risk of watching millions of people around the world suffering from addiction needlessly (including people I love), was greater than the risk of staying in my corporate sales job—wanting to do something but being by crippled by self-doubt. So while it may have seemed riskier to the people around me to quit my job and take the plunge into the start-up world, for me it would have been far riskier if I didn’t.
Life has thrown me more than a few curveballs, which means that risk just doesn’t scare me as much anymore. Not because I’m reckless, but because I’ve been forced to reflect on what’s most important to me and the people around me. I understand how fragile life can be, so the greatest failure of all is to not try everything in your power to make a positive difference to the world...and I think that applies to anyone.
Insight into the day to day struggles of founding a company – how it's not all roses & fairies and AFR front page raises
Founding a company grew a different kind of ‘company’—extreme self-doubt and it is relentless. You have decided to take people's money; convince people in high-paying, secure jobs to work for you; and you spend the majority of your waking hours trying to bring something to life that no one else has managed to build yet. The weight of that responsibility never leaves you. But it’s also a gift. Because it constantly demands you to check in with yourself and ask ‘is it worth it?’ and the answer is always a resounding YES.
It’s the age-old saying ‘nothing worth doing is easy’. Hard things take time. And it is freaking hard. Being persistent, determined and unwavering in your mission is your number 1 job as a Founder. But as terrifying as it is - I wouldn’t change it for anything.
You rarely see ‘Product Management’ degrees in the tech world, so where the f*ck do all these product managers come from? One of the most common pathways is to first be a software engineer, but it’s no easy leap.
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We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging and commit to building a brighter future together. Our team works on the country of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation in Sydney.