Startups: they’re emotional

I love the term Pandora founder Tim Westergren has for the emotional rollercoaster you strap into when you launch a startup – the wall of worry.

“If you’re an entrepreneur you have to steel yourself… Unless you’re very very lucky and wind up on a fast trajectory, you’re going to [be] climbing the wall of worry for some duration,” he said in an interview with Om Malik.

Tim’s comments about the early years of Pandora resonate with me.

I rode the rollercoaster of highs and lows in the first year of my own startup, allaboutthestory. Moments when I thought, yep, this might just work; and moments when I wondered what on earth I was doing taking risks and putting in long hours with no guarantee of a return.

We eventually closed allaboutthestory down. One of many startups that end that way. So I won’t offer advice on how to make a startup succeed. But I do have some thoughts on how to get started in the first place.

The first step (and one you’ll have to repeat often) is to give yourself permission.

Permission to quit your job or live off a part-time job for a year or three while you work on an idea that may or may not succeed.

Permission to forgo a steady income and deepen your debt or dip into your savings or remain financially neutral for a couple of years – possibly at a time of life when your earning potential is higher than it’s ever been.

Permission to keep doing so.

Startups are not just for Christmas. They require patient attention pretty much all day every day and seldom do they provide instant gratification of any kind.

So you have to keep the faith. “Believe in your basic idea,” as Tim says. And you have to continue to believe in your basic idea throughout your daily successes and failures. You have to fall in love with your idea over and over again.

You have to tell yourself you’re not crazy – not once or once in a while but often and convincingly. You have to learn that at times you will feel like a fool but you will keep going anyway.

You have to feel okay about smart people working on your idea with no certainty of a return adequate to compensate for the hours and hours they’re putting into it.

You have to feel okay about people using your website in the hope it will make their lives better, even though you don’t know for sure that it will; at least not everyone’s, not yet.

You have to get used to being waist-deep in question marks. This feature first or that? Are we clear about what we’re asking people to do? Is our language right? Our emails? Are we talking to the right people? Are we talking too much? Not enough?

Eric Ries, the lean startup guy, describes a startup as an unknown problem with unknown solutions.

I’ll say.

But your idea might just succeed. And there’s no shortage of advice out there for new entrepreneurs. You can read Eric Ries and Jason Cohen. Read the Trade Me story, the ClueTrain Manifesto, What Google Would Do. Go to Webstock or drink the cool-aid at a conference near you. Search for startup lessons on Google or Twitter or Reddit or Quora.

Then you just have to take the first step: give yourself permission.

Here’s the interview with Tim: