Lots of things about starting Dot Dot Dot have been very difficult. When you run something mostly on your own, you have to gain a basic understanding of how to do everything that needs doing – from book-keeping to HR, data protection to marketing. No one would ever have given me a job doing any of those things, but I had to do them all, all at the same time, and the buck stopped with me if I got them wrong.
But far harder than learning to manage the money and worrying about getting sued or fined was managing my own fear of failure. Dot Dot Dot didn’t need a lot of cash to get started. But I invested more than a year’s unpaid work in it before I had evidence that it would ever get off the ground. For most of that time I worried almost constantly about what would happen if it didn’t. It wasn’t irrational to worry that it wouldn’t get going – the majority of start-ups don’t, and had it not taken off, I knew in my rational mind that I’d find a Plan B. But that didn’t stop me from feeling ill at the idea of admitting – to myself as much as to my friends, family and peers – that I’d really wanted to make Dot Dot Dot happen, I’d believed it was possible, I’d tried my best, but I still couldn’t do it. Easier to create a situation where I could pretend I hadn’t really been bothered, or that I hadn’t given it my best shot, than to run the risk of having to acknowledge that I’d tried and failed, believed and been wrong.
But doing it half-heartedly would have been a good way to make sure it never came to anything. Even if it had never worked out, I’d have learned a lot from doing it. It might have cost me the year’s salary I didn’t earn elsewhere, but so would an MBA, even before you take the fees into account. We were in a recession –there were few other ways to advance my career on offer. And I’m better at being self-employed than being a member of someone else’s staff. But however rational those arguments might have been – and I made them to myself almost every day – none of it stopped me from fretting. The worry about what it would have meant if Dot Dot Dot hadn’t taken off took up mental energy that I couldn’t spare.
I didn’t actually notice how much I had worried about it until the worry wore off. Today, if Dot Dot Dot crumbles, it will be because of a catastrophe, one of the things we highlight on our risk register. We have proved that there are people out there who want to buy what we are selling, and we have proved that we can deliver it to an excellent standard. We have money in the bank to tide us over a temporary lack of work. We have supporters who believe in us and who want to help us to grow and succeed. The potential problems we face these days, and the fear of the whole thing coming to nothing are completely different. Putting those worries down was like taking off a rucksack after a long hike. It feels great, but I wish I had found a way not to carry those worries in the first place.