Several years ago, I heard Ben Arment say something.
He may have been quoting Dhirubha Ambani. Or Tom Gaskins. Or an inspirational image from Pinterest. But it stuck with me.
“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.”
Over the last ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to start a non-profit, help grow a business substantially, and start something on my own. But that quote is one of the reasons I’m excited about our new business.
Startup life is exciting, but truth be told, it’s scary. I’ve written about how tough it is, but it’s more than tough.
When I look at the factors that led me into the start up life, the business landscape in my industry, and the road ahead, there’s a lot of concerns. So in the spirit of confronting my fears, here’s some of them.
I’m scared it’s not different enough.
Product differentiation is a business term that describes the process of distinguishing a product or service from others in order to make it stand out in a particular market.
The answers to those questions are differentiation.
When I look around the church consulting world, there are a lot of players. You’d be hard pressed to find a better consultant than Tony Morgan. There are pastors like Bob Franquiz, Nelson Searcy and Rich Birch who offer digital resources. The Rocket Company helps churches with preaching and giving, and does a fantastic job.
So why are we needed? How are we different? What makes us stand out? When I set out to answer those questions, I think of a few things
- We serve senior pastors. This is actually the first shift we made in our young company.
- We focused on pastoral leadership and church growth. Those are the two key things we’re addressing. And they are related in a big way.
- We are insanely practical. Lots of people say this, but we’re fighting for it the best way we know how.
- We put content before marketing. We’re not a marketing company who has content. We’re a content company who does marketing.
- We work with churches one-on-one. We do coaching and personalized consulting because we want to stay grounded in the local church and we want to help a few people in a big way.
I see differentiation in my mind, but I’m scared I won’t be able to communicate them well. I’m scared it’s not different enough and people will just think of us as another resource company.
I’m scared it won’t work.
I’ve invested about $40,000 of my own money and six months (and counting) of my time into this startup. In startup world, that pretty small. Peanuts, really.
But for me and my family, it’s a pretty big deal. We’re betting on this company to work.
So naturally, I’m scared it won’t.
I know we’re going to encounter bumps and forks in the road. And I don’t have this rosy belief that it’s all going to work right out of the box. Heck, we’ve already had a few failures.
We spent $4,000 on an email marketing campaign that didn’t work at all. Even after factoring in the long tail, that particular ad campaign is running at a negative 95% return on investment.
When those kind of failures happen, I’ve started calling it tuition. I can’t get fixated on wasting money, because it’s not really wasted if we learned something. Calling these marketing experiments tuition helps me think of it like education. I’ve never expected that to pay off.
So I’m fine with losing money and taking risks, but I really want the entire business to work. I am prepared for some things to not work, but I can’t string too many of them together. Truth be told, I’m afraid of it failing.
I’m scared we won’t get traction.
Church Fuel could easily be a side project – a blog I write for pastors with some helpful stuff. A hub for a few online courses I could create and produce all by myself. There’s no doubt in my mind it will work at at that level.
But I don’t want this to be Michael’s side project. I don’t want it to be a blog or a podcast with a few resources. I don’t want it to be a side business; I want it to be a full time business and the joint effort of a mid-sized team. There are lots of pastors who have blogs and businesses on the side. And that’s fine. But that’s not what I want.
I’m scared Church Fuel will be mildly successful, big enough for me and maybe a few freelancers. Successful enough to be a thing, but not big enough to get traction.
I’ve got big plans for this company, and I’m scared it will get stuck on the ground floor.
I’m scared I won’t be able to support other employees.
Church Fuel is a joint venture. There are three other partners involved in the business, and one who has made a significant sacrifice to get this thing off the ground. Rob is our COO – the guy running all the details of the company.
He stepped out of a successful commercial real estate business in order to run this company. He and his wife have three kids. And they are living the startup life.
It’s one thing to worry about providing for your family. But it’s another thing entirely to bear the weight of providing for other people’s families.
When I look at the next 12 months, I worry that we’ll be successful enough to provide for our small team.
I’m scared people will think I’m a failure.
I know I’m supposed to punch fear in the face, create a culture where risks are rewarded, and be a brave leader. And sometimes, leaders have to put on the brave faces.
I shouldn’t do it, but I worry too much about what people think about me. I take things personally, when I should just focus on doing meaningful work.
When it comes down to it, I don’t want people to think of me as a failure.
Put Fear in it’s Place
Leading a startup requires calculated risk, big bets, and a lot of courage. Most of the things I wrote about in this article are out of my control. I could focus on them and worry about them, but it will change little.
Instead, I’m going to go to work today. I’m going to work on our next course. I’m going to keep pushing for clarity, accountability and focus. And I’m going to keep focusing on our mission and vision.