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Breaking Free From Fear of Failure

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As a start-up founder, I've come to expect new and interesting experiences on a regular basis. It's part of what makes being an entrepreneur so exciting.

Not long ago, James Logan, Program Director for the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry, asked me to be the keynote speaker at their Annual Small Business Dinner. I'd never given a keynote before, and like many people, I find public speaking a bit unsettling. However, another wonderful aspect of being an entrepreneur is the amazing support I regularly receive from those around me. After a lovely lunch with Nancy Keefer, the Chamber President, and James, I was so buoyed by their enthusiasm and encouragement that I accepted their invitation to speak.

I decided to use this opportunity to reflect on my entrepreneurial experiences over the past year. I wanted to identify lessons learned that would be useful in both the corporate and start-up worlds and I realized that the most important and valuable lesson I had to share was breaking free from fear of failure and embracing the opportunity to learn from failure. Because I think these lessons are worth sharing with others, I've included excerpts from my keynote below.

Several years ago, I had a big idea that originated from my direct experiences as a mom of 4 children: While I used LinkedIn to organize my career and Facebook to organize my social life, there was no single, private and secure application to help me quickly and easily organize my family and home life. At the time, I was a member of SAP's original cloud technology team, and I was convinced that Software as a Service was the answer.

However, in order to turn this idea into a reality, I had to take the plunge from a safe, senior position at SAP to the unknown waters of a bootstrapped start-up. Because I was the primary income earner in my home, this was a difficult and risky move to make. So what stopped me from pursuing my idea at that time? Fear of failure. Sharing my idea with naysayers just furthered this fear. I've heard Arianna Huffington refer to the obnoxious roommate in her head, and this was exactly how I felt. Everyone who discounted my idea fueled the obnoxious roommate in my head that made me doubt myself and fear failure -- especially in regard to competing with large, well-established companies like Google. And of course, there was the state of the economy to consider.

Then my son had a life-threatening medical emergency and I could not give the paramedic the information he needed. I thought my son was going to die and I felt like a failure as a parent. My son is fine now, but that experience taught me new way of thinking -- a positive way of thinking. Instead of worrying about failure, I began to think, "What if this will work?" I put the perceived risks into a perspective that made sense to me: "What is the worst thing that can happen -- will it hurt my children?" Once I kicked out that obnoxious roommate in my head, I achieved things that I would never have imagined.

My idea, AboutOne, now has partnerships with Microsoft and Suze Orman. We've closed a Series A for $1.8M led by an amazing investment group called Golden Seeds, and I'm part of the 6% of women in tech who have received venture capital funding. I was featured in a documentary film about start-up life called CTRL+ALT+COMPETE.

In order to find the repeatable models necessary for my start-up to grow quickly, I had to learn that if you are not failing you are not trying enough new things; I had to learn to encourage my team to celebrate and openly share failures so we could learn from those lessons. When I look back at my previous corporate job, I realize that I never failed and I now wonder if that was really a good thing. I wonder if CEOs of large companies should allow their teams to fail, and to celebrate those failures as opportunities to learn and improve.

Entrepreneurial opportunities in the US are fabulous. Because of this, AboutOne has been able to help millions of people quickly and easily organize their family and home lives, even when they feel that they are too busy or don't know how to get started. I've also been able to show my children that if they work hard and have faith in themselves, they really can live their dreams. As a mother, I feel these lessons about breaking free from fear of failure and embracing the opportunity to learn from failure are as important for my boys as they are for my company and myself.

Originally posted on Joanne's blog, Notes from the CEO