Fear Is In The Air

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 11.08.06 AMOr at least on the blogs and in the mainstream media. It’s kind of amazing to me how two shitty weeks in the public markets can impact how every one thinks and talks about things.

I know the early presidential campaign is impacting this. The amount of vitriol, hatred, and fear that is coming out of the mouths of the various people running for president always surprises me. I know it shouldn’t, but it does.

As 2016 kicks into gear, I have simple advice for founders that I offer up every time things get noisy – in either direction (good or bad).

Focus on what you can impact. Tune out the noise. Concentrate on things that matter. Have a long term view. 

I know it’s simple. And I know it’s hard, because it’s the distraction that creeps into every conversation. It’s the discomfort of an uncertain future that lurks around every corner. And when it gets amplified and whipped into a frenzy, it seduces you to focus on the wrong things.

As Yoda likes to say, “Calm you shall keep and carry on you must.”

  • Could have been a headline for Agassi’s book.

  • Sometimes I think the best thing you can do to focus your life, improve your productivity and your frame of mind is kill your TV, stop going on Facebook and stop reading the news …The “media/industrial complex” thrives on keeping us outraged about something.

    • Steve Mink

      Well put, Mark! The mind and it’s dark shadow, the ego, love it when we get caught up in the drama and have something to be outraged about. Self-righteous indignation and outrage is the foundation of most peoples self esteem and self worth. And those in power know that and they push our buttons because it works. And our egos love them for it!

      • Indeed. Doesn’t mean those “outrage” issues aren’t necessarily real – only that if they don’t lead to real, concrete actions, it’s just a distraction.

  • jkostecki

    This is great advice if and when the founders did their homework and are in a position not to freak out, which of course should always be the case and in reality often is not.
    If a startup’s customers are comprised of mostly early-stage startups – you might want to freak out.
    If you don’t have enough runway and you thought you’d have another quarter to raise – a little bit of panic might be in order.
    It all depends how much on the edge you really were (when you shouldn’t have been).
    Of course none of this helps anything but for some (hopefully just a few) it might not be time to be calm, but time to walk away (if you didn’t plan correctly).

    • productteams

      good point.

  • sakshi810

    It is excellent post which you have written – Hanuman Chalisa

  • Well said. Head down you should put. And focus on the customer you must.

  • Victor Muthoka

    Well, in a way Americans are lucky coz unlike here in Africa, hotly contested elections doesn’t mean an almost guaranteed post election violence period. We go to polls next year August and already business folks are on edge & setting up panic mode. FDI’s already slowing down more than an year plus away from it. It’s being labeled the worst year to start a business ahead of the hottest polls in Kenyan history. In that context, I can relate to the post. Keep your head down, tune out the noise and work. Good one.

  • The mainstream media has always traded on the notion of fear. Fear is an extremely powerful emotion-and it is used expertly by politicians to motivate people.

    Trading is a lesson/study in fear. You fight with your own internal demons. Most people think you fight with them when you are losing money-and you do. But, when it’s a winner you fight just as hard. These markets have a very different tone to them-and they are not nearly as liquid as in prior times. That makes the moves scary.

    I think startups are the same. When you are struggling, it’s the fear that you will go under and the pain will never end. When you are hitting your stride, numbers look good and the curve is up and to the right, you worry about the carousel ride stopping; and when/if you should get off.

    The thing is, 99% of the stuff that people get fearful over they have zero control over. Only worry about what you can control.

  • Tom Long

    But China only grew at 6.9% last year. Everyone panic!!! 😉

  • Glenn Neal

    Nine words. Wise pointy-ear advice this is.

  • Lookin for the bottom to dump some cash in…

    • Ci5er

      I don’t like to sound all Zero-hedgey, but the bottom could be a long ways down yet — and you ought not try to catch a falling knife!

      • Averaging in as it rides down. Put some in yesterday.

        • Ci5er

          DCA is the way to go when uncertain. Maybe it’s because I got all macro-ey after getting caught with my pants down on a hydrocarbon refining project in late 2014, but I think odds are good that we aren’t near the bottom.

  • davidcowan

    Many years ago I removed the stock price tickers from feeds and news pages. Life got better.

    • My worst feeling trading was the morning that G.W.Bush released weeks of pent-up energy and announced that the U.S. was going to take military action in Iraq. I made a small fortune in about 35 minutes of white-knuckle SPX options trading and was a nervous wreck the whole time as the markets kept shooting higher and higher like a rocket with no limit. When to bail out? You never know.

  • Your quote in the middle reminded of what the previous Cdn finance minister used to say, “go through life with a microscope in one eye and a telescope in the other.”
    Same applies to entrepreneurship and leadership.