The Power of Uncertainty


I used to say that women entrepreneurs were Austin’s best-kept secret. But since we started the Women@Austin community two years ago, that has definitely become less so. Entrepreneurial women in Austin are becoming a force.

That was obvious Aug. 19th at our most recent Women@Austin public forum, once again a sold-out room crammed with energy! Our topic that night was one that hasn’t received enough attention in Austin – women entrepreneurs raising capital. Thank you to Heather Brunner, Caroline Freedman, and Laura Kilcrease for joining me to share your experiences. And thanks to all who participated, with questions, tweets, emails, the feedback was terrific! Hopefully this is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue that helps increase Funding for women founders.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can help make Austin the most accessible, supportive city in the nation for women. It’s part of my give back, and was behind the vision for Women@Austin. Anyone who knows me knows my passion for the early stage, and particularly for women stepping into the arena for the first time.

There are two main issues I often see that hold women back — Fear and Funds. Dealing with fear of the unknown, and dealing with the capital requirements of getting a business going and sustaining growth. Here’s the advice I’d give my younger self on both these issues today.

Power of Uncertainty

A few years back there was a platitude going around, “What would you do if you had no fear?” I struggled with that phrase a lot because it’s simply not possible in any growth scenario I can imagine to escape fear. In my own life experience that question would have to be rewritten – “What kind of relationship do you have with uncertainty?” I can tell you I didn’t launch my company Social Dynamx in an absence of fear. I didn’t take on any new role over the years in the absence of fear, but rather because of my relationship with it and a healthy respect gained for it little by little over time. It’s something I often call the Power of Uncertainty.

Entrepreneurs have to deal with uncertainty on a daily, even hourly basis. What I found is that each time I took on something that stretched me in the early days, even if it was just by accident, it broadened my horizon and I learned to breathe a little more naturally in bigger and bigger spaces. If you want to prepare for being an entrepreneur, my suggestion is to sign up for things you are scared to do, on a regular basis. Take a job or assignment that requires you to stretch, something that doesn’t come with a set of instructions. Where you have to make things up as you go for a while. Your capacity for harnessing uncertain situations will grow, and grow quickly.

Beware of the comfort zone. The comfort zone is where dreams go to die. Take chances. Stir it up!

I want to be honest. – Some of this means taking on scar tissue. Start-ups are hard. Taking risk is daunting. Raising capital – you will be out of your comfort zone! Often. But your company’s success will not be determined by doing the things you are certain you can do. Those are the easy things. It will be determined by whether
you try the things that are hard.

Planning for capital – before you need it:

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that lack of capital is the #1 reason businesses fail. So why do many new entrepreneurs wait so long to build a realistic budget? I’m not suggesting a formal business plan has to be in place day one, but capital needs should become a central component of your earliest discussions about launching your business. If you are bootstrapping early on, and most of us are, you must still set aside time to run forecasts on the dollars you think will be needed, and update those assumptions often. There will be many things ahead, some unexpected, which will compete for the funds as they become available. You need to have a sense of what those might be beforehand.

How about fund-raising? Your approach to outside capital should also be thought through early in the life cycle of the company. (aka, before you need it.) Do your homework. Build a potential pipeline of investors who could fit the profile of someone who might be interested in your space. I can’t emphasize enough that funding is a relationship game, and the time to build these relationships is before you need them. Go to coffee, ask for advice, get exposure and outside eyes on your deal so you can make course corrections along the way.

Finally, my long-standing mantra has always been, “Fall in love with making your customers lives better.” If you truly understand your customer and their needs, it will provide the motivation and frankly the clarity to better understand your relationship to both fear and even the funds necessary to build a successful business. The customer has been my compass all these years. I hope it will become yours too.

Women are a growing force in Austin’s entrepreneurial scene, and the momentum has only just begun. I’m grateful to be a part of this movement of entrepreneurs – your ideas, your courage, they inspire me daily! Let’s show them what can be done!

Jan Ryan
Founder, Women@Austin
Co-Founder, Social Dynamx
Partner at Capital Factory
Austin Technology Council, Board member

Christine Fahey