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Starting Up, Startups And Anxiety

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After five years of fear of the unknown, constant ruminations of worst-case scenarios and low tolerance for stress, I thought it might be a good idea to start a company(!).

By Solome Tibebu (Founder & CEO, Cognific)

“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” – Bill Cosby

As I struggled with coming up with a sassy title for this guest blog post, it brought me to some very familiar feelings. While at a much lesser extent than other times in my life, preparing to write this article bought about familiar sensations – feelings of inability, stress, avoidance and despair. However, anxiety topped the list.

Throughout middle and high school, I suffered from a severe anxiety disorder including panic attacks and OCD.

In 2006, as I was approaching 10th grade, I started an online mental health magazine for youth called Anxiety In Teens. (You can hear more about it from my TED TALK once it is published later this year).

In the last year and a half, I have been reflecting on my experience in therapy during that five-year period of anxiety in my teens. All of the therapists I saw gave me mental health homework on post-it notes or dusty old anxiety and depression books. This type of homework did not help me to stay engaged during the other six days of the week when we were not together, and often the benefit of our sessions from one week to the next was lost.

After five years of fear of the unknown, constant ruminations of worst-case scenarios and low tolerance for stress, I thought it might be a good idea to start a company(!). I decided I would follow my passions and start Cognific, a mental health homework and an analytics platform for providers to improve mental health outcomes in patients, manage costs and improve clinical throughput.

The goal of this ground-breaking platform is to leverage gaming as a way to promote patient engagement and education, solving the engagement problem of traditional methods which I had experienced.

From the very first napkin scribbles of Cognific, I’ve had to face many of the afore mentioned feelings, as I tried navigating where and how to start-up: attracting the right mentors, developing technical knowledge, raising capital, obtaining trademarks/patent/other legal assets, hiring designers and developers, and selling to beta client hospitals all while in school. All of this was (and is) in an area where young, female tech entrepreneurs are a seriously rare occurrence.

This time around, however, I’ve learned a great amount from my prior anxiety experiences and would like to share some lessons:

  1. Don’t let the unknown be your reason to stop moving forward. Especially for first-time entrepreneurs, everyone knows that we each need to start somewhere. For someone who jumped to conclusions and thought of worst-case-scenarios often, seeking expert advice as soon as possible was not hard for me to do when I was unsure of what to do next. Not only is it OK to ask for help, it is crucial if you want to avoid learning things the hard way.
  2. Ask as many questions as possible. Usually, when I hear people say they failed at something, they would also say something along the lines of, “I didn’t ask the right questions.” Asking questions is an important practice that I live by, but I think this needs to be taken a step further.Only hindsight is 20-20, and so how do we know what questions were the “right” questions? We can’t, and that is why we need to ask as many as possible to lead us to the right questions. This also means we need to meet many diverse people to add different perspectives.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Developing mindful awareness will mean improved communication and connection with others, like colleagues and customers. When we are overly self-focused all of the time, it is easy to get caught up in thoughts and mistakes of the past. Come to the present and be more focused, creative, and prepared for solutions-oriented planning.
  4. Build your mind a body – “sweat equity.” Take care of yourself and continually develop
    yourself. We all know that when you don’t get enough sleep, eat unhealthy foods, drink too much caffeine, and don’t get enough regular cardio, it can create the perfect storm to get into a funk-like anxiety, depression, or both. Once you’ve tackled these tasks, it is helpful to continue this pro-activeness with your mind, too: read self-improvement, learn mindfulness and yoga
    techniques, and laugh and connect with others often. Strengthening both your body and mind will help prepare you to be the leader you need to be for your startup. It is easy to fall off track while launching a start-p, so be attentive of the time (or lack thereof) that you are taking for yourself.
  5. Remember “why”. While I have had many anxiety-ridden “first-times” in the past 18 months, I feel privileged to be able to innovate and bring to life a solution for a community that is close
    to my heart. While things may seem unclear often during this journey, remember that no one else knows your story that brought you to starting your venture better than you do. So, “go confidentially in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined!” (Thoreau)

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

Photo credit: Rita Kovtun for TommieMedia


Solome_TED_biggerAbout the guest blogger: Solome Tibebu is Founder and CEO of Cognific, a mental health homework application for patients and analytics platform for healthcare providers currently in private beta / testing at the largest independent psychiatric hospital in the Midwest, PrairieCare Medical Group. She founded non-profit Anxiety In Teens and is a mental health advocate and speaker on anxiety and youth social entrepreneurship. She holds a B.S. in Entrepreneurship from University of St. Thomas. Follow her on Twitter at @Solome33.