Startup Social Anxiety Disorder

Posted By on Jun 3, 2009

What do an irrational fear of rejection, the inability to talk to girls at a bar, and a startup in “stealth mode” all have in common? 

I was riding the Orange Line en route to our Central Square offices last week, and I saw a sign advertising a study on Social Anxiety Disorder.  They asked if you worry too much about what other people think, worry that people might secretly think you’re stupid, and get more nervous than seems appropriate before meeting people for the first time. 

To be honest, my first thought was that if I didn’t have a company to start, I should go try their study.  But on my second thought, I realized that the same symptoms seem to apply to a lot of startup companies, ours included.

We were very shy at first about sharing our idea – maybe a competitor would get there first, or maybe we wouldn’t be able to deliver.  We got over that one, but it is still terrifying to think that we might do all the marketing right, get press and customers excited about our product, then end up disappointing and/or angering them.  It’s also in the back of our minds that we might “peak too early” and get all of our buzz before the product is ready to impress anyone. 

But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that we shouldn’t worry.  There is so much noise and so much going on that nobody cares what some dinky startup does.  If we put out a product that doesn’t work very well, we won’t get bad press – we just won’t get any press. 

We’re not Microsoft; nobody has the energy or the time to skewer us.  And if they do, nobody has the energy or the time to remember it after they read it.  If we make something subpar, we won’t be noticed.  And if we make something great, then we’ll get customers today.

Some of the evidence from other startups backs this up.  If you tried the first version of Loopt on the iPhone 3G, it was incredibly easy to inadvertently text message every single one of the people in your phone’s contact list with a your location and an invitation for Loopt.  Several of the early versions of Plaxo made it incredibly easy to accidentally email everyone in your address book and ask them to give all their contact info to Plaxo.

Loopt apologizedSo did Plaxo.  Neither of these companies is in the deadpool.  They still have funding, and they still have users.  Aside from a handful of people who make knowing these things their business, my guess is that nobody even remembers. 

An even better example is Hyundai. In 1986 when they released the Excel in the US, it was nothing to write home about. 


Yeah, it looked like that.  I wouldn’t have bought one either.  But by iterating and improving, they’ve turned into an elite car company.  One of our mentors mentioned hearing about how cool the Genesis is on a golf course.  Hyundai really is now a company people associate with luxury cars.  And they had a sense of humor about the whole thing too.

So why are we so worried that our product will fail to impress?  If we make a bad first product, but get better, people will give us another chance.  If our third or fourth version is incredibly useful, they just don’t have time to hold a grudge that our first version wasn’t.  Our biggest problem is going to be apathy, not grudges.  It’s just not personal.  And if we never make the great product that will earn us a second chance, then we shouldn’t succeed.  I believe we’ll get there.

Of course, I have an ulterior motive for bringing this up now.  We’re sending our Baydin ForONE Technology Preview to friends and family on Thursday.  I’ll be honest – it’s not ready.  We have tested it on a whopping two configurations, the results need some work, and the UI isn’t as polished as we’d like.  It also comes with the caveats that it might insult your mother in law, or start crashing some untested, semi-patched versions of Outlook.  Before we’re ready to call it a 1.0 release, we’ll make sure it doesn’t do any of these things.

My arguments about SSAD were only so persuasive, though.  Despite my best efforts to make us a wild man company that releases it to whoever wants it and lets God sort ‘em out, we’re doing a limited release Alpha launch.   If you want to give it a spin, shoot us an email, and I’ll see that you get a download link.


  1. Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

  2. Hello, can you please post some more information on this topic? I would like to read more.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *