Melissa Lanz of The Fresh 20 on Pushing through Doubt

August 19, 2013

1:34 pm

Melissa Lanz is no stranger to those creeping moments of doubt that all entrepreneurs experience.

As founder of The Fresh 20, her job includes everything she’s good at: from technology to marketing to cooking. But still, she gets worried sometimes.

“There are those moments of doubt, that entrepreneurial black hole that we can get into because we work so much on our own and are autonomous a lot of the time,” says Lanz. “We have to reach out for help at certain points when we start to get too much in our head and we start making decisions based on fear. I don’t want to make decisions based on fear; I want to make my decisions based on possibility.”

If Lanz had listened to those fears, she wouldn’t be where she is today. Before The Fresh 20, she was working 70-hour weeks and earning a $200,000 salary as a marketing executive. Being an entrepreneur meant the same long weeks, but a salary of $0 (to start). It meant realizing that she couldn’t always afford going to dinner with friends; bills coming in the mail became a stressful event.

But her motivations were greater than her doubts. Lanz’s mother fell ill, and she realized that her current lifestyle of eating frozen and processed foods wasn’t healthy – nor was it setting a good example for her two kids. So she decided to fix that problem and start a company, all in one.

The Fresh 20 is a meal planning guide for busy and budget-conscious cooks. For $5 per month (10 percent of which goes to charities), subscribers get a weekly list of 20 ingredients to make five meals. Every recipe takes 30 minutes or less, and subscribers can even choose gluten-free or vegetarian options. Over 100,000 subscribers have already signed on.

To get this far, Lanz has developed a few strategies for quelling her doubts. The first is distinguishing doubts about yourself from well-founded fears about the business. Some fears may be legitimate – about encroaching competitors or a not-quite-right marketing strategy – but self-doubt has no place in entrepreneurship.

“When we first start our company, we all have this thing: ‘Who am I to do that? Who am I to start this company? Who am I to think that I can bring this to fruition and can create a business around it?’” says Lanz. “Instead of ‘Why me?’ I always encourage entrepreneurs to say ‘Why not you?’” A good wakeup call from a mentor – getting a reality check and stopping the ruminating in your head – can do the trick.

Lanz struggled with these same kind of doubts while writing The Fresh 20 cookbook, which just came out in April. She wondered if the book was pulling her away from the business, whether it would be successful, and if writing it was the right decision. After all that doubting, she stands here four months later with a book in hand and the business still going strong.

Finally, Lanz recommends taking some time for positive thinking and reflection. Turn the doubts around and think: what will happen if I succeed? The prospect of success can give you a hearty dose of positive motivation, rather than the edgy urgency you get when driven by fear. And quiet reflection time – for Lanz, that’s reading or spending time outdoors – can clear your mind to welcome in those positive thoughts.

Entrepreneurship is a long-term game, and so is quieting those voices of self-doubt in your head. “Being an entrepreneur provides constant growth for the rest of my life, and I cherish that,” she says.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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