7 Startup Myths Working Against the Success of New Entrepreneurs
Startup land is full of myths. Understand them and succeed.
Startup land is full of myths, and many these illusions can be so limiting, so damaging, so injurious to entrepreneurship, that we must call them for what they are right now.
The wish is for current and aspiring entrepreneurs to approach the task of starting and building a company with a clear-eyed mindset and more inspired intentions. I know about this alternative path to entrepreneurship because I blazed it, as I set to start, build, and eventually exit my startup, Seeker Health.
MYTH 1: UNICORN OR NOTHING.
Of all myths of startup life, I begin with the most dangerous one: the belief that unless you’ve created a Facebook or a Google, you and your company are nothing. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A unicorn is a startup with a valuation of $1 billion or higher. The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, who chose a mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such a venture.
Go ahead and have ambitious goals, but know that many companies make a great impact without becoming unicorns.
Right under unicorns, you’ll find lions, giraffes, horses, gazelles, and all sorts of valuable, real, and well-fed animals.
MYTH 2: YOU ARE YOUR STARTUP.
No, you are not. You are a human being trying to have a meaningful life on this planet for the impermanent period of time that is afforded by your body. You may spend three, five, ten, or twenty years of your life working on your company, which may live beyond you, or may not.
The startup is not you, and you are not your startup. This is an important myth to dispel early, because should your startup die, it will not mean that you do as well.
MYTH 3: YOU NEED A COFOUNDER.
You don’t need a cofounder, and in fact having a cofounder may affect the ability of your company to succeed. Research shows that companies started by solo founders survive longer than those started by teams.
In addition, organizations started by solo founders generate more revenue than organizations started by founder pairs. Thus, forget waiting for a cofounder and trying cofounder dating. You are all of the founding power your startup will ever need.
MYTH 4: HARDER WORK MEANS BIGGER SUCCESS.
Better work means bigger success, and better work is not measured in hours.
Better work is measured in quality and effectiveness.
I can spend eighty hours cold-calling a list of customers who will never give me the time of day, or I can spend five hours having focused one-hour meetings with five targeted and engaged potential customers.
The first eighty hours of cold-calling are likely to yield zero revenue for my startup. The five hours of targeted meetings are likely to yield at least $500,000 revenue for my startup, and save me a lot of frustration. Don’t work longer; work better.
MYTH 5: I NEED VENTURE CAPITALISTS TO FUND MY STARTUP.
There are many alternatives for funding a startup, and I’ll spend time in chapter 4 sharing my thoughts on this topic. I built my startup on customer revenue and took zero outside funding.
By the time Seeker Health was acquired, I was still the sole owner. From a personal finance perspective, consider that you can own 2 percent of an unlikely unicorn and get paid last, should a liquidation event occur. Or you can own 100 percent of a gazelle and get paid first. The bottom line is that some businesses need VC, but many do not.
For the businesses that need VC, investors are looking for companies with some traction, so either way, in the early stages of your startup, you’re likely to have to find a way to operate it, grow it, and prove
traction without VC.
MYTH 6: I NEED TO BE A YOUNG WHITE MAN TO BE SUCCESSFUL AS A STARTUP FOUNDER.
Nope. Despite the popular image of a college dropout as a successful founder, the average age of successful founders is forty-five, and older founders outperform their younger colleagues.
If you don’t see people who look like you starting and building companies, this is of no consequence to your journey. There’s only one you, and what you can create is important. If you have to blaze a path, then do it: for you and for the people like you who are right behind you.
Ditch the labels (all of them) and go do it.
MYTH 7: MY STARTUP NEEDS LUCK.
We make our own luck. There are many things we do not control in life, but we can control how we show up, work effectively, create, and build. You’ll be relying on your skills, focus, work ethic, connections, and ability to rest and regenerate.
“Bad luck” or “failures” are useful data for redirection. This element we call “luck” is simply life redirecting you to where you will create your best work. You can’t summon luck to work for you, but you can instead summon your skills, focus, and mindfulness, and direct them toward your creation.
As you set on your path of entrepreneurship, be mindful of these startup myths and others, and pursue the path that feels authentic and right for your...regardless of whether it's been blazed before.
More on this topic in the book New Startup Mindset.