Three Startup Myths Holding You Back7 November, 2017 / Articles
In its first week on sale, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs sold 379,000 copies, achieving the biggest week of sales for any book in the U.S. I have yet to meet a business owner who hasn’t read it and, no doubt, the army of aspiring entrepreneurs looking to learn from the master contributed significantly to the book’s record-breaking sales.
Steve Jobs was indeed an incredible individual, but it’s precisely his brilliance that makes him, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, or Mark Zuckerberg so difficult to model and replicate. Reading about Steve Jobs in an effort to become a better entrepreneur is like studying Usain Bolt’s warm up routine in an effort to become the fastest man on the planet. These people are freaks – in the best possible sense – and our focus on their freakishness blinds us to the achievable habits of millions of other, highly successful, entrepreneurs.
In my interviews and work with countless founders I have noticed a number of common attributes. What constantly surprises me is that these behaviors are often the opposite traits demonstrated – and touted – by the ‘Apex Entrepreneurs’ we are encouraged to idolize. Where Jobs was famously mean, most of the people I spoke to were kind-hearted. Where Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to pursue Facebook, most entrepreneurs start businesses in their 30s and 40s
Trying to learn from the most successful, edge-case, entrepreneurs may actually be holding you back. Here are the three biggest myths about Entrepreneurship which need to be refuted:
1) Entrepreneurs Are Born Not Made
We all know the classic tale of the entrepreneur who was running businesses from age 12 and drops out of college to start his or her company. Billion entrepreneur Peter Thiel even created a fund to encourage students to drop out of school and create tomorrow’s billion-dollar business. But in fact people over 55 are twice as likely as people under 35 to launch a high-growth startup and the average age of a first time entrepreneur is getting older.
Yet we’re led to believe that if you didn’t have a burning desire to own a business from birth then you aren’t cut out to be a successful entrepreneur. Believing you’ve missed your window could be erroneously keeping you from starting something in the first place.
2) Entrepreneurs Aren’t “Company Men”
Few of the entrepreneurs we make movies about worked for other people. And if they did, they usually quit or got fired dramatically as their burning vision ran hard against the institutional lethargy of the corporations they worked for.
Yet this isn’t the case for the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs. Most founders I have interviewed not only worked other people, they were pretty successful in the corporate world. Spending time in a career enabled them to understand an industry in depth and identify weaknesses and gaps that could be exploited for entrepreneurial gain.
It’s nice to believe that we could lock ourselves away in a room and dream up the future, but most successful entrepreneurs are trying to solve real-world problems that they encountered over years of working for someone else.
3) Entrepreneurs Are Lone Wolves
The ‘brand’ of the entrepreneurs is always of a single name: Dell, Gates, Bezos. And before that: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford. But while many of the worlds greatest business builders were renowned misanthropes, the majority of successful entrepreneurs I meet either created businesses with cofounders or rapidly surrounded themselves with a strong foundational team. Most tell me things like: “I could never done this without my partner/s” or “I’d be lost if it weren’t for so and so”. Conversely, the entrepreneurs I see struggling the most are the ones who tried to go it alone and are too prideful or difficult to work with to create meaningful partnerships.
While the lives and careers of billionaire entrepreneurs often make for great books and movies they rarely make for good role models. Better to focus on the millions of highly successful smaller entrepreneurs whose skills and habits are achievable and replicable.