The least attractive traits founders and aspiring entrepreneurs need to banish before it’s too late
I’d love to perpetuate the idea that almost anyone can become a successful entrepreneur, as long as they’re resourceful, strategic, and unwaveringly driven. Unfortunately, one person I’ve recently encountered is doing his best to prove me wrong.
It isn’t because he’s incompetent, uneducated, financially strapped, or saddled with any of the other very real setbacks or weaknesses that many founders have to overcome. In contrast, he’s shockingly well equipped with the resources, education, aptitude, and finances to give entrepreneurship a try. Nonetheless, five perilously toxic traits and misguided beliefs are severely holding him back and derailing his startup pursuits.
Beware of these five startup dealbreakers to ensure you aren’t poisoning your own entrepreneurial journey or sealing its tragic fate before you’ve begun.
Entrepreneurs can be a lot of things, but victims are not one of them. You simply cannot successfully build, operate, and grow a thriving venture with a victim mindset silently dragging you down. This friend of mine works a very cushy 6-figure job that enables him to sit in his pajamas, work from his beachside bedroom, and watch hours of movies every single day during his “down time”. Yet, he’s recently become increasingly frustrated with this job, since he claims it prevents him from building his side hustle.
While I’m not going to tell you what his dream side hustle is, I’ll give you a hint: It’s every 14-year-old boy’s dream job today, and there are actually quite a few 14-year-old boys making the big bucks doing this alongside their schoolwork.
Those 14-year-old boys didn’t drop out of high school. They didn’t ask their parents to invest tens of thousands of dollars. They didn’t complain to all their friends about why they don’t have the time to figure out how to turn their hobby into a real business. They just…did it.
My friend, however, has adopted a victim mindset, in which his employer and everyone around him (who suggests he keep the job he’s spent a decade working towards, in addition to 6-figures of student loans) is deemed the enemy. His solution? To spend two to four hours per day texting and calling his friends, his siblings, and his parents, whining about how horribly constricting his job is, hoping one of us will tell him to go all-in on the side hustle and quit the 9-to-5.
As an entrepreneur who’s been there, done that, with a job that was a lot more demanding and didn’t pay quite as much, I simply can’t get behind the pity party. If you have time to spend hours making excuses about why you aren’t doing the thing you should be or wish you were for your entrepreneurial pursuit, then you probably have time to go do the dang thing.
Entrepreneurs don’t embrace the victim mindset. They don’t cry “woe is me” and point fingers at the outside sources of their discomfort or lack of success. They step up to the plate to solve their own problems as the change agents in their lives. Victimhood is a toxic trait and the true enemy of entrepreneurial success.
On the flip side, some aspiring founders are so blinded by their own uninformed optimism and overconfidence that they fail to consider the very real risks of the business they’re building. When I asked my friend — the one throwing himself a pity party — why he was so confident about his impending success as an entrepreneur, his answer was this: Because he’s better.
He had decided — without any experience, credentials, customer feedback or proof of concept — that he was and is inherently better than the competition, though he has no evidence to back that up. Again, this is a person who’s lived an incredibly charmed life, full of yellow brick roads leading to pots of gold, despite very little effort or adversity. In other words, he’s never experienced a failure or had to face or overcome a major challenge or obstacle, so he simply believes he never will.
Believing your good luck, optimism, or past success makes you an infallible genius primed for certain entrepreneurial success despite a limited scope of knowledge and a dismissal of risks or challenges is a major founder handicap. How in the world will he react if something actually gets hard or doesn’t pan out like he expects? He’s clearly banking on never finding out.
Along the lines of that blind optimism, this wantrepreneur has decided to mentally group himself with the good company of the billionaire unicorn CEOs just like him. Plainly put, he’s chosen and limited his sample size of proven examples and mentors to the microscopic group of outliers who’ve achieved outsized success that has little (if anything) in common with his planned journey. He’s done this while dismissing the more similar, industry-relevant examples of entrepreneurs who’ve achieved more replicable success in the $10M to $100M range.
The problem? His ego has put him on a pedestal, above many other experienced and teachable examples of success, choosing pie-in-the-sky advice that doesn’t apply to the stage he’s at now. A founder lacking humility is not a great look; an inexperienced, incompetent, out-of-touch founder lacking humility is a recipe for disaster and imminent failure.
This friend of mine made a grave mistake: He asked me for advice. That was only a mistake because it soon became glaringly obvious that he didn’t actually want any external input that didn’t align with his own predetermined perspective. I’m not suggesting that I’m the best or only person fit to give him advice; I am, however, positing that planning your defensive rebuttal before hearing others out — especially others who have successful experience in the topic of choice — creates a pretty toxic environment.
Toxicity aside, that isn’t the real issue with the defense-first strategy. The graver problem here is defense-focused wantrepreneurs are averse to objectively and open-mindedly considering outside perspectives, opinions, and experience-honed suggestions. Instead, they pronounce themselves arrogant, bellicose, and unteachable, which aren’t exactly the ingredients for success in the early stages of building your first business.
If you’re so rigid and obsessed with proving others wrong (even when you may not be objective or experienced enough to know if you’re right), you’re doing yourself, your startup, your career, and any other future endeavors a huge disservice. That defense-first need to be right at all costs will no doubt hamper your success, as well as bleed into other areas of your life, fracture friendships, and possibly turn off prospective investors and customers.
Lastly, one of the most misguided mindsets and traits I’ve seen in aspiring founders who spin their wheels long and hard without getting very far is the idea that churn trumps strategy. By churn, I mean the volume and velocity of content, new products, or even marketing material produced. In reality, more is not necessarily better than better. I’m a huge believer in strategy over volume, quality over quantity, and having a long-term game plan before aimlessly hopping aboard another treadmill of sorts.
This wannabe-founder believes volume and the appearance of hard work through production-focused hamster wheels are directly correlated to amassing or achieving more. As someone who’s built higher-ROI businesses off as little as an hour or so a week, alongside lower-ROI ventures that require significantly more time commitment, I can say with certainty this simply isn’t true. Point being, if you’re spending time on the wrong things, spending more time is just plain wrong and inefficient.