Through starting and building my own startup, I found out that startup land is full of myths. Many these illusions can be so limiting, so damaging, so injurious to entrepreneurship, that we must call them for what they are right now. Because the option exists 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.
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 from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania 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 revenue for my startup, and save me a lot of frustration. Don’t work longer; work better.
Myth 5: You Need Venture Capitalists to Fund Your Startup
There are many alternatives for funding a startup. I built my startup on customer revenue and took zero outside funding. By the time it 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.
Myth 6: You Need to be a Young White Man to be a Successful 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. I don’t often like to label myself, but I’m indeed a woman, an immigrant from Uruguay, not a programmer, a mother of two children and a person who thrives on 8 hours of sleep each day. 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.
Myth 7: Your Startup Needs Luck
We make our own luck. There are many things we do not control in life (such as raging pandemics), 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.
Recognize and Eliminate these Startup Myths
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 you…regardless of whether it’s been blazed before.
This article is adapted from the book: New Startup Mindset: Ten Mindset Shifts to Build the Company of Your Dreams by Sandra Shpilberg.