6 myths holding you back from founder success

Matt Clifford
7 November, 2022

My co-founder, Alice, and I have worked with thousands of founders since starting Entrepreneur First (EF) ten years ago. We’ve seen what motivates an aspiring founder and pushes them forward, and we’ve seen what holds them back. 

Here are some common myths about the founder journey, and why you shouldn’t let them keep you from starting your company:

“I don’t have the right badges”

Many aspiring founders fall into the trap of badge-collecting. They want a place at a prestigious university, a job at a top firm, a master’s degree, one more promotion, one more year of experience. 

What we’ve seen at EF, is that those badges and credentials don’t necessarily translate into entrepreneurial success. The CEOs of five of EF’s six most valuable companies all had just one year of work experience – or less – when they joined us.

“I don’t have a big enough network”

As a founder, you will ultimately need to build a broad and deep network, but the best way to build the network you need is to actually start building your company.

When you’re just starting out, you need to spend tons of time talking to potential customers and understanding their needs. Your network grows as you begin the process of customer discovery and customer research.

“I don’t live in Silicon Valley”

There’s a reason Silicon Valley is the startup capital of the world. It’s not something in the water; it’s about cultural expectation. If Google’s co-founders had grown up in London, they might have joined a hedge fund. If they’d have grown up in Singapore, perhaps they’d have become high-flying civil servants.

Fortunately, geography is much less of a limiting factor for potential founders than it was in the 1990s. Startup knowledge has been democratised: what used to be concentrated in the heads of a few founders and investors, is now abundant and readily available. Large startup ecosystems are thriving around the world, and online – and, what’s more, the top Silicon Valley investors are investing more outside the US than ever before. At EF, we’ve built communities of exceptional founders around the world.

“I can’t start because I might fail”

The real opportunity cost you should worry about is that you might have what it takes to found a globally important company… but never get round to trying. If you don’t allow yourself to try, you’ve already failed by default.

Moreover, these days, the cost of failure is lower than ever before – not only financially, but in terms of career capital. We see startups around the world who are desperate to hire former founders because of what they learned in trying – even if their company didn’t work out.

“I don’t fit the founder stereotype”

There is no reason why any demographic should be inherently better at founding. Yes, when you look at who starts startups today, white men are overrepresented. There’s a long history that’s led to that bias, but thankfully, things are beginning to change.

While there is still a long way to go, there’s never been a better time to start a company as someone from an underrepresented group. Venture Capitalists know that there’s an amazing opportunity in funding great founders who might otherwise be overlooked. And ambitious non-profits and accelerators like Chloe Capital, Uncharted, and Propeller (as well as Entrepreneur First), are working to address some of the issues that underrepresented founders face.

“I have to have the perfect idea”

Too many people delay founding because they’re waiting for the perfect, fully-formed idea to emerge. In reality, startup ideas are constantly in flux.

A startup idea isn’t a single eureka moment of insight or inspiration. It’s something you create by exploring a hunch.

The only way to validate or invalidate an idea is through working on the problem you’re trying to solve. Start by formulating a sense of what ideas you might be uniquely well placed to work on, and then connect with customers who will allow you to experiment with, iterate, and improve your idea over time.

A lot of people delay founding because they’re waiting for the day that they become “ready”. In reality, the only way to become ready is to start. You can’t become an exceptional pianist by reading books – you have to actually play. The same is true of founders. To increase your chances of success, start now, and be ready to learn as you go.

Take the first step towards founding a globally successful company.

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