In the words of Michael Dearing, who discusses this on the Twenty Minute VC podcast:
“Personal Exceptionalism means that they [founders] see themselves as special and their outcomes are going to be outside the bounds of normal”.
It’s the belief that you are not like other people. You are different and can achieve what others can’t.
It’s not arrogance or overconfidence. Many arrogant and overconfident individuals seem to lack Personal Exceptionalism (PE). It’s a quiet belief that even if the world is falling around you, you will be the one to be ok.
This really matters for a founder.
Deciding to found a company is an irrational thing to do. The majority of founders will have a ‘bad’ outcome where their company fails. Being a founder is taking on a power law. Very few individuals succeed, but when they do succeed, they succeed to an insane degree.
You could say it’s like playing the lottery. But not all the lottery tickets in this gamble are made equal. High PE individuals believe that the odds of their lottery ticket are different. They believe they have improved odds of building a successful startup.
At interview for EF, they have never considered what would happen if their startup failed. On EF, they aren’t focused on avoiding failure, they are focused on realising their potential.
Why does Personal Exceptionalism matter for a founder?
A google of PE describes it as destructive; by believing you are different, you don’t fit in with normal life. But, founders aren’t normal, they are the exceptions to the rule and often don’t fit in with normal life.
Personal exceptionalism allows early stage founders to: