Myth-Making and the “Authentic Founder”

One of my pet peeves about startup-land is myth-making. I refer to the stories that get made up about a startup’s founding and trajectory. Entrepreneurs spin tales for two reasons: to get press, and, particularly, to get funding.

Investors have a name for their intuitive filtering — they call it pattern recognition. But at the early stage, it seems to me that they are looking for love. They want to fall in love with a glorious story.

Today I want to poke at the myth of the “authentic entrepreneur”. Investors ask, “why are you the uniquely perfect person to do this startup?” They ask for a myth, and so they get a myth.

(And let’s be honest, they also often want you to look the part.)

Was Mark Zuckerberg truly the authentic founder to creative a new social fabric? Were Larry and Sergei the authentic founders to reinvent intent-driven advertisers? Was Pierre Omidyar the authentic founder to create an e-commerce giant?

I would argue no. They were, however, determined and credible entrepreneurs who became genuinely obsessed with their target space, who had real vision, and who could complement themselves with subject-matter experts.

You do need those ingredients, but I don’t think you need some tale about deep personal life experiences, nor do I think you necessarily need deep domain expertise (which helps but also often comes with blinders).

I thus posit that the angel/VC focus on this “authenticity” is a poor filter that drives myth-making, but does not actually correlate to the true potential of an entrepreneur.

  • Christopher Marlow

    nice post Giff.

    To me it’s just one example of how difficult people find it to make “rational” decisions dispassionately. I just don’t think most people can do it, most of the time, whether it’s an investment decision or a purchase. Myth-making is (perversely) “rational” response to this reality.

    Before he became an a***hole I read some of Gordon Ramsey’s writing. He talked about being an unlikely Michelin star chef. He didn’t shell peas on his grandmother’s knee. He wanted to be a professional soccer player, and poured all his energy into that. He only became obsessed with food later.

    If you can’t bring yourself to spin a yarn about being an “authentic entrepreneur”, perhaps you do the opposite. You just say that you weren’t born to solve this problem, and may not be uniquely qualified to do so. But you are obsessed with it now and can see ways to surpass others’ efforts in this space.