Myth-Making and the “Authentic Founder”

Giff Constable technology, venture capital

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.