The Entrepreneur’s Arms Race of Perception

After an awesome community-building party at Bessemer, I chatted outside in the cool of the night with an entrepreneur. Now, I’ve written before about this person (see “VC Arrogance: Inevitable?”). He is incredibly sharp.

He mentioned something I’ve never heard before: “It’s very hard to have trusting and open relationships with other entrepreneurs.” He thinks it’s hard to open up with other founders because you want to show that you’re doing well, too.

Moreover, he doesn’t want to share any personal and company weaknesses, for fear that word may leak back to VCs. He wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize funding chances in the future. So, entrepreneurs, he thinks, have an ongoing “arms race of perception.”

I really hope this isn’t true.

Support is critical, as start-ups are hard. Moreover, we can better build a truly vibrant start-up community if we accept people for who they are, acknowledge that failure is OK, and really support one another. As I’ve written before, it can be lonely as a start-up CEO.

For me, a supportive community made all the difference. I was the only investor at our firm for a few years after raising a VC fund. But, I luckily met periodically with founding partners from around the country (see “What Is VC 2.0?”). We met a few times a year and opened up about what was working and not working. I drew so much strength and wisdom from that group of peers.

In fact, the discussions were so rich and valuable precisely because people took personal risk and exposed their fears. The group has stopped meeting now because (in my opinion) it grew too large. It became harder over time to discuss real concerns in an ever-growing group. So, the group’s popularity ultimately killed it.

Authenticity is so important in life. I encourage all entrepreneurs to find a peer group they can trust.

2 thoughts on “The Entrepreneur’s Arms Race of Perception

  1. It’s unfortunate that he feels that way. Embellishing Langston Hughes’ Mother to Son “[Startup building] ain’t no crystal stair. It has tacks, and splinters, and boards torn up, and places with no carpet on it…] That’s just a fact about startups; open sharing and dialogue with other entrepreneurs and your investors, will only benefit the entrepreneur, and build social currency.

  2. Hmmm… Not being open about what’s really going on in order to build an inflated brand ID is destined to have the opposite effect — to backfire and call into question the founder’s credibility, which is the ultimate source of the brand. Better to get things into the open and seek advice and eventually find the right resources to fix the problem. Keeping things to yourself almost guarantees that they will not improve.

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