There are many obstacles startups face along the path to success. A startup community may not surround the business, making it difficult to raise capital. The founding team may be too focused on the glamour (or potential financial benefits) of owning and running a business. Founders may even clash, causing the professional relationship and the business built on that relationship, to crumble.
But even the optimal founding team can slip up thanks to one key trait that is shockingly easy to fix and prevent.
Don't listen to your "happy ears"
Being a natural optimist is a great quality, but not always beneficial in a business setting. Startup founders need to be realists, staying clear of drinking the company Kool-Aid.
"Happy ears," a term for when when individuals always take the positive spin to a situation, can lead to missed opportunities. An example that I hear about frequently revolves around securing funding.
A company is on the hunt for Series A funding, taking meetings left and right to find the perfect investors. After a successful pitch, you hear something like, "let's reconnect soon to talk more about your company."
If you're wearing your happy ears, you take that response as a win. They want to talk again, that's a good sign! So, you take a step back from securing additional meetings and wait. But when you reach back out to go over the details of a deal, you get ghosted.
However, I'm not saying that you should go into every situation with a negative outlook. As a startup founder, you're often faced with negativity and struggles. Sometimes having that positive outlook can really help push you through really hard situations and force you to not give up.
But, when it comes to funding, startup founders can benefit from being a little more skeptical. I know, that probably sounds crazy--we often tell founders that the key to success is innovation, that they shouldn't stray away from the craziest ideas. I'm not saying that founders shouldn't be creative and continue to push the envelope, but a healthy dose of pessimism can go a long way in the early days of growing your business.
If something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. If you run with these false assumptions, you may be missing additional opportunities that cross your desk.
How "realistic ears" can help your company
Techstars takes great pride in our evaluation of startup teams. Our philosophy is that the value of a company, when you really boil it down, is in the people that run it.
Startups need realistic founders to keep the lights on. Over-exuberant, happy-eared founders can jump the gun based on assumed outcomes. With the funding example, we've seen plenty of startups hire a handful of new employees, or even move to a larger office with the assumption that a deal was on the horizon based on an interpretation of an interaction. And when the deal fell through, founders were in a very sticky situation with more rent and salary than they could afford.
Don't listen to everyone
I believe entrepreneurs are born, not made. I think an entrepreneurial gene exists in some people's DNA that makes a traditional corporate setting unbearable for some, and stifles their ability to be successful. These entrepreneurial individuals are fixated on the problems they need to solve, and eventually they give up their "career" to test their luck in the market.
I've never had a job interview in my life, and have been an entrepreneur since my freshman year of college. I've been lucky to find success, but many have told me to re-evaluate, to drop the startup life, as I've navigated my career. I'm sure many other founders have heard this too. My advice is if you're truly passionate about the work your company does or the problem you are laser-focused on solving, then the criticism is just useless noise.
You were made for this, and it will work out with time. Keep pushing for success. If you were born with this entrepreneurial gene, then you know this is the only path for you, and no one can tell you otherwise.