They lied to themselves.
"One thing that entrepreneurs, we all do, we lie to ourselves," Cuban said in a 2019 speech at the Dallas Startup Week conference. "All the time. Those lies give you the confidence to chase a business idea."
List the keys to startup success and the usual suspects appear: Skill. Dedication. Focus. Persistence. A little bit of luck.
And a whole lot of belief.
"Most entrepreneurial ideas will sound crazy, stupid, and uneconomic," Hastings is quoted as saying in the 2016 book Funding Options for Startups, "and then they'll turn out to be right. As an entrepreneur, you have to feel like you can jump out of an airplane because you're confident you'll catch a bird flying by. It's an act of stupidity, and most entrepreneurs go splat because the bird doesn't come by, but a few times it does."
Thinking a bird will fly by? That's where the lies come in.
Telling yourself you can do it. Telling yourself you can succeed where others have failed. Telling yourself you do have what it takes to build a successful business. No matter how nervous or anxious or scared you may feel.
If you don't? According to Cuban, you're likely to remain a wantrepreneur: Someone with thoughts and ideas and even plans...but who can't find the nerve to do anything more than hope and dream.
"You talk about doing it, but don't take that step," Cuban said. "And then you lie to yourself a little bit and you say, 'I can do this.' You're scared s---less, but you know you can do this. You take one small step."
But you still have to know when to lie to yourself--and when to be brutally honest.
The Entrepreneur's Contradiction
Confidence, however artificial, can get you started. Optimism, however irrational, can bolster your faith in long-term success.
But you also must be totally rational--and completely honest with yourself--about the present.
As Hastings is also widely credited as saying, "Be brutally honest about the short term...and optimistic and confident about the long term."
Take one small step, and analyze the results. Improve what works. Fix what doesn't. Make smart course corrections. And then take another step.
"You have to look at your own company," Cuban said, "and be brutally honest with yourself and say, 'What do we do well?' That's great. But also be honest and say, 'What do we not do well? Where are our challenges? And then how can we improve them?'"
In short, use the little lies to overcome your fear and uncertainty about tomorrow--while at the same time taking a cold, clinical view of everything you do today.
That's the entrepreneur's contradiction: Even if you feel you have nothing going for you but a good idea, you have to push past those fears by saying, "I can do this."
And then, once you take that first step, you have to be brutally honest about short-term results in order to constantly improve your skills, your products or services, and your company.
Because while you may feel you have nothing going for you...as long as you're willing to work hard, persevere, and take a chance on yourself, who you are--and more importantly, who you will become--is more than enough.
Even if it takes telling yourself a few lies to get you going.