Ask any book publisher and they'll tell you that success stories sell. But those success stories often paint a warped picture of entrepreneurs as being superhumans with X-ray-like vision into the future. I can tell you not only from having been an entrepreneur for the past 30 years but also in working with hundreds of successful entrepreneurs that much of the mythology we build around entrepreneurship is a false narrative that doesn't help those who are just getting started. This false story is what I call the backstory of entrepreneurship. 

Looking at my own experience and those of the entrepreneurs around me, I've come to the conclusion that there are at least three core myths that always accompany the popular entrepreneurial narrative.

Myth 1: Every Entrepreneur Has a Clear Vision of the Future

One of the things that I'm convinced draws entrepreneurs to do what they do and to make the sacrifices they make is that they have an abundance of confidence in their vision. There is something about the way they see the world that allows them to find opportunities hidden in plain sight. But one of the enduring myths about entrepreneurs is that they can somehow see the future.

I've yet to see a single successful business that didn't have to pivot from the original founder's vision. Inevitably, every business comes to a point where the original vision needs to change to meet the market.

Think of this as like climbing a sheer cliff. You may plan your path with ridiculous precision and yet you may come to a point where you have to take a different route to get to the top. None of us can see the future precisely. It evolves and morphs in ways we can't predict. Look for the pivots and take them. There are ways to the top that you never could have predicted.

Myth 2: Every Entrepreneur Goes It Alone

This is a tough one, because entrepreneurs are inherently solo flyers. They take on risks and bet on wild dreams because they believe in themselves. While that's true, I've also found that having a partner is a critical, almost immutable part of the entrepreneurial journey.

Although I always council founders to make sure that their ownership and governance structure is such that one person has the ultimate decision making authority, I also tell them to pick a partner whom they trust completely to support and balance them. Usually it's someone who doesn't care much for the limelight but has an equally strong passion for the vision.

In the absence of that partnership, entrepreneurs are like kites without a string. They fly high, but they soon lose touch with reality.

Myth 3: Every Entrepreneur Listens to the Market

This is my favorite myth. Pick pretty much any entrepreneur and you'll find that the ultimate praise for him or her is to have seen an opportunity that everyone else could have seen but only they were able to make it a reality.

If one thing is most typical of the entrepreneurial experience, it's that you are constantly stretching yourself and those around you. That's because entrepreneurism is by its definition the creation of something new. It's not running yet another dry cleaners or just another fast food franchise. Those businesses still have their own challenges, but they are not entrepreneurism where you are taking an idea that hasn't been tried and releasing it into the wild where it will be unrecognizable at first.

Entrepreneurship means fighting a constant struggle to get people to understand the value of a new approach, product, or service over what they already know. Listening to the market when all you have is an idea only tells you what the market already knows: that your idea pretty much is nuts.

It's when you actually put a new product or service into the market that you need to start listening and quickly pivoting as needed to refine your product in ways that give it greater traction. Just stop and think about any radical new product, such as Uber or the iPhone. These ideas made no sense until they were in the hands of users who could then help to refine them. You don't ask the market what it wants until you give it something it never knew it needed. Only then can the market tell you what you need to know.

Entrepreneurship is messy. It has to be. You're cutting a new path. You'll pivot, you'll rely heavily on others to get through the self-doubt and bad decisions, and you'll build a market where there was none. And once you've made it, you can go back and write the book that talks about how clearly you saw the future, how you did it your way, and how well you understood the market. That book will sell, but you and I know the backstory.

Published on: Mar 12, 2020
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