8 Big Startup Myths That Hold Entrepreneurs Back From Success

You don’t have to look far to find evidence that we’re in another prolonged startup boom.

This is good news.

The growth of entrepreneurship is a sign the economy is doing well.

But the more new businesses there are, the more old, often untrue ideas about startups propagate.

From lifestyle and innovation to fame and fortune, myths are found across the spectrum of startup culture.

It’s already difficult to get a new business off the ground. Staying real, and separating fact from fiction can help entrepreneurs navigate the challenges of starting a new business while staying grounded.

To help you separate fact from fiction, here’s a look at 8 big startup myths (at the truth behind them).

Myth #1: Follow your bliss, and success will follow

Joseph Campbell knew what he was talking about – following your passion can be great.

But chasing down a real problem can offer even bigger rewards.

When you find yourself faced with a problem that no one else has managed to solve, you’ve landed on a solid-gold idea for your next side gig.

Passion may be a great motivator, but it’s a self-driven one. You may find others who share your passion, but it’s usually easier to uncover a problem shared by many.

Many successful products and services share the origin story of “I needed something like this, so I built it.”

The world is always going to have problems. While having a passion for something is great, having solutions for those problems is often a much more practical way to sink your teeth into a new business venture.

Instead of using something you’re passionate about as the genesis of your business, think about a problem to solve first, and then attack that problem with passion.

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Myth #2: Innovation is King

Being first isn’t necessarily the ticket to success. In fact, followings in the footsteps of others is often the best way to go.

The tale of companies who created businesses out of brand new ideas is a rare one.

Web search existed before Google. People were couch-surfing before Airbnb came along. And Apple is famous for taking existing ideas (wireless networks, media creation, mice, mp3 players, smartphones)  and doing them really, really well.

As Apple design lead Jonathan Ive said, “It’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.”

Take a close look at most successful companies and chances are you’ll notice that they took an existing idea and delivered a superior solution.

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A challenge that some entrepreneurs don’t consider is that innovative, never-before-seen products and services often stand alone. They can’t rely on existing markets or customer awareness to help generate interest.

Customers can be reluctant to try something they don’t understand or they haven’t seen before. This means that products in this category need to launch with a robust marketing plan. Educating consumers why a particular product matters is critical.

Products that improve on existing solutions can leverage customer’s awareness and contrast themselves against what came before them.

Innovation is important, but as companies like Apple have proven repeatedly, iteration is just as valuable.

Myth #3: Your startup should dominate your time

Related to myth #3 is the misguided notion that the more time you invest in a project, the better it will be.

Entrepreneur burnout is a real thing, and it’s not just your health and wellbeing at stake. Driving your team so hard that they flame out is not only bad for your business, it’s bad for innovation.

Ben Schippers talked about this at length when he looked at avoiding startup burnout:

People will tell you that having a startup is the craziest and busiest way to live your life. That’s a lie. Most startups only become really busy if they turn into businesses. There are many periods when running a startup is about being patient. You can only code so many hours before it turns to spaghetti. And raising money, especially if it’s your first go round, may require the patience of a tortoise.

There are many ways to avoid burn out.

Start by recognizing how you work best, and what kind of worker you are.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how to maximize productivity – we are all different, and have different strengths. By figuring out what works best for you, you maximize not just your productivity, but your value to your team.

Productivity guru Carson Tate analyzed four different productivity styles – the Planner, the Arranger, the Prioritizer and the Visualizer.

Each style has their own communication style, decision-making style, and their own set of tools to equip them for success. Take Tate’s Productivity Assessment to figure out which one you are.

The most important thing to remember when avoiding burnout is that you need to allow yourself time to stop and take a breath. Take time to look back on what you’ve worked on and achieved, and give yourself some room to step away for a little while.

Yoga, bike riding, running, even good sleep – these are all important ways of making sure you avoid burning out.

Not only is this good for your business, it’s good for your health. Consider the quality of the journey you’re on and not just the destination.

To learn more about wellness and some useful tips, check out our article “Wellness Tips from Successful Entrepreneurs and Health Experts“.

Myth #4: Investors will flock to you and ensure your success

While it’s true that you sometimes need to spend money to make money, the amount of money you need to spend is where things get murkier.

The highway of new ventures is littered with the remnants of businesses that started with tons of seed money but ran out with little to show for it.

A good example of this is the tale of the photo-sharing app Color.

It started with a huge amount of hype, nearly 40 employees, and an equally large amount of cash: $41 million. Just over a year later, the company burned through most of the money and closed up shop.

Contrast that with Instagram, which started with just two employees, a dramatically smaller amount of money, and went on to be acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.

What’s more important than how much money you start with is how you manage what you have. As marketing specialist Guy Kawasaki said,

If you look at the truly great start-ups that have come out of Silicon Valley, they’ve been hyper frugal. Cisco, Google in the early days, Yahoo! in the early days, Microsoft. I mean the list goes on and on.

Doing more with less and being careful to take on investors when it makes sense allows you to grow and mature at a more sustainable rate.

Myth #5: Massive reach on social media matters

It matters far less how many followers you have and far more how many of them actually purchase your product.

Don’t give in to the temptation to expend all your energy on a short-term boost like amassing large amounts of followers on social media.

Invest instead in giving thorough attention to your product or service, and then extending that attention to genuinely interested customers.

A great way to engage those interested customers in the wild west of social media is by reaching them through micro-influencers.

Unlike celebrity influencers with their hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of followers, micro-influencers have a couple hundred to a few thousand followers.

Even though they have less popularity and aren’t as well known, they have a considerable advantage.

By taking advantage of a micro influencer’s more niche audience, you can target your product precisely to your desired audience.

You can watch this video for some great tips on leveraging micro-influencers for your business.

Myth #6: You need a detailed business plan

Having a plan is important.

You want to know where you’re going, and how you’re going to do it.

But having too detailed a plan can quickly get you lost in the weeds when you should be focusing on moving forward.

Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin says,

Too many entrepreneurs spend months locked away, creating the “perfect” business plan with scenario planning and detailed financial projections. These days, markets change so quickly that you never really know how customers will react to your product or service, or what new technologies will emerge that may significantly change the
business environment.

It’s very difficult to know for sure how the market will respond to your idea. Instead of committing time trying to hone your business plan until it’s flawless, try to “get real” as early as possible.

One way to do this is to create a one page business plan. It’s quick, efficient, and helps you to get started right away.

Putting your idea out into the world means you can get real feedback quickly, which gives you more opportunity to fix, improve, and pivot when needed.

Basecamp founder Jason Fried talked about this at length in his book Getting Real:

Details reveal themselves as you use what you’re building. You’ll see what needs more attention. You’ll feel what’s missing. You’ll know which potholes to pave over because you’ll keep hitting them. That’s when you need to pay attention, not sooner.

He may have been talking about the product, but this is equally true for the business plan. Don’t become beholden to perfection.

On the other hand, taking this too far and assuming you don’t need a business plan at all is equally foolish. You need a plan, but remember your business plan is a living document. It will adapt and change as your test the waters.

Myth #7: All customers have the same wants and needs

Many entrepreneurs and business owners assume that customers are one homogenous group with similar needs and wants.

This is a common mistake.

There’s no replacement for real market data and research. It’s fine to start with assumptions about who your customers are, and what they need (or think they need), but be sure to verify them.

Many entrepreneurs also incorrectly assume that just because they’ve built something, people will buy it.

True success comes from having a deep understanding of the existing problem and the people experiencing that problem.

Engage with your target audience and understand the best way to talk and market to them.

This doesn’t mean you’re to outright asking people what they want. As Henry Ford was rumored to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

We talked in great detail about how valuable building a user persona can be for any small business.

User (or marketing/buyer) personas are generalized, made-up identities that provide a detailed description of your target customer.

Whether you’re marketing, selling, creating, or providing customer service, these fictional characters help businesses relate to customers as actual people, rather than anonymous numbers.

We recommend starting with at least 3 to 5 interviews for each persona you’re creating in order to identify what your customer really needs.

For example, crowdspring offers design (logo-design, website design, print design, product design, packaging design) and naming services (naming your business or product). Over the past decade, we’ve helped tens of thousands of diverse clients, including entrepreneurs, small business owners, big Brands, agencies, non-profits, and even governments.

Those customer groups are very different from one another, and each group has a unique set of wants and needs.

You can certainly use the similarities between entrepreneurs and small business owners when directing your product or services toward those groups, but agency clients are very different. You’ll want to use a different marketing approach.

Making sure you’re addressing each of your customer groups appropriately is an important way to ensure success in your market.

Myth #8: The dream of overnight success

The dream of overnight success is just that – a dream.

Most successful startups took years to grow into the businesses you hear talked about in startup circles, revered in hushed tones as The Ones to Aspire To.

Companies and products like Twitter, Dropbox, WordPress, Airbnb, Starbucks, Instagram, Facebook, and TechCrunch are all great examples of massively successful companies who took the slow and steady approach to success.

The first Starbucks coffee shop opened in 1971 in Seattle. 16 years later, Starbucks was finally ready to expand outside of Seattle.

Matt Mullenweg, the co-creator of WordPress and founder of Automattic, denounces the myth of startup overnight success. He explains,

I was 19. No, I didn’t create it alone, if I did you would have never heard of it. Actually, it entered a rather crowded field, not even close to being first. No, not planning to sell it, there isn’t really anything to sell, it’s more of a movement. No, I didn’t make 60 million dollars in 18 months.

Automattic is now a billion dollar company. WordPress alone powers 24% of the web as a blogging platform, CMS, backend infrastructure and site-building block.

Building a successful company takes far longer than one night.

When you’re interested in starting a company, you need to grow it carefully to produce a product that people can’t live without. That takes time!

Many of the most successful startups understood that the startup path is about the journey, not the destination.

And they took the scenic route.

Wrapping up

When you’re ready to launch your startup, keep these myths in mind.

We’re not saying overnight success isn’t possible, or that you shouldn’t be passionate about your business.

That said, make sure you are equipped with the reality of starting your own business: it takes time, hard work, and a healthy dose of grit.

If you’ve got the right mindset and reasonable expectations, there’s no reason why you can’t get started on chasing your business dream today.

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