As an entrepreneur, there’s one thing people ask me again and again as nicely as they bl**dy can – “is your startup going to work, or is it all just a delusion?” Or (without the tact) could it be that you have just wasted years of time and piles of money upon some kind of narcissistic fantasy business non-venture you would have avoided had you bothered to think it through beforehand for even a microsecond? And now, having made such a high personal investment in it, are you so committed to this faulty course of action that you are inevitably going to drag your formerly shining life down with you as you tumble past mere poverty and late middle age into ignominy, paranoia and situational dementia?
Naturally, the reply I would like to make is: people, people, I thank you for your implicit concern for my well-being, even if it is expressed in a form which fails to engage both with what I’m actually doing (something hard but worthwhile, at a near-martyrly level of delayed gratification few can properly grasp) and with what I actually need (support on many levels). Please be reassured that, however falteringly and annoyingly you managed to express your concern, I do honestly appreciate it: and that it’s not you who is making me so angry.
Rather, that particular anti-accolade falls to the massed ranks of idiots who all claim to be “helping entrepreneurs” and “promoting entrepreneurship“: the advisors, the startup service providers, the mentors, the “friendly VCs”, the angels, the superangels, the “dragons”, the investment networks, the gatekeepers, the teachers, the lecturers, the economists, the journalists, the bloggers, the so-called “experts”… yes, the whole damnably useless lot of them.
You see, what has annoyed me most today is simply the awful realisation that pretty much all of the worst decisions I’ve made along the way as an entrepreneur have been based firmly on some plausible-sounding delusion passed my way by a well-meaning ‘expert’. That is, I think the thing that entrepreneurs are mainly guilty of is placing trust in the delusions of so-called experts. So it is not that we ourselves are deluded, but that we are immersed in a sea of delusionary data – advice on how to startup, how to pitch, how to present, how to plan, how to develop products, how to develop customers, how to grow, how to raise money, how to exit. Pathetic, toxic, literally useless nonsense, the lot of it.
Think back: what was the last bit of advice you received about funding or finance that was remotely correct or even partially helpful? And you’re now basing your future funding plans on… what, exactly?
I would go so far as to say that the vast majority of entrepreneurs I’ve met are clever, determined, tech-biased people, but who – when it comes to external finance – are all basically twirled around by the nose for months before being dumped in a field (welcome to our little patch of green, did you bring a tent?).
What makes me angriest of all is the “Evan Davis Gambit”, blaming failure on entrepreneurs’ delusion: the biggest delusions in that
set room are the primped-up egos of the Dragons, convinced that they can use truisms and business machismo to speed-date their way into industries and situations they know next to nothing about, and for a song. Viewers laugh (mainly in embarrassment, I think) at the goings-on “in the Den”, but the tragedy there is less in the stand-up side than the sit-down side of the room.
So, what is ultimately the more delusional? The optimistic business plans of entrepreneurs, or the toxic advice people like to cast gaily in their paths, even though it is almost always likely to result in that entrepreneur wasting even more of his/her time and money had he/she simply got on with doing what they were doing? Really, who’s deluding whom in this stupid fiasco?
Finally: what powerfully insightful (yet resolutely truth-telling) normative advice can I offer you today to counterbalance all this anger-making abusiveness and toxicity? Errrm… absolutely nothing. The subtext beneath this pathetic dynamic is that the more the UK has lost touch of exports and global markets (in every sense apart from financial services, pah!), the more it has reverted to a depressingly parochial island mindset: and this is increasingly true on many levels.
Really, to compete effectively against the massed cohorts of fast, lean, rapidly-pivoting global players in the Far East and elsewhere, startups increasingly need investors with global vision and the proverbial “balls of steel”: yet there are, correct me if I’m wrong (but I’m not) basically none of these in the UK. In practice, the investors you’ll actually meet have local vision (multiple counties if you’re lucky) and a jittery 12-month cashflow-horizon-of-doom to satisfy. If you’re lucky.
And you wonder why I get so damned angry? A pox on the lot of them!