Where’s the line between inspiration and startup overhype?



A piece that my colleague Ali Mese wrote recently went viral instantly. My Facebook timeline became a mish-mash of people — entrepreneurs or not — sharing it and applauding his bravery in leaving his corporate job, and leaving comments on how it made them want to drop all they were doing and dive into the deep end of entrepreneurship. You know, the usual viral reaction.

But not everyone loved it. Some were critical of how, they claimed, Mese’s story failed to provide any ‘real entrepreneurship advice’, how it omitted any details on what his startup actually does, how it became a success, and so on. Basically, they made him out to be a dreamer – the blind leading the blind:

One particular entrepreneur even took to his own blog to critique what he calls “entrepreneur porn”:

“The reason most porn authors don’t write about the above topics, is because they can’t. Every single entrepreneur porn article I’ve seen lately has been written by someone who calls themselves an entrepreneur, but lacks the credentials to back that up. This is a symptom of the media’s glamorization of entrepreneurship – the proliferation of the “self-labeled entrepreneur”.

To be sure, his article has its merits. The naysayers are not being unfair when they point out that Mese’s account doesn’t elaborate on the substance of his entrepreneurial endeavors, which chips at the piece’s credibility. And entrepreneur porn can become a source of distraction for those who should be putting their heads down and coding, writing, hustling – so on and so forth.

That being said, I believe that there is a place for ‘inspirational literature’. While pieces that discuss the day-to-day challenges of building a startup and how to achieve practical, tangible goals are great, pieces that address the emotional costs of entrepreneurship can add value to readers as well.

Some might argue that such people who need coddling from cheerleaders shouldn’t become entrepreneurs at all – if you can’t take the truth, you shouldn’t even take the leap. Right?

But seeking inspiration is just as important as seeking training and know-how. We often dismiss inspirational literature as feel-good fairy dust. However, here’s what Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist at New York University, has to say about inspiration:

“Inspiration awakens us to new possibilities by allowing us to transcend our ordinary experiences and limitations. Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility, and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities.”

In other words, inspiration is the key to unlocking a person’s capabilities. It’s all well and good to tell people twenty ways to get his or her startup off the ground, but if they aren’t convinced of their own innate ability to pull it off, they won’t budge.

As we know, entrepreneurs need to be convinced of their capabilities and ideas. Mike Suster, investment partner at Upfront Ventures, puts it this way:

“So as a startup CEO you constantly have to suspend disbelief. Or as I often tell first-timers, you simply have to have a blind belief that you’ll find a way to make it all work out.”

So you have to be a bit crazy to be an entrepreneur. Or, more accurately, hypomanic – or borderline manic – which seems to be the prevailing trait amongst entrepreneurs in the US. According to clinical associate professor at Drexel University, Michele Masterfano, it is the very thing that determines whether students actually go on to start a business or not:

“I have to say that in working with so many entrepreneurs over the years, and also seeing the entrepreneurial zeal in many of my students, it is almost easy to pick out who will be successful and those who won’t; who will actually launch the business they are talking about, and who won’t. That ease comes from recognizing hypomania.”

Entrepreneurs can easily take this characteristic for granted. Jeffrey Paine, general partner at Golden Gate Ventures, aptly puts it in his Facebook status:

Motivational thinkpieces are new to those who have been in the scene for a long time. But for new birds – or ‘wannabes,’ as every entrepreneur was once a wannabe — one thoughtful blog post can make the difference between sitting in a cubicle for the next twenty years, or stepping out the door.

I’m not saying that knowledge is not important. Far from it – I believe that how-to guides are essential for entrepreneurs who are working on their project day in, day out, and need some practical guidance. But there is a place for inspiration too, because without it, we wouldn’t have any ‘crazy ones’ making the leap in the first place.

This article by Daniel Tay originally appeared on Tech in Asia, a Burn Media publishing partner



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.