5 Wrong Things Experts Told Me

September 12, 2010

This blog originally appeared in Innovation DAILY.

One of the dangers of being a good listener is that, well — you listen. Combine this with a tendency to believe that other people generally know what they are talking about, and you’ve got the setup for entrepreneurial enervation.

Herein, five of the most off-target ‘truths’ that business experts inflicted on my entrepreneurial soul:

1. If you are working too many hours, you’re doing something wrong.

MYTH! The 4-hour workweek? Who’s kidding whom? Maybe this is relevant if your goal is near-total retirement or some other ‘lifestyle option’. Or perhaps you have created a totally self-service online business, have outsourced the satisfaction of your personal needs, and your ambition is a life of leisure. But if you are a bootstrapping a company, or you want to change the world with your innovation, be prepared to sweat. And besides, if you know how to build a quality team and you have a worthy goal, why would you want to NOT work?

2. You should be able to define what you do in 10 words or less, and your great grandmother should understand it.

MYTH! OK, I overstated the criteria just for effect. It’s true that eventually you’ll need a very succinct and accessible value proposition, so you can get people to invest in it, and get the buzz going. But if you know where you want to go and you are only beginning to find your way, focusing on a ‘high concept’ pitch can be counterproductive. This happened in my own company!  We had been advised to sell TGI Role-Based Assessment as an ‘innovative Talent Management Solution’ and went nowhere.  Finally we reassessed the situation and realized that “RBA predicts whether a person is a top team-player…..before you hire them” and can “Make the workplace a better place to work.”

Going from point A to point B took us nine months and innumerable refinements. Start with a vision paper of about three or four thousand words. You can trim down later, but at least you’ll know the outer limits of your possibilities and can make better choices about how to achieve them. And forget the opinions of grandmothers, great and otherwise. There’s a saying that “People can only understand new things in terms of something they already understand.” My mother never got what I do. I shiver at the mere hint of what her mother would have thought.

3. Entrepreneurs are not made, they are born….with at least one Y chromosome.

MYTH! I am living, breathing proof. But I have been told this is impossible–and not years ago, when I started my first company. This was in 2010!  And you wonder why there are so few women entrepreneurs? Enough for THAT expert. But he is not alone. If we women are forever having to prove ourselves (an even more pronounced requirement when said woman is of the petite variety) then this is the one wrong thing I am actually concerned may become the truth. Man-up and listen: it’s what’s inside. Give me people with great teaming characteristics and I don’t care if they wear ties or mascara, or both.

4. You need to pay someone to sell for you because Founders can’t sell.

MYTH! This is the one you get from out-of-work sales people, and from morons. Sometimes you get the related myth that you can’t sell until you take the sales training being offered. Think about this. Who knows your product better than you? And who has more passion for it? (Hint: if you actually had an answer for that second question, you aren’t an entrepreneur.) You need these things: the ability to TALK…and LISTEN…and ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. Enough said. Read ‘SPIN Selling’ or anything else by Neil Rackham. You’re smart enough to figure out how to apply it to what you do.

5. Starting a business isn’t easy.

MYTH! Starting a business is very easy. Keeping it going is hard. What does it take to keep it going?

First, you need to recognize that the trip from single person start-up to functioning business team is a HUGE transition. You will have to stop doing a lot of things you’ve been doing just because they had to get done, and you will need to entrust them to other people. Then you will need to get out of their way. You will need to set standards for respect and communication on the team, and you will also have to live up to them! You will have to be a better, smarter person–probably better than you have ever been, and you will need to surround yourself with people who can do likewise. (Make sure those people are Coherent, with the right Role-fit to their job responsibilities, and have great teaming characteristics, of course.)

Finally, remember that further growth means those interrelationships will have to grow too. Some people who love the challenge of going zero to sixty in record time, but they have no interest in driving a bus….or even a race car.


Ask any entrepreneur what it costs to make a hiring mistake and you’ll likely be met with a groan and a ‘double eye roll’.  Everyone knows the costs:

  • The recruiting fees
  • The job postings
  • The time you spend interviewing
  • Your turnover rate causing increased UC contribution costs
  • The lawyer’s fees for the employment contract, figuring out how to break the contract, and sometimes additional fees–plus the tax on your time and patience–required to defend yourself against wrongful termination!

Think of these these costs as ‘direct damage’:  a real strain on any entrepreneur’s budget, but not an unexpected cost of doing business.  Bad hires happen.  But wait…..have you considered the ‘collateral damage’?

No hiring decision happens in a vacuum.  You need your team to be whole. You have a missing part.  You seek to fill it in a way that capitalizes on the assets of your existing team members – and makes up for their deficits.  That’s why prudent employers engage search specialists, scour resumes, do 360-degree interviews, personality tests, reference checks, and even credit checks (where allowed by law).  But somehow, bad hires still happen, and when they happen to you, you’re naturally disappointed.  Or worse.  Because if you’ve pegged your hopes and plans on the wrong person, it’s the collateral damage that costs so much more than the hiring failure.

We all pride ourselves on being good judges of people, and we are — but only if we have the whole story, not just a collection of data components.  If you have had the misfortune of more than one or two hires that turned out badly, you may even begin to doubt whether you (or your people) are even capable of hiring successfully. When all the signs–including ‘gut feel’ point to “YES”, and still a new hire turns out to be a dud, the first piece of collateral damage may be your self-confidence as an executive decision-maker.

And then there is the impact of the bad hire on the rest of the team.  Here’s the worst part.  The better your team is, the worse the collateral damage will be.  If you have brought the bad hire in over people who are great performers, you’ll see the decline happening right before your eyes.  And worse, it won’t take long before your they are plotting their next career move.  And they aren’t likely to tell you because really – who is going to challenge the boss on a hiring decision?

Finally there is the adverse impact on present – and future – stakeholders.  News travels fast, especially since the investor/entrepreneur ecosystem has the modern day equivalent of jungle drums and really knows how to play.  You know what I mean: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and all those f-t-f networking events.  Word gets around when someone (or some team) clearly doesn’t have the right stuff.

So in view of all this, wouldn’t it be great to know how someone will perform on your team – before you hire them?  You can, but only if you are measuring for the right things: not just for individual characteristics – but for behavioral ‘Teaming Characteristics’, which are derived from a person’s Coherence and Role. (To our knowledge, TGI’s Role-Based Assessment is the only way to measure these.)

To minimize some of the collateral damage you have experienced in the past, consider this: there nothing wrong with your decision making.  As an entrepreneur, you have a good sense of how to behave on a team because you know you can’t do it yourself.  You respect people who apply their skills, their experience, and their deep commitment to your vision.  Good decision making assumes good behavior.  Since you are a team player, you’ll tend to expect others to be good team players–and unfortunately, some are not. In fact, some are truly toxic to team play.  So keep on trusting yourself, and keep in mind that there is now a ‘new way to know’.

This piece originally appeared in Innovation DAILY March 29, 2010.

I was going to write something on Labor Day but entrepreneurial CEOs work 24/7 so there wasn’t time.  Not even much time to think about how many labor/management problems would disappear with better job-fit.  And management-fit.

Instead I dug out the tombstone from my late father-in-law’s 1960 IPO and brought it to my office, where it now stands as a reminder of the history of a company – and lives – destroyed by equal amounts of greed and entitlement on the parts of both an investment banker and a union leader.

Fast forward almost 50 years and I’m not sure much has changed.

When is Entrepreneurs Day?

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