Fake it until you make it - without becoming a fake yourself
Living in the SF Bay Area and being involved in startup culture since the 90s has, at times, been a master's course in spotting fakes. The "CEO" without employees, The 140 Character Startup Yoda, The Big Idea Man without money or tech skills… You'll run into all these and more if you go to enough mixers, meetups, and interviews.
As a naturally jaded person it's hard not to turn into even more of a cynic in this culture. Over the years I've developed an aversion to people displaying these fake tendencies in business, and in life.
I conduct my affairs with brutal honesty, sometimes to a fault. I constantly downplay my success and publicly detail my failures as learning experiences. I value honesty and straightforwardness, and I despise dream sellers and storytellers that waste people's time with funding fairytales and acquisition lottery paydays.
However, during this time I've also learned that as a business leader there are things you should fake, and you can 'fake it' without becoming a fake person.
Allow me to explain…
Running a business - any business - is hard work. It's well documented that working in tech can be grueling, which is especially true if you're a founder trying make a successful product.
The startup environment can lead people to lie about their skill sets, disguise their intentions, and swindle people that work for them out of what they're owed. These are the 'fakes' that I'm talking about, and I'm not advocating that you behave this way.
As a founder you're going to have high highs and low lows. Dealing with them appropriately is important to your eventual win. How you carry yourself publicly matters.
So when I say you should 'fake it', what kind of deception am I actually talking about? I'm talking about faking your emotional state, and unless you naturally have ice water running through your veins it's a key attribute you'll need to acquire over time.
1. You are not a failure, your idea was
This is going to be painful, so let's get it out of the way… As a founder you're going to fail - a lot. After enough failures it's human nature to eventually start feeling like a failure as a person. Fight that urge.
Don't allow a setback to affect you personally. If you're bummed out don't hop on your favorite social network and whine about it. Publicly showing weakness and embracing defeat can have huge negative consequences.
In 'Stop acting like a loser', Eric Karjaluoto writes…
Many allow their circumstances to outweigh their skills and talents. This tendency is easy to give in to: A project goes wrong and you take the setback personally; sales are slow and you start to think your company is broken; you’re rejected for a date and wonder if there’s something intrinsically wrong with you…
Negative thoughts are bewilderingly powerful, and wallowing in them can lead you to act like a loser. This is dangerous—because people will start to believe you. Humans make fast decisions, and few are capable of evaluating whether someone is incompetent, or has simply experienced a run of bad luck. By acting like a loser, you introduce toxic doubt that can be impossible for others to look past.
To summarize: if you aim to be a leader then act like one. As a leader you'll need to attract people to help your cause eventually. Nobody wants to follow a crybaby.
2. Never respond to customers emotionally
If you're fortunate enough to develop something that people care about you'll get feedback about your efforts - lots of it.
A small portion of people will love everything that you do and agree with you 100%. Most people will mix compliments with a couple critical things to say, and a vocal minority will be downright nasty and insensitive.
It's easy to get attached to your baby and take these comments to heart, but don't take it personal. Take feedback with a grain of salt. Don’t let the highs get too high. Don’t let the lows get too low. Never respond to customers emotionally.
I struggle with this problem personally, and it's taken years to get to the point where I can simply delete a trolling message or find the value in negative comments. It takes practice, but you'll get there.
3. Everyone doesn't need to know the details
Just got a voicemail from a hot VC firm? Are you in talks to sign an agreement that will boost your business? Maybe that same deal just fell through? Keep it to yourself, or at least don't share with people that don't need to know.
In '14 ways to be a great startup CEO' - Jason Baptiste writes…
A good startup CEO will absorb the stress, so the rest of the team can carry on. He also needs to be able to mask this pain and stress. Not that he should hide or lie to the team- I'm not encouraging that. Most of the day to day nuances+stresses of a startup aren't worth having the entire team worry about and the CEO needs to bear that pain.
Transparency is good, but total transparency can be damaging. Being able to fake your emotional state, despite what's happening will help your business run more smoothly. If you really can't keep the enthusiasm to yourself about a potential win, have one or two close confidants that you can rely on and share the news with them only.