Lies Entrepreneurs Tell

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The Decline And Fall Of The Appian Empires

Editor’s note: Contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder and CEO of WatchMojo.  Follow him @ashkan.

Entrepreneurs are always in “sell mode”, but that doesn’t mean they need to be BS-artists.  Most entrepreneurs aren’t born liars, but we’re brought up in a system that rewards bad behavior and taking the easy way out by lying instead of being truthful, something that eventually catches up with you.

If you’re an entrepreneur, here are 5 common lies you’ve probably told.

Lie No. 1: “I have no regrets” or “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it any differently”.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should not regret anything.  Highly unlikely if you ask me; the key is how you manage the things you regret and what you do about them: do you let them affect you and cloud your judgment in the future?  Do you dwell on the mistakes you have made or have you learned from your errors and ensure to avoid them in the future?

Human beings are more Velcro than Teflon, but we are raised to think that having regrets or regretting something makes us feel inferior.

I regret the color of socks I decided to wear today.  I also regret not starting a company sooner.  I regret that last shot of tequila at our office party last Friday.  I could go on.  The point is, it’s what you do about the mistakes and missed opportunities that you regret that matter, not pretending that you ever did anything wrong.  Don’t live a lie, be honest about your past to live a better future.

Lie No. 2: “It’s not personal, it’s business”

You’ve certainly heard the line “it’s business, not personal” from The Godfather.

I had a boss who used to live by this motto.  After I helped make him millions, I left to start WatchMojo; he sued me in a frivolous lawsuit (which I won despite representing myself).  He had no case and lost any shred of integrity he had left.  It was personal.

In other words, just because you hear a cool line in a movie doesn’t make it true, and certainly doesn’t mean you should live by it.  It’s Hollywood, it’s make-believe.  In real life, everything is personal, especially in business—and in particular at startups, where emotions run high and personalities spill over into the workplace.

Of course, without a doubt, anyone who can manage their feelings and not let personal emotions affect business decisions has an upper hand in business dealings, but that doesn’t make business any less personal.  In sports, it’s great to remain cool—think Joe Montana.  But those who take losing personally and play to win tend to win more often than they lose.

Success boils down to vision, ambition, determination, execution, luck and timing.  Luck and timing are the most important externalities and determination is arguably the biggest variable you can control.  As such, success or failure boils down to emotions and how determined you are to win, take your victories and setbacks personally, but act professionally about it.

In my experience, anyone who says this lie is probably most likely to take things personally, even if they don’t realize it.  I tell my colleagues that I expect them to take their work personally (so that they are passionate) but that they should remain professional about how they show their reactions.

Lie No. 3: “We’re not raising money”

It’s practically the American dream to spend other people’s money.  Yet publicly, entrepreneurs oftentimes play charades and pretend that they’re not raising money.  Why?  Building companies takes time and money.  Telling an investor who is taking the time to meet you that you’re not interested in raising money isn’t playing hard to get, it’s wasting their time.

Lie No. 4: “We’re not looking to sell”

When the Google guys were willing to sell their search engine early on to Yahoo! for a couple of million dollars, then you know that all entrepreneurs would sell if the price was right.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when entrepreneurs try to convince anyone who will listen that they’re going to IPO.  A fraction of startups go on to survive, let alone succeed.  A fraction of those will have liquidity events, and—you guessed it—a small portion of those will come from IPOs.  This year we saw the return of tech IPOs, and most of them fizzled after the offering.  Call me a cynic, but as an investor, I like to know that an entrepreneur is thinking of who might buy his company.

Lie No. 5: “I’m your biggest fan”

People who say “I’m your biggest fan” probably have already stabbed you in the back or will throw you under when you’re not around.  Whenever someone has said this to me in the past, it’s been akin to the kiss of death.  Be honest with people: if you are actually their biggest fan, don’t just say it—act on it.  And if you don’t like someone, then don’t be a hypocrite.

I’ve found that people who use this line like to use it a lot. They are everyone’s biggest fan. When it’s said and done, the truth always comes out.  And when it comes to clichés, eventually people see through them and you look hollow.  All you have is your integrity and your word; don’t waste your credibility by trying to curry favor.

Image by Arena Creative/Shutterstock.