Startup Myth Busters: 5 Misguided Myths About Success


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Myths hold great power in our culture and our imaginations. The stories we grow up with shape our worldview, and later in life inform the stories we tell ourselves to explain our failures and successes. Good myths have great power to inspire and motivate us, but misguided myths can hurt. As Renee Warren of Onboardly writes in Business Insider,

“A bad myth... can cloud our judgment, inspire poor decisions, or trap us in bad habits and misguided beliefs."

In my work with SparkLabKC and our early-stage startups, I have seen many of these misguided myths in action. I've collected some of the most harmful myths in an effort to stop them from spreading and damaging other new companies.

MYTH: To Succeed, You Have to be a Tech-Wizard
Wrong! The IDEA drives the startup, not the technology. Whether you're a computer engineer from MIT or a stay-at-home dad in Kansas City, it's the idea that counts! Just look at Dennis Crowley, the founder of Foursquare. Before he invented Dodgeball (his first startup, which later sold to Google for millions), he had no technical skills at all. He has admitted,

“I’m still a really shitty programmer, but [eventually] I knew enough to hack a prototype together.”

MYTH: There Is Always Venture Capital Money Available
The reality? There’s not. Factors such as potential for growth, experience, customer segmentation, etc., play a large role in obtaining money from investors. As Thomas Majewski points out on, “Unless your business has a rock solid business plan and expected growth ahead, this is not an option." Without a compelling business plan and the possibility of exponential growth, attracting venture capital is incredibly difficult.
But there’s good news ahead:
MYTH: You Need Angel/Venture Capital Investors To Succeed
Startups have been successful without raising money from angel investors or venture capitalists. In the last decade, dozens of startups have seen monumental success using bootstrapping techniques and crowdsourcing campaigns. Goldstar and Carbonmade launched on less than $1,000. Platforms like Kickstarter have made it possible to gather funding from across the world as well. Ryan Grepper, the inventor of The Coolest Cooler, set his Kickstarter goal at $50,000, and his campaign has received more than $9 million from enthusiastic future customers!
MYTH: Your Product Will Sell Itself
I see young companies make this mistake often. You have a great idea—great! That’s only half the challenge. Even if you are passionate and well-connected, your product won’t sell unless you promote it. Marketing through Twitter and Facebook alone is not enough. Erick Sherman argues:

“To get people's attention, you'll need to market yourself. Not just on social media, though it's a great platform, but through PR, online ads, billboards, and whatever else works.” 

In other words, create a comprehensive marketing strategy.
MYTH: If You Don’t Grow, You Will Die
The goal isn't always exponential growth. Finding a size that is both profitable and sustainable is ideal. It's no secret that investors love growth. However, they also enjoy a steady flow of profit. Mark Henricks, a marketing specialist for, warns:

“Chasing growth can lead small firms to discount their prices too deeply [or] take on large contracts that make them too reliant on one customer.”

MYTH: Failure Means That You Are Not Cut Out For This
In a 2012 interview with Shikar Ghosh, a senior lecturer with Harvard Business School, The Wall Street Journal reported that "3 out of 4 startups fail." Many of todays greatest entrepreneurs faced failure when they first got started. Nick Woodman, the founder and CEO of GoPro, failed twice before finally finding success (GoPro is now valued at more than $1.3 billion). Martin Zwilling explains: 

“The best way to stop mourning a failed business is to start another one, using all the lessons learned from the previous experience. You may even conclude that losing that particular startup was the best thing.”

The failure myth is the worst of all. I hate to see an entrepreneur give up because their first idea doesn't make millions, or requires a major pivot that they didn't see coming. In the fast-paced innovation economy, brushing yourself off, getting up, and starting again is part of the game. It's how us entrepreneurs build character. What makes SparkLabKC and the startup world so exciting is the capacity for quick thinking and smart pivots. We bring the best of KC's innovators together to work, play, and disprove the myths that hold us back.