Building a successful company is one of the most challenging things an entrepreneur can do. There are the obvious challenges of building the product, analyzing the market, targeting your audience, raising funding, facilitating partnerships, and achieving profitability, but enough has been written on those topics. I want to address one small psychological element that is somewhat inherent to the process of entrepreneurship.
This personality trait is something I have seen thousands of times over the past decade. Some people display more intense signs while others are a bit more subtle about it, but push hard enough, and you’ll discover that most entrepreneurs possess elements of this personality trait. I am referring to defensiveness.
Here is why being defensive is detrimental to the very mission every entrepreneur is hoping to accomplish.
Product feedback is your friend.
I cannot tell you how many times I jumped on a call with an entrepreneur who contacted me for advice and as soon as I began to provide some, I was shut down because they were convinced their product was perfect.
Here is the thing with building a startup. There is approximately zero chance of succeeding if you don’t truly believe your idea and product are the best thing since sliced bread. You need to be all in and without that passion, you can forget success.
This presents a problem. If your product is so amazing, then how could you possibly accept criticism and be willing to accept that it needs work? This is the balance you need to strike and it is not easy to do.
The reality is though, the more feedback you acquire, the more open-minded you are to implementing that feedback, the higher your chances of success. Of course, not all feedback is valuable but every entrepreneur should be open minded enough to listen to all feedback, internalize it, then decide whether to accept or reject it.
Investors aren’t “Yes” men.
Investors have one goal, and one goal only. To generate the maximum returns on their investment. If an investor writes a check without challenging you on, well, everything, then perhaps you need to reconsider taking that person’s money.
When an investor asks annoying questions like “What is preventing Google from putting you out of business tomorrow?”, “How are you different than the other 50 companies in the space?”, or “What makes you think you are capable of pulling this off?”, it is your job to take a deep breath, fight that instinct to be defensive and argumentative, put aside emotion, and answer those questions with facts and data.
Beyond your actual answers, the way you respond emotionally to an investor poking at you is something you are being tested on as well. It takes maturity to let your personal feelings aside and answer in a calculated manner when your baby is being poked like that. You know what else takes maturity? Building a company that will generate a return on that investor’s money.
Competition equals validation.
Your first instinct as an entrepreneur, well as a human being, is to believe you are one of a kind. After all, your mom has been telling you that since before you could pronounce the word competition. This is a natural instinct. It is also your worst enemy.
When someone asks you who your competitors are, fight that temptation to say “I am alone in this landscape. No one is like me. My mom told me that.” Come prepared with 50 names of players in your space.
The fact that you have competition is not a bad thing, it is a healthy thing, a necessary thing. Without competition, your vision lacks validation and your market is not educated. When someone asks you who you’re competing with, don’t be defensive, be professional.
Pivoting is natural.
This point is pivotal. See what I did there? If you are defensive and unwilling to accept that others can help you improve, you are denying yourself the flexibility to change directions if and when it is necessary.
Most successful companies have pivoted in one way or another and that is ok. You might be brilliant, your idea might be magnificent, but there are approximately a million other things that need to align for your idea to become a sustainable business. Most of those things depend on you being open minded and willing to listen, implement, and pivot the company based on circumstances that arise.
The problem with telling someone to not be defensive is that, well, they are defensive so they won’t even hear your criticism. As an entrepreneur, self awareness is imperative to your success and defensiveness is your kryptonite.