The ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself” is very relevant to entrepreneurs. Most founders don’t give much thought to how their own personality type influences how well they run their startup. Remember, your reality distortion field distorts yourself too.
The good news is that for the first time since I’ve been building companies, entrepreneurs share a common framework for guiding their startups: the Lean startup. Sure, some people don’t use the right vocabulary and misunderstand Lean. But I find that Lean thinking has permeated the entrepreneurial community, so much so that some founders are following the principles without knowing the term “lean startup” at all.
The bad news is that there’s still a huge gap between the understanding of lean startups and the practice. It’s frustrating to see and I think one reason is founders don’t take into account how their own personalities influence the process. I haven’t seen anyone ask: “How is my own personality getting in the way of being lean?”
To help answer that question, I’ve created a list of the top 5 personality archetypes I come across, as well as some things to watch out for if you recognize yourself in one (or more than one) of them:
- “Smartypants” – You’re very knowledgeable and you want people to know it. You love complexity. You believe that superior intellect and knowledge will close the sale, investment etc.
- Watch out: you’ll ignore the simple solution (which is often the best one) in favour of something more impressive. You’ll discount what customers say because they aren’t smart enough. You’ll be attracted to innovation vs execution.
- “Intelligent Architect” – Most engineers have this personality type. You like to build machines and you like it when they work as planned. You like the design phase of projects because there are no customers in the design phase…
- Watch out: you’re going to be very uncomfortable when your startup is trying to find a business model vs building a product. You can’t architect a solution when you don’t know what the problem is yet. Pivots will drive you crazy because there’s nothing wrong with the code.
- “The Advocate” – Most sales people (and almost all entrepreneurs) are strong when it comes to selling their vision or advocating what they believe in. In a meeting, especially a brainstorm, you talk rather than listen.
- Watch out: when you’re trying to find product-market fit, you’d better hone your shutting up skills. You can’t hear your customers’ voices when you’re still talking. You already know your own position, it’s time to listen to others.
- “The Dreamer” – I saw a pitch deck recently for a hyper-local startup. Great deck, nice screenshots, but within 5 minutes the entrepreneur admitted he probably would never use the product, nor did he think anyone else would. It’s easy to envision success IF everyone used your product. It’s harder to make it so.
- Watch out: you get excited about building an empire but you have a blind spot when it comes to actual customers and their problems. You’ll overestimate how well your product solves their problems.
- “Mom and Pop” – One great thing about Lean startups is that founders are getting in close proximity to customers to validate their businesses. Most people start with people they know in their community. If you’re a natural hustler, you’ve probably walked down Main Street knocking on doors and signing up beta customers.
- Watch out: You’ll hold as proof of your business the fact you signed up 10 restaurants in your neighbourhood. Instead of using (and possibly abusing) them to test your hypotheses, you’ll want to make them happy and get pulled in many directions. Be careful you don’t lose sight of the goal. You’re trying to build a scalable business, not a local consulting company.
Spend a bit of time thinking about who you are. Better yet, ask the people around you and make sure there are no sharp objects close by. There’s no value judgment here. There are no “good” or “bad” personality types. But the sooner you recognize your own personality type(s) the sooner you can get out of your own way.