Beware the Seductive Startup Language

Beware the Seductive Startup Language

The startup literature has been blooming for the last couple of years. Most notable are books by Steve Blank, Ben Horowitz, and of course, Eric Ries. Books are good, as they help enlighten us all. That’s why we have public libraries. But the startup literature can also be dangerously seductive.

I increasingly talk to aspiring entrepreneurs who speak the entrepreneurial language way more proficiently than I ever could. They can talk eloquently about their approach to MVPs and tell how Henry Ford famously said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (although there is no evidence Mr. Ford actually said those words). They will proclaim how excited they are about the prospect of yet another pivot, and how they would never (as in seriously never) ask anyone about what they want — for how could they know? They will convince me about the vanity metrics they would never use, and how they just need to iterate a few more times before they will get actual users.

Aspiring entrepreneurs who speak the startup language can be very seductive. They sound like they know exactly how to build the next great thing. But the truth is often that they don’t have the faintest idea about what they actually want to build and how to do it. They just know the right words.

Knowing the right words would hardly correlate with being able to build a good product and bring it to the market. As it can be hard to tell if there is any substance in all the proficient language, beware aspiring entrepreneurs who speak the seductive startup language. Especially if they want you to work for them or make an investment.

Ps. I am not hating on the startup books. They hold plenty of wisdom. As Clayton Christensen correctly notes, business books are theories about causal relations in the world. These theories are true in some conditions, but not in all. The Lean Startup and similar books are no exception. But startup seducers do not really care about this.

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