Hey entrepreneur! You’re not special

2012 November 29
by Sam

Posts on why Africa’s startups & development scene is not moving at all have been making rounds on the internet and most of the reasons cited were valid but made by people who have “crossed the chasm” in some ways and are now sitting on the other side of success. (Un)fortunately the greater part of my acquaintances are the hipster incumbent entrepreneurs and they have a mindset that would be comic if it weren’t disturbing. If i were to add anything to the lists describing why our startups are failing it’d be  “The founders think they are special. They are worryingly confident that the universe will serve them success on a platter”

There’s now a whole industry around Entrepreneurship & Motivating publishing. The movie industry has also caught onto the buzz around entrepreneurship. Has anyone watched “The Darkest Hour“? The ill-limbed aliens joined the script but what glued the cast was the lead roles’ startup. Maybe it’s because entrepreneurship taps into everyone’s dream life: a huge office where you potato all day while the bank account magically inflates. Forget sex sells, entrepreneurship sells. The social dynamics around entrepreneurship have changed significantly and the bar has been raised sky-high because once anyone says they are an entrepreneur to anyone the names “Mark Zuckerberg” spring to their minds, and then your name (ugly picture). With publications such as Young Fabulous & Self-Employed young people are now being drawn into startups for the wrong reasons and that has unforgiving repercussions. The constant bombardment of success stories, motivational quotes, freedom (wonder where they get that because founders work pitifully harder around the clock even when they are not physically working) and money that comes with entrepreneurship there’s now a new generation of entrepreneurs that are – for lack of a better word – deluded. Even those who at heart are entrepreneurs can fall for this masshipnotism around startups. The problem with the overnight success illusion that comes with the hypnosis is that after a shot at it and failing it is not always easy to collect yourself, accumulate capital (Venture Capital’s still a dream) and hop onto another roller-coaster when the last one threw you off at the first bend. Read here a recent example.

Let’s delve a moment into this new age entrepreneur’s mind.

Background first

They love startup porn. They feel a connection to these successful people. They believe they are special, they see flaws everywhere and are convinced they can do it better than everyone else who’s tried. They are thankful when they are walking in the street, that they are not like the guy selling vegetables by the corner. They will be self-made successes.

Nothin’ to it  

Ego By EinsteinThis collective delusion means they are not afraid of competition no-matter how small. They look at their competitor’ efforts and chuckle: i’ll do a better job than them when i finally move. They don’t realize that “out there” off the seat of delusion things are very difficult (almost impossible) and you move one foot in front of the other. Even those “startups” they look up to. Go to Archive.org and see for yourself. Or here about Twitter’s early days. It has taken years to get where they all are today because when you’re building a pyramid, it really is one block on top of another and the bigger it gets the more difficult it is to put a block atop another.

They also believe the customers will love them and their products straight away and will send competitor’s products out of the window.(The beaten path)

Most of our developers believe they too are “special” and this has also affected the rate at which regional technology products are evolving because of this ego. I remember one going:

“Ha! The only thing standing between me and doing that also is a blog post. Just that i don’t have time to spare now but there’s nothing to it”.

It’s not to do with a lack of programming know-how that developers aren’t able to create killer features for the startups they found/work for. A very contemporary example is Stripe. Quoting it’s 22 year old co-founder in a recent interview:

We lived in a very small and rural area, but one advantage to learning something like programming is that there are enough websites online and people in chat rooms for people not in the “in” place to pick up the skill.

So rule that excuse out.

Everyone is special in their own way but the kind of special that the next generation of entrepreneurs has embraced is the wrong one. If we were that special then we wouldn’t have the need to go “higher”.



You’re not special and will probably fail (definitely fail) at this rate, you can’t do everything, you don’t know everything. Your competition with their ugly looking product and snail-speed “progress”: are actually moving at lightning speed. Join the race and see. you want to break the balance of the universe by crossing that chasm and expect the universe to fight back. Think of equilibrium reactions in chemistry, that is exactly how the universe fights back. When it does so successfully this is what you read on TechCrunch. You can have the perfect solution to a real nagging problem but fail to at finding a product/market fit.

I remember some colleagues chuckling at Buffer’s monthly revenue ($70k) and they couldn’t understand why such a meager figure made so much noise. (I’ll leave you to be judge on this one)


I hope not

I hope you didn’t read this and your special alternate self came and said “He’s probably telling the un-special ones to clear way for me the special one”. Next time you see an “unspecial person”, however you define them, and next time you see a “wacky product moving slow” or a “fail” know that that’s how life actually is

The smart folks at Mozilla know and are trying to beat Google Chrome’s speed. Nokia is aware that Android is gnawing away more developers from them. The engineering failures that cause airplane crashes are not because the engineers are dull when they make the airplanes in the first place (I can barely make a paper one). In the real world, beyond your delusion, you’ll see it takes a lot of hard work and collaboration to get anything done. It’s not the “mindset” or “conviction” that wins the battle and the war, it what leads you in battle and urges you on when you know you’re clearly lost because you’re in the war for the love of it. Need i mention proper combat training before you go in?


Ok you got me

Developers build things. That is why it has that name. With the media hitting us from all sides the subconscious bottom line message becomes “You can build things, so start a company”; which is a great thing if entrepreneurship is what you want where programming is 15% of the job. The rest is sales, begging, negotiating, (s)weeping and marketing.

Just because you build apps doesn’t mean you have to build a company. Read GitHub’s Ben article on that topic here.

But if entrepreneurship is your thing in the absence of all the media’s noise: Great! Wonder how to get startup ideas? start a million dollar business in a weekend? test ideas quickly? Then change your mindset first, move relentlessly and enjoy each phase of your years-long overnight success because when you look back at life, good things always happen.

PS: During the QAs no interviewers were injured. Just thanked actually

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