As someone who has his own business (you’re probably reading this on it right now), I’m very familiar with all the quotes about how to fake it till you make it.
- “You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.” ― Paulo Coelho
- “I do a weird thing when I am nervous where I tilt my head back like I am super confident. This is my attempt to fake it until I make it, or at the very least make it easier for someone to slit my throat.” ― Amy Poehler, Yes Please
The list goes on and on. Not to mention Thomas Edison, who’s said to be the first to employ this strategy broadly and successfully (see How Edison Invented the Light Bulb — And Lots of Myths About Himself).
I don’t discount the usefulness of thinking from the end and rewiring your brain to focus on success, both of which are wonderful intended effects of “fake it till you make it.” When I see this go awry, it’s in one glaring misappropriation of the tactic; faking your background or experience to win the trust, admiration, or confidence of others.
More and more I come across startup founders with little-to-no experience who seem to think they can’t be upfront about that fact. What typically ensues is a weird nod to something like, “I started my first business at age 8” or “I’ve been collaborating with startup and business leaders since I was 14.”
If these are true, great. But they’re probably not. At 8 you probably had a lemonade stand or maybe wrote some code for a video game or something, but it wasn’t a startup. Spending summers at relative’s company and talking to people who work there, maybe even becoming close to some, is not a business collaboration. These assertions are disingenuous, and undermine the effort and value of actually launching a startup or collaborating on a business effort.
An even more detrimental version of this, is utterly making up experience. Claiming to be a founder or cofounder of a company you previously worked for (even if you were early stage, founder is an entirely different thing), misrepresenting academic achievements or degrees, or listing jobs that you never had at all–these are all bad ideas and simply aren’t worth it in the long run.
The flip side of experience is often a willingness to try new things and not be bogged down by what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in prior endeavors. The ability to learn and iterate by-and-of the current undertaking, can provide a unique point of focus from which to get it right for the specific thing you’re working on now (ie without the baggage of prior successes or failures). So, if you haven’t founded a company before, be up front about that! There’s a whole slew of folks that will understand the value of that and take it as a datapoint when deciding whether or not to work with you.
In the age of LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc, it’s all too easy to confirm someone’s experience, so just be honest about it. There are ways to speak to any experience you’ve had or haven’t had that can shed some light on where you’re coming from and where you’re going–focus your efforts there. The SEC also provides a handy company search if you ever want to confirm that someone founded, directed, promoted, or invested in a company (including private companies such as startups).
As for the 8 year old video game coder and 14 year old summer job enthusiast, keep those as fun anecdotes, but don’t try to fool anyone into believing it was your first startup or business–it’s a huge red flag. Believe me, if someone buys that story, you don’t want to be in business with them anyway. Work with discerning people and be unabashedly open and upfront with them.
Go forth and tell your story–just make sure it is your story!