The case for a more humble entrepreneur
Humility isn’t to think less of yourself but rather to think of yourself less
“We are killing it”, he said. I had asked what the company does as opposed to how well. “We are totally killing it.” He said again — eyes beaming with confidence. “My company is like Airbnb but better.” He proceeded to explain. They had grown 300% from the previous year. They needed no money. Sequoia were interested.
A year later they were out of business.
Spend a day reading online advice and one thing becomes clear: entrepreneurs are encouraged to be cocky: Fake it till you make it. Name drop. Confidence is the hallmark of great entrepreneurs. Steve Jobs was arrogant. The list goes on.
And it should not come as a surprise. While throughout history humility was considered a quality to cherish, we in America have taken a separate course in recent years declaring confidence and high self esteem as traits to desire— starting with Ralph Emerson’s “On Self-Reliance.” The Startup literature is a mere reflection of our values as a society.
But what if, for a moment, we question hubris. What if we give examples of entrepreneurs who were humble — who sold a vision without bragging about fake accomplishments, and who referred to their employees as the ones who actually built the company.
This is not some new-age call to disregard your self-worth. Being humble doesn’t mean to think less of yourself but rather to think of yourself less. And to think of others more.
I remember listening to Ben Silbermann, the founder of Pinterest, pitch the company in 2011 when it had five employees and millions of user. He never bragged about the rapid growth they were going through. He genuinely was concerned about the impact of scale on the community (and on the servers). He spoke of our company not my company. His humility served him well.
Being humble will make you a better listener. It will make you question vanity metrics and celebrate meaningful ones. It will lend your story credibility. And, if you’re one of the 99.99% of entrepreneurs who are not Mark Zuckerberg and who will likely face extreme hardship on the road to success, being humble will ensure your team and your investors follow you when times are tough as they did when times were good
Humility isn’t a trait you are born with. It’s something you practice. So in the middle of reading all the blog posts about self-discovery and self-improvement and self-help, try to replace your self-awareness with self-control. Your startup may be better for it. And you certainly will be.