The Myths and Realities of Being a Founder

This post is written by Renaud Visage, CTO and co-founder of Eventbrite. Renaud will join a panel during the upcoming Startup Europe Summit in Berlin on June 9 & 10.

My name is Renaud Visage. In 2006, I co-founded Eventbrite, and it is today the leading global event technology platform. We have processed over $5 billion in gross ticket sales since our inception ten years ago, and we now power more than two million events around the world each year.

Building and scaling Eventbrite has been the experience of a lifetime, and I often share learnings in the media or at tech conferences with aspiring startup entrepreneurs. A lot of them struggle with questions like, “Do I have what it takes to turn my idea into a successful business?”, “What sacrifices will I have to make to build my startup?”, and so on.

My advice to them is to not give in to the misconception of the perfect founder. We all come in different sizes and shapes, with different backgrounds, strengths, and talents. A big part of the entrepreneurial journey is to learn about yourself — to identify who you are, what you excel at, and what is best left for others to figure out.

Allow me to debunk three common myths about what successful founders supposedly need to be like and what they have to do in order to be successful.

Myth #1: Entrepreneurs have to be industry experts.

Let me be honest for a minute. I didn’t know the first thing about running an event when we started Eventbrite. I doubt that the Airbnb founders knew a lot about the hotel industry, and the Uber founders had never driven a taxi before. What we all recognized, however, was the potential for disruption — an inkling that these industries could be fundamentally changed through technology.

Not being industry experts allowed my co-founders and me to think outside the box. We brought a fresh, new set of eyes to the event industry that had been slow to adopt new technologies, and which had left organizers of small and medium sized events without an adequate and affordable solution to help them sell tickets in advance.

At the time, only the largest events, arenas, and stadiums had access to ticketing technology, and that left the gigantic untapped market segment of the “long tail” of event organizers that we hoped we could capitalize on. Had we known too much about the industry, we might have been blinded by what some people refer to as “déformation professionnelle”: It might have never occurred to us to build an innovative ticketing solution that is also suitable for small events, because all we’d have ever dealt with and known would have been the truly big ones.

Disruption today often comes from the outside. So don’t be afraid if you know little about the current state of the industry you want to enter. Maybe a novel approach is exactly what it needs to evolve.

Myth #2: Entrepreneurs excel at everything they do.

From the exterior, it often appears that successful entrepreneurs are these multi-talented superheroes who handle everything and also do it well. The truth is that the best entrepreneurs know what they’re good at, but they are equally aware of their limitations and know how to convince the best talent to work on what they’re not good at.

In my case, I realized early on that managing large teams was not one of my core strengths and that I’d rather focus my attention on building the best product possible. So we made the decision early on to hire a VP of Engineering to handle hiring, team organization, and coordination with the rest of the company. This allowed me to channel my energy on the infrastructure of our core product and to help build the technology needed to simplify both the management of events for our organizers and the ticket purchase experience for their attendees.

A great book I read recently and that I recommend to all aspiring entrepreneurs is Mastery by Robert Greene. It argues that natural talent and high IQ cannot predict future achievements on their own, and that becoming a master at any subject requires years of apprenticeship. So, it is important to really focus on your core strengths. Hone these skills until you achieve mastery of your domain.

Don’t let a lack of certain skills stop you from embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Take it from me, you’ll never be fully ready. Embrace the unknown, and take a giant leap of faith. Trust yourself and your ability to keep learning as you go along and leave what you’re not good at to those who are.

Myth #3: Entrepreneurs need to put their companies first and their lives second.

I meet way too many entrepreneurs who are so absorbed by getting their company off the ground that they they forget to live. They never take time off. They lose touch with friends and family. They spend all of their savings building their dream company.

Let me share a very personal story with you that is fundamental to my outlook on life and how I approached my entrepreneurial journey. My late wife battled cancer all her life and passed away a few years ago. Despite the cancer threat, she was committed to enjoying life fully and was not ready to waste any time. When I brought up co-founding Eventbrite, she was very supportive. She knew I had an entrepreneurial itch that I needed to scratch. Her one condition was that we had to continue living our life to the fullest. And so we did. We continued to travel even while my co-founders and I were starting the company. We made time to see our friends and family, and we made sure that the business never got in the way of our personal happiness.

Taking these breaks gave me a healthy distance from the daily stress of scaling a business, and it gave me time to reflect on both my personal and professional aspirations. A healthy work-life balance is crucial to happiness and fulfillment, and this is also true for entrepreneurs. Remember that finding the equilibrium between your personal and professional aspirations is key to the long term success of your business, and that realizing your personal life goals will contribute to becoming a better entrepreneur.

So there you have it: three examples of counterproductive assumptions about what entrepreneurs should and should not do.

You can disrupt an entire industry without deep expertise.

You can be terribly bad at certain things and still succeed.

You can found a company and still enjoy life outside of it.

I challenge you to create your very own definition of what an entrepreneur should be like. We are all unique. We all have different aspirations and dreams. Fulfillment only comes from a deep understanding of who we are, what we want to be, and a willingness to take a leap and learn and grow along the way. So rather than asking yourself why you should be an entrepreneur, ask yourself, “Why not?”

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