Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Richard Branson . . . face it, don’t we all want to be just a little bit like them? How many times have you dreamed of reaching their level of success? How many times have you followed one of their articles, talks, presentations (slideshare) or Tweets to drive a decision you needed to make? How many times have you said to yourself, “what would Thiel/Cuban/Musk/Branson do”?
How many of your actions tip towards hero worship?
Hero worship is defined as “excessive admiration for someone”. I admire many entrepreneurs including Mark Cuban, Brad Feld, Jud Bowman and Scot Wingo (the latter two multiple exit North Carolina founders I have come to know quite well). My admiration is based not just on their success but more critically on the way they have achieved their success. As importantly, I respect the way they conduct themselves in public and private.
But my admiration never gets close to excessive for these startup actors. How do I know this? I have a few people that I get all fan boy on including the singer Ryan Adams (lots of late night listens to obscure cuts from long-ago shows), Jerry Seinfeld (can’t get enough of Comedians Riding In Cars Getting Coffee) and President Obama (I watch every Facebook shared video and meme about him).
I am inspired by their creativity (Ryan writes thousands of songs a year).
I am inspired by their authenticity (the way Jerry laughs hardest at their stories is so authentic).
I am inspired by their class (President Obama carries himself perfectly in almost every situation by using humor, intellect and a genuine desire to connect with people).
For these types of celebrities, my fan boy admiration remains in check as these dalliances feel more in the moment and do not get close to defining me. My “excessive admiration” does not impact my day-to-day business basis, unlike some of you who bring their excessive admiration into the operations of your business. Don’t roll your eyes at me; I watch you and I have observed you and your desire to rigidly follow someone else’s playbook as if that will guarantee your success. It won’t. Their path is not your path.
On the plus side, hero worship can be used to inspire; I get that. But it can also limit you, your decisions, and ultimately the trajectory of your business. Hear me out for a second. Every time you present your business to someone else (investor, customer, candidate for hire, partner, team member), they are undertaking a critical evaluation of you. For those of you who think they need to develop a “CEO look” and borrow that look from someone else, you will fail; maybe not today but eventually. That suit will wear out. You will be exposed. You will be lost and ask yourself, “who am I now”?
How do you know if you are wearing someone else’s suit? Ask yourself a few questions. Do I have a business personality much different than my home-with-parents personality? When you lie awake in bed, do you need to keep track of your actions and re-evaluate how you could have channeled your hero in that situation?
If you are to achieve the level of success of your hero(s), it will ultimately be because of you, your decisions and your ability to connect the real you to those that will join you on your startup journey. Find that person. That person is my hero.
Posted by Chris Heivly
Speaker, investor, mentor, startup founder. One of 3 or 4 Co-Founders of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B). Managing Director of $25M Venture Fund in late 90's. CEO, COO or President of various companies ranging from $200k to $20M in size. Currently, I am one of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory making 10-14 seed investments per year, founder and MC of the Big Top Job Fair and national writer and speaker waxing poetic around startups and startup communities.