A counterintuitive lesson I learned early in my startup career

by Scott Taylor
29th October 2017
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“The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”
Oscar Wilde


There’s a temptation as a young entrepreneur to pretend like you know everything.

And that’s not your fault.

Remember being in class and feeling like you would absolutely die if you were called on when you didn’t know the answer? From an early age, we’re conditioned to be afraid of not knowing something we should.

It’s natural to become defensive when questioned about something regarding your startup.

Imagine you’ve just started your fundraising journey, it’s your first pitch and two minutes in a prominent investor questions your pricing method, you take it personally. You take it as an attack on your character, an assault on your knowledge, your credibility.

As a result, the only tangible way out in this scenario with ego intact is to pretend like you understand their angle, have considered all possibilities and give a rebuttal that you’re ultimately happy with your chosen strategy.

You’ve just shut down the investor’s question, brushing it to the side, ego intact. As you start your entrepreneurial career, you imagine that you don’t want word getting out that you fumbled something so basic as a pricing model.

I can tell you from experience, that this is not what happens in reality.

By pulling up your defences, you’ve alienated the investor (who has more experience), demonstrated that your low emotional intelligence, and worse yet, that you have an ego.

The power of ‘I don’t know’

I’ve used the story of a young entrepreneur raising funding to illustrate my advice; however, the same could be said for any aspect of running a company, and life, more generally.

Don’t be afraid to admit what you do know and what you don’t know.

People won’t think any less of you. If anything they will think more of you.

Reflecting on all of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve spoken with over the years, the one thing that stands out is that they are self-assured, they are confident in what they know. And that means they are confident in what they don’t know. They surround themselves with people who compliment their character and skill-set.

Live authentically, admit what you know and what you don’t. You will be healthier, your relationships will be healthier and your startup will stand better chances of success if you do.

My challenge to you, in a meeting next week use ‘I don’t know’ once. See how you feel. See how people react. You’ll see it’s not a reaction of judgement.