19 mental models that hold you (and 119 other) startup founders back

You use mental models all. the. time. They're shortcuts, lenses that you see the world through. And as a result, affect everything in your life.

Good mental models, help. But a lot of our goals, dreams and success are held back by bad mental models. Truths that we act in accordance with, but actually aren't true at all.

Many of them are ones that we all use. Many of them I still use (must. try. harder).

If you're unaware of them, then they could be happily working away, sabotaging your best laid plans.

Working with 119 founders over the last 12 months, it's been interesting to see these mental models in action from the other side of the table.

So here's an attempt to shine a light on mental models that startup founders (and non founders) use that don't help.

1. Waiting for the perfect opportunity

Opportunity rarely looks like a present with a beautiful bow. It's often gritty, unclear and always associated with an equal or greater downside than the status quo.

2. Buying your own BS

Eternal optimism is a key prerequisite for entrepreneurship. But optimism doesn't mean delusion. A 'why can't this work' lens is as important as a 'why can this work'. Invalidate, don't just validate.

3. Not making assumptions

No one has 100% information. You need to move with 60% of the knowledge. "Imperfect action trumps perfect inaction." - Harry Truman

4. Making too many assumptions

Understand things change. Induction tempts us to think that what was true yesterday is true today. Over confidence in your own reality is a bitch. Just ask Blockbuster.

5. Thinking you have the answer

TL;DR you don't. Get out of your head, out of the building, out of wherever and find the answers.

6. Relying on behavioural/governmental change

Big macro moves can occur when these things happen. But using an inference about behavioural or policy change as the underpinning of your idea is very risky.

7. Short term thinking

Whether it's undervaluing existing customers over acquiring new ones. Focusing too much on funding vs. profit. Or not wanting to sacrifice short term pain for long term value. Kodak is my favourite example of this. They actually invented the digital camera. But didn't want to cannibalise their photo sales...

8. Overvaluing small things

"What if I reach out to this person and then I change my idea?".
"What if I say we're going to do this and I'm not sure if we can?".
"I don't want to burn bridges with my network asking them lots of things".
"Our product/deck/pitch isn't ready to show people".
People have short memories as long as you're not slapping their mother. Feedback > everything else.

9. Undervaluing massive things

Time. Speed. Getting the answers you need. Revenue. Shipping product. Hiring the right people. Brand. Customer feedback.

10. Falling in love with an idea

Ideas are ten a penny. There's nothing new under the sun. Whether you're scratching your own itch, or using customer development processes to find a problem, the idea is the starting point. Everything else is where the action happens. Most people win on execution, timing and luck.

11. Undervaluing communication

People don't buy what they don't understand. Become a better communicator, become a better startup. Learn copywriting and storytelling. Know your audience well (customers, investors, press) and adjust accordingly.

12. Thinking that getting customer feedback is a stage to be completed

Getting real world insight from your customer isn't an exercise to be completed. It's a habit to be created.

13. Being a solution searching for a problem

Don't be a square peg finding a round hole. Find a square hold, make the peg to fit.

14. Investment becoming the goal

You haven't made it because you get the round. Money is a tool, not an outcome.

15. Thinking you're smarter than you are

When you think you have nothing to learn from people, or nothing left to learn on a topic, you're in a bad spot. Everyone has something to share, even if it's the same knowledge but seen through their life experience.

16. Overestimating competition

Competition is no bad thing, depending how advanced they are. No competition can be a warning sign that you're not onto something, rather than a reason to be overjoyed.

17. Not thinking big enough

10X harder doesn't mean 10X the effort.

18. Not thinking practically enough

Understanding the constraints and doing the dance to make it work. Not knowing is ok. Not knowing what you don't know is an issue. Even massively ambitious projects can be scaled back to a simple set of starting points. Start there.

19. Not starting

You can't win if you're not in the race. You also can't lose though and it's that fear of loss that's a much more powerful motivator. Quietening the doubting voices is so important. And really hard.

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