David Morris Revised 2020 – original 2008
In Silicon Valley, stories abound about the vision, passion, and drive of founders and their professed love for their “baby.” Successful startups often have detailed histories highlighting how the founders nurtured their “baby” to cause a catalytic market shift or deliver a new innovative product. However, the stories are from successful startups, not failed ones. So what separates the good entrepreneurs from the great ones and successful startups from failed ones? What parts of the story are missing?
I have often mused over the above questions. Assuming that rudimentary challenges such as marketing timing, technology acceptance, and competitors are relatively equal, we must look to other problems that contribute to success or failure. With my experiences founding, working in, and advising startups, I find that there is rarely a vision, passion, and drive with the founding entrepreneurs. As a matter of course, the founders love their baby unconditionally. Without unconditional love, a founder would be hard-pressed to make it through the rejection and pessimism that all new startups face. However, taken too far, defending against cynicism and professing “blind unconditional love” can manifest as a cognitive bias, which I call “The Baby Bias.” “The Baby Bias,” I believe, is a missing part of the startup story. It is one of the differences between a good and a great entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs that fall prey to “The Baby Bias” have lost critical key capabilities: perspective and adaptability. Unfortunately, infection with “The Baby Bias” can occur at any stage during the startup cycle. Once infected, entrepreneurs can no longer determine which advice and feedback to take and which to reject, so they reject it all. For whatever reason, they fall in love with their vision and attempt to maintain it. Feedback from potential customers that departs from the founding idea is treated as heresy (I have seen many sales and marketing employees lose their jobs when they bring back critical customer feedback from the field.). Like Capitan Ahab, they chase their white whale. After losing all ability to accept feedback and make adjustments to refine and improve their vision or adapt to changing business situations, they become polarized, intractable, insular, and emotive. Entrepreneurs who are infected early rarely obtain capital from experienced venture capitalists. If they are affected later in the startup cycle and cannot regain their perspective and adaptability, the only solution to the “Baby Bias” is to bring outside management or shut the doors (which is not a good option for VCs).
Great entrepreneurs have a unique intuitive gift. They are able to synthesize and combine feedback from customers, venture capitalists, business environment, etc. They also balance the needs and constraints while maintaining their visionary integrity. They are neither intractable nor mercurial; they have an internal true north compass that guides them through the worst storms. They typically have developed an experienced, trusted network from which to obtain advice early and often. With the ability to communicate their vision, negotiate through challenges, and change decisions when new information arises, they seemingly autocorrect toward success. With their passion and vision, these entrepreneurs continually contribute to organizational growth.
The “Baby Bias” is one of the many unmentioned challenges which entrepreneurs face. Experienced venture capitalists can diagnose the “Baby Bias” by asking a few simple customer development questions, as easily and quickly as your family doctor can diagnose the common cold. However, there is hope for entrepreneurs. “The Baby Bias” is one of the few challenges that entrepreneurs can solve, unlike marketing timing, technology acceptance, and competitors. In the heavy seas of the startup ocean, entrepreneurs must cultivate experienced advisors that they can trust to obtain quality advice and navigate the rough startup seas to overcome “The Baby Bias.”
Morris Bytes – Copyright 2007 – 2020