Two Lessons About Legitimacy in Entrepreneurship

During the Civil War the names of many Southern locations were changed in spelling.  Places like Stanton, Virginia where changed to Staunton but still pronounced the same way.  This allowed locals to always know who was not from the South.  It was almost as if everyone in the South just spoke a secret code to discern who is “legit”.

This practice is still used today in a slightly permuted fashion.  Almost every industry within startups and finance (the realms I know best) but I would every other industry as well, has a list of buzzwords and key questions that everyone needs to know.  The first time you pitch a venture capitalist you will be slammed with these, you will probably not know the answer, and they will know you are green.

The moral of this story is always have an answer for questions asked.  You will slowly find a pattern of what people in your industry care about and if you want to survive you will develop quick go-to answers for these discussions.  As my MBA professor would say, “Your pitch should get stronger every time you give it.”  Learn from your mistakes and pivot as needed; the more eloquent you are, the better you will do.

However, this practice lends itself to a pivotal short-coming when dealing with people in the startup community.  If you want to be perceived as “legit,” there are a few fast facts you need to commit to memory and all of a sudden you are a baller.  Far too often the entrepreneurial community, myself included, finds itself trying to welcome (legit) people with open arms.  While this may be altruistic or completely self-centered, as means of boosting one’s network, it is regardless a recurring issue.

Reemphasizing my earlier point, the more eloquent you are, the better you will do.  Startups fall into a tricky position where the megaliths of the industry were largely founded by people with no previous success in the industry and so finding the future megaliths cannot rest of reading someone’s resume.  Perceived value is based on a judgment of character, connection with individuals, references, and a few other skewed metrics of determination.

Ultimately, there is no way to know for sure if someone is “legit,” but the best advice I can pass on to others entering into the industry is two-fold.  Number one, do not let yourself be viewed as unworthy of attention, do your homework, know what you need to know, and make sure you can deliver a kick-ass response to any question you field.  Number two, do not look at someone who gives kick-ass responses to questions as someone you should trust.

Relationships ought to take much more time to develop in order to feel out any holes in a person’s story.  A first and maybe even a second glance might give good impressions but until you can swear on your life that everything the person says is true, you do not know them well enough.  This involves being as cynical as possible with everyone.

Assume what someone says is false and make them prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is true.  People can buy app downloads, site traffic, Instagram followers, etc and yet have no real substance behind the façade.  Companies can throw huge parties, pay for PR, etc. and have no product.  Unless you know for sure, you do not know at all.

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