Take a look at any gossip column or mainstream publication, and you will quickly discover that popular culture veritably thrives on compelling narratives. Moreover, compelling narratives thrive on complex characters: “The Odyssey” is still being read almost 3000 years on from its composition in large part because the character of Odysseus is so striking to our sensibilities as human beings.
A Tale as Old as Time?
As human beings, in fact, we tend to gravitate towards people with compelling personal stories or compelling personal qualities. And entrepreneurs often fit this bill to a tee: Entrepreneurs tend to take massive risks and enjoy massive rewards in the process. Much like heroes of old, however, entrepreneurs also sometimes have massive downfalls. For whatever reason, these kinds of events are fascinating to us on an innate level.
The Entrepreneurship Myth
And many entrepreneurs realize this facet of human nature. A big part of Elon Musk’s public persona appeals to our notions about the adventurous entrepreneur who risks it all to change the world. Musk’s pronouncements about colonizing Mars and building tunnels under Los Angeles tap into the same kind of adventurous outlook that Homer described in Odysseus.
The Realities of the Business World
But how much does the behavior of real entrepreneurs match the representation of entrepreneurs in popular culture?
Probably not very much. The boardrooms of Silicon Valley start-ups and venture capital firms are a lot more boring than television would have us believe. Most entrepreneurs are too busy getting work done to cultivate a compelling public persona.
Where Pop Culture Gets It Right
Sometimes the connection between pop culture and reality is certainly there. Steve Jobs was by all accounts a larger-than-life personality in Silicon Valley. However, that could be both a blessing and a curse for his business partners and employees: Jobs’s persona could be intimidating in the extreme and he was sometimes described by the people closest to him as a bully.
Regular People With Exceptional Work Ethics
For the most part, however, entrepreneurs are just regular people with a passion for their field and an extremely strong work ethic. After all, launching a company is no walk in the park; having a charismatic figurehead CEO at the helm is certainly a nice thing for a company to have; however, many investors are wary of big personalities.
When Charisma Goes Wrong
Just take a look at the massive fallout that WeWork saw in the wake of the company’s bungled IPO. WeWork founder Adam Neumann’s charisma was certainly a selling point for the start-up in its early days. But Neumann’s approach to business relied heavily on style over substance. At the end of the day, Neumann’s charismatic demeanor did not do much for the company’s bottom line.
And that is the reality of Silicon Valley: For the most part, investors would prefer to work with a modest but reliable and hardworking entrepreneur over an unreliable business leader with mountains of charisma. Reality in Silicon Valley might not be as glamorous as television would have us believe; however, being realistic is an asset to a wise investor and a wise entrepreneur.