Startup Life/Opinion/

Founders, stop chasing after the limelight — just build your damn product

Fame-seeking founders aren’t just annoying, they’re also potentially damaging to Europe’s startup ecosystem.

By Elena Mazhuha

I get contacted by ‘limelight-seeking’ founders at least once per month. They’re easy to spot: they usually have tons of articles in the media; an active Medium blog with articles like ‘How to read 100+ books a year and be a successful CEO’; participate in panel discussions; regularly win pitch competitions and fill up several pages of Google search.

But when I see their startup’s financial results and user metrics, I want to become one of the first testers of Elon Musk’s spaceship and leave this planet screaming in despair.

How to spot a limelight chaser

If you work in tech, you definitely know such people:

  • They often found multiple startups in a row that make a lot of fuss and content and end up going nowhere. The lifetime of each ‘startup’ may be as short as six months. But sometimes it may last years, during which the founders ‘pivot’ multiple times, spend time attending conferences and talking to “large clients” and “famous VCs”. Needless to say, these talks never end up in anything substantial.
  • Limelight-chasing founders actively give interviews or keynotes and get a lot of media coverage from the first day after the launch. They announce each startup on social media and rant about it like they have just invented immortality.
  • These founders tend to write about reading 100+ books per year and listening to multiple startup podcasts daily. They also write summaries of everything they’ve read or listened to, sometimes in real-time mode. And now, when we all have finally got that invite to Clubhouse, we can see notifications about these people joining one room after another. Sometimes, it looks like they don’t work or sleep at all.
  • On a call with VCs, when asked about having no decent traction after a year of struggle, they start a long monologue about the grandeur of their plans and ideas, billion-dollar markets and how they are in talks with famous funds and corporates. Needless to say, these talks never turn into anything substantial.
  • Their scaling strategy is obscure and sounds like “we will grow the growth, increase our income, and become a unicorn”. No comments here.
  • Often, limelight founders work on the startup part-time. There is nothing bad about being a part-time founder at the hypothesis stage. Everyone has some side gigs they want to try out to see what happens next. But why in the world do some people with a poorly tested hypothesis proclaim themselves founders and start talking to VCs?

Meanwhile, the actual founders work on the product 24/7, borrow money from friends and relatives to find traction, fight for their first clients, and have no time for multiple interviews, Clubhouse rooms and panel discussions on how to “be a successful CEO and manage people”.

But… why does it matter?

This culture, promoted by fame-craving founders, is not just annoying; it also harms the tech industry, promoting an unrealistic image of your average startup founder, scaring away new angel investors and creating no added value or business knowledge in the market.

First of all, limelight-seeking founders create an impression that startups are about fun and burning investors’ money, but not about business. Then, other people, attracted by this idea, get into tech, make a lot of noise, and leave disappointed, achieving nothing good. To make matters worse, they cannot even teach any important lessons learned via a killer Twitter thread.

“Fame-hungry founders scare away angel investors who are just starting out.”

Secondly, fame-hungry founders scare away angel investors who are just starting out. New angels often start investing in these loudest startups, before they build a sufficient tech network and go through enough pitches to discern high-potential deals from crap. The loudest early-stage startups often fail, new investors lose money and leave disappointed, thinking that every startup is a cash-burning fraud.

And finally, these founders create a bad image of the countries they represent. Due to their huge PR efforts, they often manage to get covered in international media. Eventually, they become the face of tech for the country they originate from. And when they fail, everyone who has ever heard of them thinks: “Ugh, if even such a great startup failed from that country, the other must suck, too.”

PR is a great thing for an early-stage startup if it brings organic audience or good leads. But if it doesn’t, you should stop chasing after the limelight and work on your product first.

Elena Mazhuha is an investment manager at Genesis Investments.

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Ashish kalra
Ashish kalra

Dont take me wrong, I see here the VC is getting the limelight.. 🙂

Elena Mazhuha
Elena Mazhuha

Yeah, I am the author and I admit that VCs are usually as bad as people described in this piece. But I’ve already got a couple of good leads to my pipeline from this piece…which kinda makes this PR thing useful for my VC job. Just to make sure, I am totally OK with PR if it generates sales/organic audience for a startup. But I am not OK with purposeless PR. You may DM me on Twitter @lenamazhuha and I will be happy to discuss this topic in detail.

MrEco
MrEco

Omg. An Article against others using articles to gain business in order to them selves build there own profile and build business………..WOW. You are really something and SO transparent. Pmsl

Jenny Waters
Jenny Waters

You are saying you now have 200 leads from an article you posted last night within two hours of it going live??? You really do talk non-sense and blatantly misleading. No chance would any decent firm have a chancer like you on board.

Mike
Mike

Possibly the most hypocritical article I’ve read.

rafael theira
rafael theira

says the vc with 0 experience in running a business…
its super easy making comments, giving advice when all you know about company building comes from reading medium articles and a corporate finance internship…

P Peters - Founder of CitiQuants.co
P Peters - Founder of CitiQuants.co

This is a silly article. VCs are the problem. They want an easy SaaS validated play in order to fund based on de-risked cash flows. Long live the founders as hustle – part time or full time. Elena were your born an European princess🤔 Get to work and fund the experiments- the hypothesis is the glory – you’re not an old Royal house that made your money from slavery and conquest!

AAAA
AAAA

The piece about VCs usually wanting a de-risked SaaS project and nothing else is (unfortunately) so true!

Misha Iasinskyi
Misha Iasinskyi

lol, if VCs are so bad, just do not use their money originating from “slavery and conquest” and bootstrap by your internal inhumane ultra-might

Cee B
Cee B

I agree with you on some points, there are equally as many limelight VC’s though and not every founder has the luxury of having friends and family who have money to borrow from. Something to think about.

Aaron Davies
Aaron Davies

True story – there are so many people in the tech industry who conform exactly to this description….

cristian
cristian

great article, hands down. someone should come up with a startup for spotting limelight

Dan
Dan

Some truths described, yet the whole startup industry is based on that principle. VC’s together with banks, media and founders pump up startup valuation before IPO doing exactly the same things you have described. Then they cash out while greater fools that bought at the top stand still like DIHL Something is very wrong in this industry

A user
A user

Very good article, well done Elena. Funny witty and truthful, these people are unbearable. I would have liked the article to focus more on the fact that these people are very successful despite selling smoke. Maybe a sign that we need to slow down in these crazy fast times.

Evgeny Skoro[isov
Evgeny Skoro[isov

In general, there are correct remarks

Peter Mul Sr
Peter Mul Sr

You have to advertise yourself to get good staff, bank and angel credits, JV clients, large accounts, etc. Unfortunately you get nothing is you are unknown because unknown makes unloved.

All above mentioned parties download all your outings and let them professional analyzed to calculate the risk of a job step or investment.

Annoying: yes, time wasting: no because most outings are written by a third party person.

Isaac
Isaac

@Elena, this is the best article I have read so far on Startups. I work with incubator that provides funding and expert support and what you have stated here are the main reasons most Startups are not making it. People who have front row to the situation knows what you are talking about. Continue to write more.

Martin Tall
Martin Tall

Great points, product and iteration should fill your early days

Penton Wong
Penton Wong

Hi Elena! I agreed with your view! We normally stay out of the limelight and focusing on the delivery. This is not because we don’t want the limelight. But, we prefer to put our efforts into the deliverables when we only can pick one. Having said so, we will be sharing our knowledge more often in the future as a way to document our journey and help people who would not be our clients in one way or another. Disclaimer: I came across your article from one of the business Facebook groups and we are not looking for funding from… Read more »

Steve Bah Blesson
Steve Bah Blesson

Amen 🙏🏾 Steve from BB Analytics, seeking seed VC investors for MyOpinion social networking application http://Www.myopinion.ci

Pritam
Pritam

Probably why you’ve never heard of us. Building products and thinking deeply about the next wave of Core problems fintech should solve is a lot more fun.

Charles Akhimien
Charles Akhimien

Great article. By far the best thing I’ve read this month. We are seeing these kinds of entrepreneurs in the African tech ecosystem too. They’re not only deceitful, but they harm the ecosystem in general

Ravi Dua
Ravi Dua

Loved your wisdom Elena M. in this “interesting” space! The first of many. I can see you doing a regular blog/podcast of interviews with founders – bringing life and energy to their stories.
One key thing I tell my mentorees is to “Keep the main thing the Main thing!”

Mo'
Mo'

So spot on Elena!

Johannes
Johannes

this is good