How to use impostor syndrome as your superpower as a startup founder

Dear Founder,

 

Let’s talk about something really uncomfortable for many of us. 

Impostor syndrome.

That nagging feeling that you don’t quite belong.

Described by Mike Cannon-Brooks, co-founder of the super-successful software company, Atlassian, as (1): 

“imposter syndrome is feeling well out of your depth, yet already entrenched in the situation, internally feeling that you’re not skilled enough, experienced enough or qualified enough to justify being there.  

But you are there, and you have to figure it out because you can’t get out.

It’s more a sensation of getting away with something and the fear of being discovered.” 

You might look at successful founders in the media and think, “I could never be like them.” 

You know, the ones who seem to ooze confidence, always ready to make bold moves and take the world by storm. 

But, in feeling like you’re not quite fitting the mould of a “typical” startup founder, know that you’re not alone. 

Not by a long shot with three-quarters of startup leaders feeling this, and with one in eight feeling it daily (2). 

But there is a ray of hope for these founders. 

Impostor syndrome can show up in a number of ways.  

Sometimes it comes about from your personality type.  

Or it can be based on your experience – or perceived lack of experience.

And this is where things get interesting…  

When you’re passionate about something, and I mean really passionate, you can overcome challenges that might otherwise have been proper, immovable barriers. 

If you’re passionate about solving a problem AND you happen to have a novel idea or way of solving it – that impostor syndrome can take a back seat.  

Ray of hope appears…

 

Challenging norms is the stomping ground of startups.

Some of the biggest changes come from the most unexpected places. 

Take Netflix, for example. 

They shook up the whole TV industry by starting out as a mail-order DVD service.

Everyone around the Netflix founders thought their idea was crazy – a DVD would not reliably (physically) survive the postal delivery process and wouldn’t be cost effective. And Blockbuster stores were in every suburb. No way it would take off. 

But they persevered, and completely turned the movie-renting industry on its head. 

Then there’s Airbnb.

None of the three original founders were hotel or travel experts.

But they saw a real customer problem which was a lack of accommodation in cities during events. 

When first attempting to get funding for Airbnb, they got passed over by investors because they didn’t have experience in the travel industry. 

But they were on the edges. 

Typically, disruption comes from the edges.

Now there’s another crucial point founders need to know about imposter syndrome. 

Impostor syndrome might make you doubt yourself, but it can also push you to do better.

Typically, what we see is founders that build a product that they think the market wants, and they impose it, they push it onto the market. 

But this looks different for those who experience imposter syndrome.

If you have imposter syndrome, you’re much less likely to back yourself and your idea out of the gate. 

And, so, you’re more likely to spend much more time on market discovery before you build your product.

That market discovery includes research into the industry, and the problems that are in the industry. 

And the game changer – market discovery involves getting out there and talking to people, particularly who your potential customers might be. 

Why? To deeply understand their needs, in their contexts, and unearth the problems they are desperate to have solved. 

And, so, that impostor syndrome, which seemed like such an anchor on you, becomes the way that you can give yourself a competitive advantage. 

A competitive advantage over founders who are so sure that they’re building the right thing that they didn’t bother to get out of the building and speak to their customers. 

(Thanks, Steve Blank.)

 

Want to break through with some practical advice, especially when you’re in the pre-customer phase of your startup? 

If you see yourself suffering from impostor syndrome, and you’re using it as a reason not to make progress in your startup – say, 

  • not to start building a product, 
  • not to hire marketing agencies, 
  • not to hire software developers


You’ve actually avoided some potentially costly mistakes that many founders make when rushing ahead. 

 

Now, it’s time to shift your focus. 

Take a cue from successful companies like Netflix and Airbnb. 

Instead of letting impostor syndrome call the shots, channel that questioning nature into something productive. 

Get out there and pinpoint the biggest problems or challenges in your market – by talking to those potential customers: 

  1. Find out what success looks like for them. 
  2. Understand what they need to get done (their jobs to be done). 
  3. Discover what obstacles they face. 
  4. Identify the most impactful and ideally most frequent obstacles they experience. 


And use that information, and your impostor syndrome-
fuelled curiosity, to refine and de-risk your business model.
 

 

When used in this way, imposter syndrome is actually a superpower, not a weakness.

 

As a result, founders with imposter syndrome are much more likely to reach Product-Market Fit. 
 

 

 

If you’re a founder and you’re unsure of how to take advantage of your imposter syndrome in your journey, we can help. Fill out this short questionnaire to tell us about your situation, and we’ll get in touch with your next steps. 


Jump Ahead!

Kirk.

leapsheep.com 

 

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how we can help you.

If you’ve got a startup idea, or you’ve already embarked on your journey – you might be facing one or both of these situations.

1. You’re struggling while going it alone, unsure of who to turn to for advice.  

2. You’re wading in the muddy waters of some not-so-great advice, wondering how to move out of that situation and into better guidance.

If you’re ready to get the help you need growing your startup, our Startup Builder™ solution was created especially for you. 

The Startup Builder™ process is specifically designed to take you from idea to global success – in a way that’s simple, sustainable, and scalable.

If you’re ready to grow your revenue, profit, and social impact faster without wasting time and money on the wrong things at the wrong time, share your situation with us by filling out this short questionnaire and we’ll get in touch with your next steps. 

 

Did you find this article valuable?

Go here to sign up to receive future weekly editions in your inbox.

On LinkedIn? Click here and press “follow” to get notified of the startup insights I share.

Share this article

Subscribe to our newsletter