Being Authentic

imagesA group of amazing people who I have had the pleasure of meeting through the investing world came up with this great idea of doing founders breakfasts.  As small as the start-up tech community is many of the founders do not know each other.  The concept behind this breakfast is to get a group of founders we each know (rarely is there any cross-over) get together and discuss what is top of mind in regards to the trials and tribulations of growing a company.

The breakfast this past week one of the men brought up something that I have never heard uttered out of a mans mouth.  He said he is hiring people that are better engineers than him, better at many more things than him and his fear is that he will be discovered out that he essentially knows nothing.  It was amazing.
Women, for whatever reason, tend to have this inner voice saying to think there are days when they feel like someone will realize that they are totally faking it.  They know nothing.  It was seriously refreshing to hear a guy come out and say that.
Then the conversation turned into creating a culture in your company.  It was really interesting to listen to each entrepreneurs transparency, leadership and expectations with their team.  It was really interesting to hear what works for one might not necessarily work for the other.
What I believe this all comes down to is the importance of being authentic. Everyone does it differently.  There is no right or wrong way of how you build the culture in your company.  Company culture is essentially an extension of the entrepreneur who started the company.  I think the key is being authentic.  Be true to who you are because it will come across to your team.  When you are not authentic that comes across too.  Be yourself because it is a helluva lot easier than pretending to be something that you aren’t.  Also…on a side note, I have thought for years I be would found out that I have been totally faking it.

Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    it’s a great idea. In chicago we have several similar founders groups like this. Within HPA, the entrepreneurs that have run companies have formed their own support group.

  2. Pranay Srinivasan

    Its truly scary when you find and hire people smarter than you. It keeps you on your toes to be the best you can be.I guess those who arent good at anything else, make themselves work on intangibles like sales, and fundraising and brand building. Things that are not easily measured or that have no predictable outcomes commensurate with effort.

    1. Lisa Abeyta

      It is interesting how often it is presumed that sales, fundraising, and brand building are the bottom of the talent pool and designated to those who ‘aren’t good at anything else’ – and this presumption often comes from those whose talents and intelligence fall outside of these skill sets. I am pretty sure that many, if not most, of our team are smarter than me in many areas, but this doesn’t limit or negate the value I bring to the company. My own talents are just as vital as the unique technical, artistic, and operational skills contributed by the rest of the team. It took several years for me to feel comfortable in my shoes as CEO, and I often wondered if someone would discover I was in ‘fake it until you make it’ mode. It is the nature of being a founder, male or female, if we are stretching ourselves past our current talents and limits. I’ve learned that being authentic, vulnerable and transparent actually builds confidence and respect – even when it feels like the result might be the opposite.

      1. Pranay Srinivasan

        Hey Lisa,Absolutely agree here. What I was trying to say was that As a founder / CEO, While I usually suck at tangible working skills like coding, operations,, keeping tabs on minute details in day to day followups, I usually can do quite decent at attracing people, documenting our journey, building and displaying the company vision and attracting customers. I’ve been able to pick up a smattering of what matters to be capable of understanding what people around me do, and how well they should do it and Most Important, to recognise when they’re awesome.The other reason I’ve become CEO is because I am happy to take on those unsexy problems (like Accounts, Admin, Legal and Compliance) that my team should not be burdened with 🙂

    2. LE

      Its truly scary when you find and hire people smarter than you.What do you define as “smarter”?People tend to define “smarter” as someone who knows something or achieves something they haven’t.You know in high school I was in aw of the nerds who were on track to go to medical school (and did). I just thought that was the be all and end all they were so smart.Then I met a girl after I got divorced who I dated who was a Physician. She graduated at the top of her class no less. But she was a “single function machine”. For example she didn’t even know (this is true Joanne) that you shouldn’t put a pizza box in the oven that it would burn at the high temperature!! True story. Then she did many other things. She used to microwave salmon! (Ok that’s not stupid just “not knowing” but still … she knew what someone taught her and nothing else).Fact was she was good at what she was good at but not at everything. I think that’s obvious, right?

      1. Pranay Srinivasan

        That is obvious. But I also said that those are tangible work skills. And while vision and funding and sales and hiring are critical at starting a company, day to day skills and awesome measurable business skills are intrinsic to building and scaling the business.Quite often, We tend to “discount” mad intelligence for productive skills and sometimes, even talented hires can lose it because they dont have the EQ for a startup’s uncertainty.I suppose at the end, its all about balancing each other and bringing out only those skills that are best for the company’s growth. And finding a way to deal with the rest is a trade-off you make until it’s not worth it.

  3. William Mougayar

    ” Be yourself because it is a helluva lot easier than pretending to be something that you aren’t.”That’s so true. Trick is to start by knowing who you really are, first.

  4. Steven Kane

    Not sure if its an apocryphal yarn, but famous story about Ronald Reagan who said his management style is to hire people much smarter than he is and get out of their way.Btw, relax – everyone already knows you’re faking it.

    1. Gotham Gal


  5. emmastia

    This is something that has always fascinated me. I think the people who worry about being exposed as “fakes” (me being one of them) are people who tend to take on roles that are slightly beyond them yet they tend to be very successful. This pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable or known is important but sometimes not rewarded enough in our traditional work society – it is however routinely done at start-ups. And I think the reason we worry about being exposed as fakes is because we don’t have that perfect pedigree or background. But, we do have intangible qualities that lead to success – chief among them is an ability to be our authentic self. That authenticy is obvious to everyone around us and breeds confidence and success among coworkers and clients alike. If anyone knows of any more formal discussions about this topic or even papers, let me know as it is something I have been thinking a lot about on and off for the past 15-20 years.J, as usual – you bring up something so interesting and I would argue that content like this is exclusive to your “brand” and the reason I keep your blog in my inbox vs. rolling it up with other stuff. Thanks!

    1. Gotham Gal

      these are the conversations that go on in people’s heads. having them out there gives everyone a pass to discuss

      1. emmastia

        It would be interesting to break down responses by age, as someone pointed out earlier in the discussion, it is easier to know and be who you really are as you get older. After I turned 40, I worried a lot less about being exposed as a fake. But it plagued me in my 20s and 30s. If I were mentoring a young executive, it would be something I would really emphasize.

        1. Gotham Gal


          1. emmastia

            There are several other examples besides Julia of people who launched very successful careers later in life – of course, they are all escaping me at the moment, but success, like anything else, can happen at any age.Lisa, I think you are right that the fear and uncertainty is something everyone experiences and everyone should know that it is perfectly normal.

        2. Lisa Abeyta

          I was a stay-at-home mom until I was in my late thirties when I started working as a writer. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I launched my first startup. I still worried I’d be discovered to be unqualified for what I was doing and sent home. It took a few years to really feel comfortable in my shoes. I think it is so important to let people know the fear, the feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty are part of the ride and not unique.

          1. Gotham Gal

            Think about when Julia Child began her career

  6. Renee Zau

    “Company culture is essentially an extension of the entrepreneur who started the company.”I like this statement because it underscores that ultimately investors are investing in people, the leaders of the companies they invest in. Skills and expertise can be hired, but founder personalities, reputations, reliability, trustworthiness, and success working with others will have a profound influence on company success. I agree that authenticity plays a big role in how well employees engage with leadership to amplify that.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Investors are definitely investing in people. Sometimes it is hard to see that is the most important piece of the puzzle

  7. LE

    He said he is hiring people that are better engineers than him, better at many more things than him and his fear is that he will be discovered out that he essentially knows nothing. It was amazing.To me this is an artifact of feeling you have more success than you deserve. Perhaps that luck played a big role and you feel you didn’t earn what ever accolades you have.I find the statement by the man amazing. Assuming it’s true (and not some type of humble brag) I feel bad for anyone that says that.Women, for whatever reason, tend to have this inner voice saying to think there are days when they feel like someone will realize that they are totally faking it. They know nothing. I’m curious if you’ve correlated a women’s physical appearance with that statement. Or any other factors.For example Oprah didn’t get to be where she is based on her looks or family connections. It’s pretty clear she is at or near the top of the “earned it” list.On the other hand it’s kind of well known that many men will give attractive women opportunities that aren’t given to unattractive women unless the unattractive woman is special in some other way.Likewise I’ve seen a similar thing happen with women and attractive men. A good looking guy is way more likely to get by the receptionist to a decision maker.

    1. emmastia

      LE:In terms of a women’s physical appearance and her inner voice, I don’t think there is the correlation that you think. Most of the more insecure women I know are the more attractive ones.As for the opportunities given to someone based on looks, I think that only goes so far. And for women really applies to your 20s more than any other time.Good looks can get you in the door but generally if you are truly faking it but look good, that becomes pretty obvious.

  8. LE

    Guess what? It’s much easier in this day and age to be authentic.You know why?Because there are so many people airing their dirty laundry that it’s not looked upon the same way that it was in past generations.

  9. LE

    What I believe this all comes down to is the importance of being authentic. In contrast to my other comment I think it’s much harder in one way to be authentic.For example in the past you could say something and it would generally stay within the confines of your company or organization. And if people didn’t like something you said or something you did it would end there. But with the internet and social media it’s out to the entire world.That’s pretty limiting and a 2 edge sword.For example there is no doubt in my mind that Fred can’t be 100 honest with what he says for fear that it will be misinterpreted and potential backlash and business impact. He has to choose his words very carefully.Fwiw, you are about as real as it gets.

    1. Gotham Gal

      lol. thanks

  10. LE

    I think it’s ok to fake it until you make it if you can pull it off.And if no small animals are harmed or people.In my 20’s I had an opportunity to get a big contract. But I didn’t have any employees yet and the hospital system giving the contract wanted to inspect my place of business.So I hired some people to come in for the day to look like we were busy.It worked and I got the contract and kept it for 6 years. Much more business than I expected.People seem to see this type of thing as black and white. Either you are honest or you are not either – you are a straight shooter or you are devious and deceptive. But it’s not really like that. You go at different speeds depending on the situation and the opportunity.On my dating profile I fudged my age by 4 years. I was really worried about that. When I finally told my now wife on our 4th date that I was older it didn’t bother her. She told me a friend of hers fudged by 10 years. I was relieved. She thanked me for fudging. She said that if I had been honest she would have not accepted my date invitation. And so on. (I look much younger than I am..)My way of looking at this is “you have to protect people from their folly”.

    1. pointsnfigures

      I hate that phrase, Fake it Till You Make it. I think it’s okay to say, “We had no idea what we are doing but we tried-but the word fake has too many bad connotations for me. It’s probably a personal thing, but I have run into and been burned by too many fakers.

      1. LE

        Agree and apologize for using that phrase it bothers me as well. Just thought it was a short way to convey the concept in popular terms.When I started my first business I didn’t know anything about it (self taught). I never thought I was faking it though [1] and never really heard that phrase until maybe several years ago on the internet.[1] Maybe (and it’s hard to recall) just “figuring it out”. In medicine the saying is “see it, do it, teach it”.

  11. ggfan1

    we’re all faking it!!! we’re doing things as they come. I dont care whether I know or not, I care that Im trying and that my effort always turns out be a pretty calculated answer. so for all the women out there who at one point in their lives thought “i was faking it”- that is complete BS. you were not faking anything. you just didn’t know it.

  12. ellen sing

    I find that the people who claim to be authentic are the most pretentious, insincere people I know.I was watching a tech conference panel and one of the women was talking about how “real she is” and I knew that was a bunch of garbage coming out of her mouth. I knew her personally and knew how she lied and took credit for things that were not her ideas but her underlings that it was all a stomach turner. She is such a good self promoter that you give her credit that she has everyone duped.