The 10 Limiting Beliefs That Are Holding You Back as a Founder

By Cody


1. Imposter Syndrome


A lot of times when you listen to successful founders talk about their life it is dizzying what they’ve achieved before even starting their startup. Many have Ivy League pedigrees and computer science degrees. Many have been coding since they were 8 years old or had a previous career as a VP at Facebook or Goldman.

Being smart helps a lot when it comes to being a founder. But so does relentless effort and commitment.  

The kind of thinking where you feel like you are starting the race from behind is called imposter syndrome. You feel under-qualified and inadequate for what you are trying go accomplish. 

There are many counter examples of successful founders who did not look like they would make it on paper. Suroosh Alvi, the founder of Vice, was a heroin addict for years before launching the multibillion dollar media brand. Perry Chen, the founder of Kickstarter, worked as a waiter and dj in New Orleans.

A very important method to combatting imposter syndrome is implementing what I call incremental thinking. 

Let’s say you write your first blog and think the content is gold and that it will take off. You finally release it. It doesn’t take off. 

In fact, you only have 7 people finding it via Google search a day. How will that ever be enough to propel you to success? 

Reverse the problem, now that you have this information what’s the worst possible scenario? Ok, so for each blog you write, only 7 people will find it using search a day. The blog took you 3 hours to write. 

What happens if you write a blog every day? There’s 260 working days in a year. So that means that you write 260 blogs in that first year. 7 people are still only searching for, and reading each blog a day, but you know have 260 blogs so that is 1,820 people a day or 664,300 people a year. Ok now what if you did that for 5 years? You now have 3,321,500 people a year reading your blog.

This is a ridiculous example but it’s a good one for this reason: you don’t have to be extremely smart to write blogs. Even what seems like a failure (only 7 people a day reading what you thought was a genius blog) can actually be a sign of potential success if you think it through to its most logical, extreme conclusion. The same can be said for making your first sale even if it took a tremendous amount of effort. 

Remember as well, all your efforts in a particular area do not happen in a vacuum. SEO, social media, your audience, your sales team, everything works hand and hand and builds on each other, which will multiply your efforts.

The important part is the commitment and drive, because if you just stop doing much after being discouraged, that 7 readers a day will never actually amount to anything.

2. I Can’t Code


Developers are expensive and many founders can’t code. It’s a problem the startup world doesn’t talk enough about. When founders do venture to ask experts their opinion on if it is possible to learn to code enough to build their prototype (despite being late in life and never having done it before) many get discouraged by the answer. Often when people are speaking from the mountaintop, and it was a long and difficult time to get there, they have a tendency to overstate how high the peak they are standing on is.

The mountaintop is climbable. And I’d even argue that you might have to climb it. Remember that thing earlier about imposter syndrome? The long term fix to it is to become more and more knowledgeable. 

It’s not just about coding, it’s about increasing your base abilities. Learning to code will help you manage and talk to your technical team and clients better as well as increasing your understanding of your product. If you want a research-backed and completely free guide to learning to code from scratch check out my post here:

3. I Built It and They’re Not Coming


I spent months building my product. It is the absolute best product on the market. It’s got way more features than comparable products. It is way less expensive. Whenever I show it to someone, I can visibly see they are impressed.

I released it expecting very happy customers. I actually launched it. I posted it everywhere. I’ve gotten a small trickle but basically no results, besides a few visitors a day. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Getting users is not automatic. It is a dogfight. 

Is your product successful and you do have users? You still need to dogfight, you don’t have enough. I’m talking about campaigns to get millions of links, outreach until every man, woman, and child somehow has heard of you, automating more and more of the campaigns you do have running. 

There is no “launch,” you need to be in a state of perpetual launch. There’s just too much noise out there, and too much real estate online, for even the best products to win without a concentrated, relentless push behind them. 

What’s the difference between a successful startup and an unsuccessful one? Math.

Successful startup: 20 million visitors to their site a month

Unsuccessful startup: doesn’t have 20 million visitors to their site a month

Give an unsuccessful startup 20 million visitors a month and I don’t care how terrible their product is, they will sell enough of it to become a successful startup.

Which is why I always repeat the same phrase, to the chagrin of my coworkers, “Well, it’s just math.”

4. I’m Stressed and Miserable


Startups can often feel like one continuous failure that likes to express itself in different ways. One day your app crashes. Another day the app is up but your biggest customer goes out of business. The next day your star employee quits.

You can’t sleep, there’s too many ideas and worries in your head. There’s so much to think about it’s overwhelming.

This experience is universal and part of being successful is what I called “embracing the pain.” Similar to working out, know it will hurt. When the pain comes, take it, accept it then start thinking of how to fix it step by step. If it seems insurmountable, sleep on it. Change your approach. Ask former founders for advice.

Your problems will grow with your successes. If you get successful enough, you will be sued. You will have competitors cropping up and copying your every move. This seems horrible and will make you feel sick but it is a symptom of success.

5. No One Believes in Me

Most people you talk to either love to point out the flaws in your plan or talk about who they think already did it. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: your idea doesn’t matter. Yes I said it, as taboo as it is to say, your idea just doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. I don’t care if it’s the greatest idea ever. I don’t care if it’s the worst idea. Once again, let’s take this to its most extreme conclusion.

Take Elon Musk and put him in some random guy’s body. He isn’t allowed to tell anyone he’s Elon Musk so he can’t use any of his connections. The startup idea is a celery farm. That’s it, just a celery farm… It’s not even a startup.

What would he do and would he succeed? Well, he’d think it through. He has no money so he has to start small and local. This means he has to go up-brand and start with farmers market type sales. As he builds a local organic brand, he’ll start scaling and taking advantage of economies of scale to bring down costs. He’d bring in the best botanists to figure out innovative new farming methods. He’d figure out how to genetically engineer celery to produce new, nutrient-packed varieties. He’d initiate massive media campaigns for these new celery varieties. If the market for celery wasn’t big enough he’d forcibly expand it. He’d be constantly trying out new angles and approaches to the product and marketing. Drinkable soylent type celery juice that actually tastes good? Programs to reinvigorate inner cities with hydroponic farms staffed with disadvantaged youth? Some of these ideas will inevitably fail (Space X has blown up a few rockets in its day) but you know he’ll be testing out all of them.

6. Someone Already Did My Idea


Every idea has been done at this point. Like my point above, execution is what matters.

For a more detailed breakdown on this see my post here:

7. VCs Don’t Seem Interested

There is something really important that new founders don’t realize about VCs. 

They care about two things primarily: metrics and track records. To raise significant capital, you need to have one or the other. Metrics means ARR (annual recurring revenue) or a lot of users. Track record means you were already a successful founder. 

What VCs won’t typically invest on is a good idea. Why? Because VCs are smart and they already know what I talked about earlier: a good idea doesn’t matter.

8. It’s Taking Way Longer Than I Thought

Most startups take years. For every insane success story like Whatsapp where the users come so fast the team can barely handle it, there are a hundred where it took years and years and decades. 

All the things that make a successful startup take time. SEO takes time to start working. The product improves over time. It takes time to experiment and get feedback from your users to achieve product market fit:

Think in terms of concentrated effort over 5 years or a decade, instead of months, to start seeing huge success.

9. It Seems Way Harder Than the Stories I Hear

If you listen to a lot of startup blogs or podcasts you will get a lot of survivorship bias. Survivorship bias is where the more successful a startup is, the more likely you are to hear about them. 

Even worse, the more insane of a story the success was, the more likely you are to hear about them. You don’t tend to hear about the startups that took a decade and a lot of slow hard work that wasn’t in the limelight.

10. My Efforts Aren’t Seeming to Amount to Anything


This one is the culmination of all the above. What I’m doing just isn’t working. I’m failing. 

Failure is possible but if you are putting in continuous concentrated effort over a long period of time, experimenting, and continuously getting feedback and using it to adjust, it is not likely. Failure is so common because understanding and doing everything I’ve spoken about in this list is so uncommon. 

Believe it or not, the founders of Airbnb sold Obama and Romney themed cereal boxes to raise 30,000 for their idea after racking up too much credit card debt. 

Twitch started as Justin Kan, the founder, live streaming his life as Literally hundreds of pivots and 4 years later Twitch was born.

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