Over the holidays, I took time to reflect on my entrepreneurial journey from practicing law in a large law practice to founding a venture capital firm. I still could not be happier about my choice. This isn’t to say there aren’t moments of extreme doubt about my ability to execute my vision. Those moments had a tendency to linger a little longer than I liked during the quiet time the holidays afforded.
Where did I turn for inspiration? Harvard Business Review. Of course.
A group of researchers concluded: “Among the top 0.1% of startups based upon growth in their first five years, … the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old.” (Azoulay et al., 2018.) Indeed, their data showed that “older entrepreneurs have a substantially higher success rate. (Id.) Companies founded by older entrepreneurs performed highest in employment growth, sales growth, and successful exits through IPOs or acquisition. (Id.)
Whew. Thank you, Harvard Business Review. I feel a lot better. But, should I?
Not necessarily. Other researchers have concluded: “Experience isn’t always an asset.” (Staats, et al 2018.) Why? More experienced people often consider themselves experts. They are more likely to remain firm in their position on a particular matter than to pivot to a different approach. (Id.)
This has been referred to in other management literature as the “expertise trap.” (Menon & Thompson, 2016.) Decision-making suffers and performance lags when managers fail to engage in robust, open-minded, critical analysis and lean almost entirely on experience, or their expertise, instead. (Staats, et al 2018.)
Yikes. Back to wondering whether I tricked myself into believing I could execute my vision.
So, what did I do? I went back and checked my work. I did more research. I tested my business plan and vision with a new group of people who have no stake in my success. I learned where I had gaps, and I fixed them. I’ve resolved that I need to do this type of review iteratively so that the way I think about my firm and my vision doesn’t stagnate.
The self-doubt that launched me down this path resulted in what I’d consider a very positive outcome. I was able to reaffirm my plans and fix some of the issues identified during my review. More important, perhaps, was the realization that I have a diverse network of tremendously smart, generous, honest people who won’t ever let me wallow in self-doubt or fall into the expertise trap. Thank you, my friends (and Harvard Business Review too).