3 Startup Realities That Hollywood Gets Wrong Every Time

May 02, 2017

The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question, “What are some of the biggest misconceptions about startup life?” is written by Stav Vaisman, co-founder and CEO of OurPlan.

The biggest misconceptions about startup life can be traced to Hollywood’s portrayal of them. Shows like Silicon Valley and films like The Social Network have depicted startup life as a freewheeling environment fueled by energy drinks. Success is attributed to eureka-like moments of genius. Management is eschewed in favor of anarchy.

These stereotypes have a kernel of truth, but that’s about the extent of it. Here are the biggest misconceptions about startup life—countered with a stringent dose of reality about what you can actually expect if you start or join a startup:

There’s no structure
Probably the biggest misconception about startup life is that there’s a lack of formal organizational structure. And it makes sense why many people would assume this, given that startups often begin their lives without a legal arrangement. They are small and can be managed through informal methods in which roles and responsibilities are divided among friends and colleagues. How can you have a structure if your garage is your office and nobody carries a formal title?

See also: You Don’t Need a Finished Product to Launch Your Startup

The truth is that a startup must have structure to survive. Some startups might not be as formal as others, but there must be a clear chain of command to facilitate decision-making. Establishing organizational rules about compensation, work hours, and behavior is a great place to start. Without structure, your startup will drift aimlessly or descend into anarchy.

There are no clear objectives
Another misconception about startup life is that a great idea often comes before a business plan. Both Silicon Valley and The Social Network reinforced this myth: Their founders had these great technological innovations that only needed a business application to succeed.

This misconception fails to recognize the reality of startup life: It is based on a business plan. Your business plan might be untested in the market, but it must still exist for your startup to qualify as even a fledgling business. Your plan might be a prototype, but at least make sure that it is organized around clear objectives.

Recall the SMART acronym from business class: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-oriented. Your business plan, however crude and untested, must have quantifiable metrics that can measure your progress.

You’ll have a eureka moment
Science historians have long discredited the eureka myth—the idea that great ideas come through sudden revelations—as it applies to innovation in science and technology. Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison spent years on their discoveries and inventions. Their breakthroughs were then subjected to additional revisions and changes.

The eureka myth has also contributed to misconceptions about startups. In most cases, your startup’s breakthroughs will come through incremental rather than radical change. Yes, you might want to disrupt the status quo with your great idea. But actually getting that done will require methodical planning more than inspirational thinking.

This should offer a bit of relief: You shouldn’t get frustrated about the lack of a sudden breakthrough idea that revolutionizes an entire industry. Refining your idea into a solid business requires difficult and deliberative work.

Maybe some of the stereotypes are true. Energy drinks definitely fuel a lot of the intellectual energy at startups. But startups are only successful when they contain structure, no matter how informal. They must be founded on a realistic business plan. And they must rely on hard work, discipline, and refinement to achieve their greatest breakthroughs.

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