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10 common traits of pretentious experts and fake entrepreneurship gurus

If you’ve been navigating the startup world for some time now, like us, you’re likely familiar with the topic we’re discussing here. Amidst the sea of genuinely inspiring individuals who are eager to help, you’ve undoubtedly come across a few self-proclaimed entrepreneurship gurus and experts of various types.

We mean no offence if you happen to be one of those social media wizards who transformed into growth hackers, then blockchain gurus, and later became metaverse, Web3, and now AI expert. Life becomes a little brighter when we can poke some light-hearted fun at ourselves!

Here we have put together ten common warning signs to watch out for when dealing with startup gurus and experts:  

1. Serial entrepreneurs with a shady background

Be cautious of self-proclaimed serial entrepreneurs who don’t provide a transparent background about their past ventures and achievements. Having started twenty startups and having never accomplished anything doesn’t make anyone a thought leader in entrepreneurship.  

These individuals may boast about their extensive experience in launching and managing multiple businesses but fail to provide concrete examples, verifiable accomplishments, or references to support their claims. Fake entrepreneurship gurus often base their advice on generic personal stories of dubious funding rounds, and business exits for undisclosed amounts. Without some transparency, it becomes difficult to assess the authenticity of their expertise and the value of their guidance. 

2. Lacking skin in the game

Be wary of those who want to teach you how to run a startup and have never been there doing that. These people may have impressive-sounding titles or credentials but may lack the practical know-how that comes from first-hand involvement in the startup world. 

Self-proclaimed gurus may attempt to sell you advice based on theoretical knowledge or corporate experience, which might not be relevant or applicable to your specific situation. Prioritize those with skin in the game to get access to valuable, practical guidance based on real-world experience.

3. Emphasis on networking over substance

While networking is crucial in the entrepreneurial journey, it should not overshadow substance. 

Be cautious of experts who overemphasize networking, and ensure the advice you receive is grounded in practical, actionable insights to help your business thrive. True experts can balance both aspects, ensuring that their advice is rooted in substance and backed by experience.

4. Overpromising and underdelivering

These individuals tend to make grand promises and assurances, aiming to impress you from the first encounter, offering quick solutions to complex problems without considering your startup’s distinctive challenges and nuances. So their advice may fall short in practice, rapidly leading to disappointment and potentially harmful consequences for you and your business.

It’s better to look out for people setting less fancy but more realistic expectations, with a clear focus on providing achievable goals and actionable strategies. By being honest and transparent about the challenges and potential outcomes, true experts help entrepreneurs navigate the uncertainties of the startup world with a solid foundation and a well-informed perspective.

5. Continuously jumping on the latest bandwagon trend

Is there anything wrong with someone posting ChatGPT prompts and communicating as an AI expert on LinkedIn? Of course not. However, if this same person was obsessively discussing NFTs just last year, it’s a pattern that could raise some alarm bells, indicating that he or she may be jumping from one trend to another without a solid foundation in either domain.

It’s pretty common these days to be overly focused on following the latest trends and using jargon and buzzwords to give the appearance of being cutting-edge and knowledgeable while lacking substance. This approach can easily lead to confusion and misdirection.

6. Name-dropping influential people

Pretentious experts often resort to constantly name-dropping influential figures in an attempt to bolster their credibility and impress their audience. By associating themselves with successful startup founders, investors, and industry leaders, they aim to create an illusion of authority and expertise. 

However, this tactic may be misleading, as it doesn’t necessarily indicate they have the knowledge and experience required to provide valuable guidance. Or that they really have meaningful connections with the persons they are so happy to mention. 

Genuine experts, on the other hand, rely on their own name and proven track record to establish their authority. While they may have connections with influential people, they don’t use these relationships as their primary selling point. Instead, they focus on demonstrating their competence through the quality of their advice and the tangible results they have achieved for their clients or their own businesses.

7. Inability to admit mistakes or accept criticism

“Oh, as a founder I don’t remember any mistake that I made. I can say that I have never failed.” – when you hear something like it’s probably a good idea if you just run away : ) 

It’s a pretty common trait in this kind of people to often exhibit an inability to admit mistakes or accept criticism, which can hinder their capacity to learn and grow. They may be overly defensive when faced with negative feedback or questions about their advice, potentially stemming from a lack of confidence in their own expertise. 

Aim for people open to feedback and willing to learn from their experiences, recognizing that no one is infallible. They understand that the world of entrepreneurship is constantly evolving and that adapting to new information and perspectives is crucial to staying relevant and providing valuable advice. By demonstrating humility and a willingness to learn, true experts foster trust and credibility, ensuring that their clients receive guidance grounded in self-awareness and a commitment to continuous improvement.

8. Disregard and ridicule ethical considerations 

Profitability and growth are undoubtedly important, but they are not the only things that matter when building a company. If an entrepreneur disregards ethical considerations, focusing solely on achieving success at any cost, that’s a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong. 

These are the people that encourage shortcuts, manipulative tactics, or unethical practices to attain quick results (anyone said get-rich-quick schemes?), neglecting the potential long-term consequences of such actions. This approach can damage your business’s reputation and sustainability and contribute to a toxic culture within your company and the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

It’s good practice to prioritize working with advisors who emphasize ethical business practices and the importance of building a sustainable and responsible business with a positive impact on the startup ecosystem and the planet as a whole.

9. Self-proclaimed visionaries with overblown egos

Beware of self-proclaimed visionaries who display an overblown ego, as they may exaggerate their abilities and insights to gain influence and followers. These individuals often present themselves as infallible sources of wisdom, claiming a unique and unquestionable understanding of the market, trends, or future developments. Their overconfidence and self-promotion can overshadow their actual expertise and the practical value of their advice.

Look out for humble entrepreneurship experts who show humility, are curious and open to keep learning, and genuinely desire to help.

10. Insensitivity to cultural and regional differences

Display insensitivity to cultural and regional differences is usually a peculiar trait of charlatans and ignorant people – not really what you expect from a guru, right?! By overlooking these crucial factors and applying a one-size-fits-all approach, they fail to recognize the unique challenges and opportunities that different markets present.

It’s rather essential to find people who understand that it is key to consider the nuances and unique aspects of the local environment, taking into account local customs, regulations, and consumer preferences, ensuring that the approach presented is both culturally sensitive and regionally appropriate.

In conclusion, navigating the entrepreneurial landscape can be a challenging and complex journey, and seeking guidance from genuine experts can be crucial for success, you just need to avoid the fake ones. Hopefully, by being aware of these ten common traits of fake entrepreneurship gurus and pretentious experts, you can better discern who is truly worth your time, effort, and trust. Always prioritize those with a transparent track record, a focus on ethical practices, a positive impact on the ecosystem, and a genuine willingness to help others succeed!

Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti
Alessandro Ravanetti is a writer and editor based in Barcelona. He helps startups with their content strategy, curates the Techstars Startup Digest's fintech newsletter, serves as an independent expert for EU projects, and mentors aspiring changemakers with Bridge for Billions.

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