The question I find myself asking founders the most often is a simple one: “Why are you the right person to solve this problem?” One of the least inspiring (but increasingly common) responses I hear is “I’m really excited for the entrepreneurial journey and I see an opportunity here.” That’s valid. Some incredibly talented people are motivated more by the thrill of the build than by solving a specific problem. And there are plenty of investors who, inspired by their momentum, are eager to get on board. Sometimes I’m one of them. But I also know firsthand that one shouldn’t always trust and follow the hype.
There was a time in the early days of TaskRabbit, the company I founded, when we were doing fewer than a hundred tasks a day, yet getting heaps of national press. Even as Diane Sawyer ran a feature on us, we were assigning jobs to our staff members because we hadn’t yet automated our Tasker onboarding processes. It’s not at all uncommon for a company that’s generating lots of press and social mentions to not yet have the numbers to back up the buzz—and that’s a necessary part of building momentum. But with overhyped companies, it’s often the case that this momentum-building isn’t meaningful to the long-term success of the company. A huge press hit, big name investor, or vanity metric milestone can belie what’s really going on at a startup.