How Startups “Fake It Until They Make It” — Or Until They Go To Jail

It’s OK to promise the moon, but you’d better deliver.

Joe Procopio

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As Elizabeth Holmes starts her prison sentence, there’s still a lot of speculation about whether or not she was just a smart, ambitious entrepreneur who was lured to the dark side by a system that is set up to work against a certain sort of smart, ambitious entrepreneur.

Make no mistake, I can totally get behind that theory. But there’s no denying that at some point, Theranos’ strategy shifted from “fake it until you make it” to “criminal activity.”

It’s never been easier to start a tech company, scrape together a minimum viable product, and quickly offer that product to a market or investors. But in a lot of ways, it’s never been more difficult to get that market or those investors to take notice and open their wallets to, you know, fund that tech company.

It’s a Catch-22 that usually results in founders putting a greater emphasis on “fake it until you make it.” It’s a phrase that’s as old as entrepreneurship itself. The problem with it is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

On one hand, “faking it” means selling the idea for a product that doesn’t exist yet, leaning on a team who can deliver the tech to any market, and making progress that shows signs of promise.

Now let’s switch around just a few words.

It can also mean the idea of selling a product that doesn’t exist, leaning on a team who can deliver a market for any tech, and making promises to show signs of progress.

While those two sentences look a lot alike, they mean completely different things.

To the Moon!

What if I told you that you could live the sweet life on the moon?

Hello Tomorrow! is a series that debuted earlier this year on Apple. Simply put and spoiler-free, it’s about selling luxury condos on the moon. You can’t get any more entrepreneurially ambitious than that.

The show is smartly-written, superbly acted, fantastically designed, and I predict it won’t get a second season. Because the system is set up to work against smart, ambitious programming. But…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com