Startup Hubris: Don’t Fall Prey To It

July 19, 2017

written by Daniel Coyle  AngelList | LinkedIn | Email | Twitter

Luckily, there are a ton of innovative, humble, open-minded startup founders and leaders out there. However, I’ve also encountered my fair share of, what I call, “startup hubris”; when you see it, you know it. It spreads throughout the organization and typically radiates from one or more early-influencers. Once startup hubris takes hold, it’s hard to get rid of. There’s often a series of decisions that can be seen (sometimes even predicted) as a result of it.


Startup hubris often manifests itself as:

  • Frequent hiring and firing (or quitting)

    • This is often a basic inability to onboard, train, and incorporate a new hire into your organization.

    • Further evidenced by habitual changes, compounding an already ever-evolving environment, without reasonable and consistent forethought, transparency, or communication.

  • Lack of people development

    • Yes, I understand hiring above existing staff and bringing in people with experience is often needed, but that doesn’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) replace slowly but surely developing staff who already have the startup drive, and believe in and understand your organization.

  • A small clique of (typically mid-to-high-level) leaders who are fairly sheltered and unaware

    • There’s probably always a chance of this happening, but hubris will emphatically encourage it. Watch out for a group of C-Suites, VPs, Directors, etc, who have little awareness or regard for what’s really going on with the vast majority people at the company. They can’t see beyond what they tell themselves and each other. This will surely feed a myriad of unfortunate decisions, and drive down morale and mobility.

  • Rationalizing decisions by, “it’s ok, it’ll suck for a while, but we’ll survive.”

    • This is the one that will eventually break something (in my opinion). There are only so many times you can stop and start, hire and fire, abandon something you only ever gave a fledgling chance to, etc. Assuming you and your organization can fight back from anything, has its merits; but when it’s the result of systemic hubris, there will eventually be very bad consequences.

    • Notice, this point feeds into many of the points above. Be vigilant to this symptom above all.


There you have it, a brief description of what startup hubris is and how it often manifests itself.


If you’d like to discuss your startup, organization, or department in more specific detail, feel free to email me. I’m happy to see if I can help!