Are all good founders Narcissistic?

My wife was at an all-day mental heath expo and went to listen to some PhD talk about narcissism. She came home that night, and said, in the most lovingly way, “you want to know something — you’re a narcissist, and so is your dad.”

Guess it didn’t occur to me prior to her mentioning it, but she was right. Sad thing is, I wasn’t ashamed of it, nor did I deny it. I told her it was part of being an entrepreneur. We laughed it off and went on with our life.

Hadn’t thought about it any more after that, until I read this article today about a founder who was half-heartedly apologizing to her investors for losing their money: Clearly, this girl is a narcissist as well.

The more I thought about it, nearly every founder I’ve known would qualify by its clinical definition.

Wondering if my thesis is correct? Is narcissism a requirement for being a successful founder? Is this a characteristic that investors look for?


  • I don’t think you’re narcissistic if you’re asking these questions. The entire mental condition has a stigma, but it can still be a positive for building a business. I doubt investors look specifically for it.

    The rather interesting thing was browsing the article you posted and this gem at the end where the woman who just ran her business into the ground and dumped her fiance says this:

    “I think I may do some consulting for a month or two, recovering my finances and helping other authentic leaders of larger companies find their voices and build better teams. (Email me at erica at erica dot biz if you’re interested in talking about this further–it won’t be cheap, but it will be worth it for you.)”

    Lol, yeah let me whip out my credit card and pay you for some advice on my business!

  • Wait so she says she’s broke. I guess she spent/invested whatever she made from her $1m she made from selling her hosting company?

    I don’t know if she’s narcissistic more like messed up.

  • She pissed away 600K like it was nothing all for the sake of “authenticity”. The successful investors are the ones who invest in founders who see authenticity as a means to fool their customers into doing their bidding, like those running businesses in the “sharing economy”.

  • My fav part was the first comment from the comments section…

    You’re available for talks? That’s great!

    My business is very successful. But it’s boring. i want to shake things up. Can you come in and share your expertise? You know, how to reduce profits by 500% and get at least half of my employees fired?

    Thanks! Hope to hear from you soon.

  • Having met Erica in person multiple times, she lives her life in denial and a perennial startup bubble. Not a good combination for success.

    • Its ironic how the boulder startup community lauded her “courage” in the comments including Techstars founder Brad Feld.

      I’d bet most of them were probably mocking her in private. Its this sort of faux community and support that I find nauseating in the startup space.

  • The vast majority of scientists who study “narcissism” make no or little distinction between healthy self-confidence, optimism (anyone who has earned self-esteem from real accomplishments however small) and unrealistic, pompousness that is born from a sense of inadequacy. These problems are particularly rampant in the community that studies psychopathy and narcissism.

    The key question to ask yourself is this —

    Are you the kind of confidant (even arrogant) individual who is able to acknowledge when you don’t know something or when you are proven wrong ?

    For some reason the psychology community decided that “self-esteem” was a generic umbrella term that it included narcissism i.e. those think highly about themselves without having put in the kind of effort that results in a genuine sense of accomplishment. As a result they created a a new term “authentic self-esteem” to distinguish itself from the narcissistic kind. I disagree that this was necessary at all, but it was likely an artifact of trends on psychological research.

    PhD student who finds neurotrash and psychobabble everywhere.

    • Just an addendum: Stop reading the clinical definitions of narcissism — these definitions are highly unstable and underdetermined i.e. they are incapable of distinguishing authentic self-esteem and narcissism, especially in the hands of laymen.

      Just go be the best person you can be.

  • A good test for narcissism:

    Do you think you fart rainbows and sunshine, and can do no wrong? That the world is lucky to be graced by your divine presence?

    If so… 😉

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