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Credit: Shutterstock

The Peacock and the Octopus:How showmanship harms you and your business

While standing out is undeniably crucial in a crowded marketplace, an excessive emphasis on appearance over substance is eroding the foundation of entrepreneurship. The lifelong entrepreneur, mentor, and inventor Michael Burtov explains how “peacocking” might be hurting your venture and the startup ecosystem.

The term “peacocking,” which is borrowed from the avian world, refers to when a peacock displays its vibrant feathers to impress or attract a mate or intimidate predators. The Octopus, on the other hand, tries to avoid attention, and many octopus species can camouflage themselves incredibly well, blending into their surroundings to the point of becoming nearly invisible.

As startup founders we have all been conditioned to be the Peacock, but maybe we have it all wrong. As someone deeply embedded in this ecosystem, I’ve witnessed the allure of peacocking and the subsequent pitfalls it entails.

Camouflaging true potential

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen startups get lost in their own siren call of appearance with slick presentations, boastful narratives, a focus on physical attractiveness, and radiating a vision of success. I have seen these presentations and been myself momentarily hypnotized. But, as the dazzle wears off, the harsh reality of a lacking product or market emerges. It just takes a question or two from someone knowledgeable to get to the bottom of the startup and the misdirection in which it’s engaged. The stripping away of this veneer doesn’t merely tarnish the startup but also sows seeds of doubt across the entire entrepreneurial landscape.

Misdirecting investors

For many startups the lifeline is its investors. Yet, what if these investors are presented with a vision blurred by the shimmer of peacock feathers? Entranced by superficial allure, investors pour capital into ventures that seem stellar but then crumble as soon as something real needs to be done. This isn’t just detrimental to your startup; it skews the entire investment paradigm, fostering skepticism and wariness. I understand that you might be thinking that you want to be one of these startups that’s able to raise funding by finessing investors, but I’d argue that this is a form of fraud. 

Cultural depth and authenticity

The heart and soul of any startup is its culture. When glitz overshadows core values, the internal ecosystem stumbles. Swanky perks like fancy outings or haute cuisine might seem enticing, but they’re no substitute for honest communication, trust, and a genuine commitment to employee welfare. In an environment dominated by flashiness, retaining top-tier talent becomes a Sisyphean task. After all, discerning professionals prioritize substance over spectacle.

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The peril of over-promising

In their zeal to stand out, many startups set the bar impossibly high, making grandiose promises. But when the deliverables are mere shadows of their promises, disillusionment sets in. Tantalized by visions of groundbreaking transformations, customers and investors are left grappling with modest tweaks. The chasm between claims and reality gradually chips away at trust, making brand-building a Herculean challenge.

Heeding historical warnings

Business archives brim with tales of startups that soared high on promises but plummeted due to a lack of substance. Take Theranos, for instance. With its magnetic leadership and audacious claims, the company was heralded as a medical game-changer. But beneath this lustrous exterior lurked a mosaic of untruths that culminated in Theranos’ spectacular collapse. This was a poignant lesson that superficiality, no matter how entrancing, cannot mask a lack of substance and real value.

It reflects poorly on you

Constantly boasting and showing off can erode your credibility, leading others to not only question the veracity of your extravagant claims but also to doubt your genuine ones. Such frequent  bragging can eventually isolate you from peers and colleagues, as most people gravitate towards down-to-earth and genuine interactions. Furthermore, this flashy behavior invites increased scrutiny; any discrepancy between your claims and reality becomes a glaring target. Often, individuals who adopt a “peacocking” approach become objects of ridicule, covertly mocked or mimicked. This showy path also comes with the pressure to perpetually uphold this image, possibly resulting in significant stress and financial woes. Amidst these superficial displays, there’s also a risk of overlooking the chance to forge sincere connections rooted in shared values and interests.

On the flipside, as Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female prime minister, was keen on saying: “Don’t be so humble – you are not that great.” Meaning that, as an entrepreneur, you really can’t afford to be the Octopus and it’s essential to strike a healthy balance.

1 comment
  1. This article really hits the nail on the head when it comes to the startup world’s obsession with peacocking. It’s true that in the quest for attention and investment, many startups end up putting on a flashy facade that masks their true potential. I’ve seen it happen countless times – the slick presentations, the over-the-top narratives, and the emphasis on appearances can be mesmerizing at first. But as the author rightly points out, it’s often just a distraction from the lack of substance underneath. Investors get swayed by the glitz and glamour, only to realize later that they’ve been misled.

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