5 min read

Don't compare yourself to other entrepreneurs

Don't compare yourself to other entrepreneurs

Everyone says don't compare yourself to other people. It can be easier said than done. I'm going to run through how I avoid comparing myself to other entrepreneurs and the benefits of this approach. This blog post is partly inspired by the awesome book, The Courage to be Disliked, which strongly criticises the practise of comparing yourself to others.

You'll want your friends to fail

My main thing in life just now is my collection of online businesses. Now, I'm doing quite well at the moment. My income is growing. But it's still nowhere near a lot of entrepreneurs, especially other bootstrapped founders.

For instance, my friend Tom who is part of my High Signal community of entrepreneurs is the co-founder of Tweet Hunter which hit $1m in revenue after a year. (Since originally writing this article Tweet Hunter has now been acquired). So if I compared myself with Tom, I would feel bad.

The problem though is if you compare yourself to other entrepreneurs you also subconsciously put yourself in competition. In this case, Tom makes more money than me. So logically if I compare myself with him, I should want his business to fail and for him to be broke, or at least make less money than me. If Tweet Hunter's revenue suddenly tanked, I would be making more than Tom - yippee!

Of course that's a terrible outcome for Tom. Something really serious must have happened. But hey, as long as we are competing and I'm doing better than him, who cares, right?! This illustrates the basic problem of comparing yourself with other people, especially your friends - you'll want them to fail.

Instead of that attitude, I don't compare myself with Tom and I'm happy every time he reaches a new milestone. Isn't it far better to feel happy for friends instead of wishing they'd fail?

Signal bias

Another problem with comparing yourself to others is you'll probably fall for a phenomenon known as signal bias. This is where your view of an issue is affected by what information you look at. In the case of entrepreneurs, we only really look at the successes. We compare ourselves to the people making $1m after a year.

We don't compare ourselves with the people who make $1000 a year from their startup or those that haven't made a dollar at all. Those people are far less visible because most people don't go around shouting about their failures. So we only see the winners, compare ourselves to them and feel bad.

I almost didn't record an interview with my friend Alex recently. At the time he was making $350k a year and I felt unworthy to be talking to him on a business podcast with an income at the time of $1-2k a month. But then he reminded me that most indie founders in our space would kill for $2k/m and lots of people that try their hand at business don't make anything.

In fact, a great post on the IndieHackers forum titled "Holy heck this hard" points out at the time that only 193 businesses listing their revenue on the website were making more than $2,000 per month. At the time Indie Hackers had about 17,000 users, so 193 means less than 2% of users were making more than $2k a month:

IndieHackers blog post on revenue

Everyone has different circumstances

Another reason not to compare yourself with others is you don't know their circumstances. A friend of mine who runs a cafe had to work really hard to set her business up. Whereas cafe owner she knows in Edinburgh was given lots of money by her parents and so has set up a successful chain of cafes. So it's not reasonable to compare the success of these two businesses.

I also know for a fact that my friend Tom is grinding more and putting more hours into his business than me. Personally, I prioritize my lifestyle over my business. Also, he has a co-founder and employees. So it's not a fair comparison.

My friend Amar makes $1.8m from his Zenmaid SaaS but I'm also aware he has worked hard at it for 7 years and it didn't happen overnight. It doesn't make sense to compare our journeys or be envious of Amar. I'm always happy to hear he's hit a new milestone and his digital nomad lifestyle with his wife Fran is really inspiring!

Take an abundance mindset

It's a very bleak world where you are constantly comparing yourself to other people. The truth is there is enough wealth and opportunity around for everyone. Comparing yourself with others gets you into a scarcity mindset where opportunities disappear and you only see others as a threat to you. In reality, your friend getting a promotion or meeting a new partner doesn't detract from your potential for happiness (unless you compare yourself).

You'll always be insecure if you compare yourself

The chances are there will always be someone richer than you, someone with more friends than you or a seemingly "better life" than you have. Comparing yourself to a minimum wage employee when you have a middle class income might feel great but the millionaire still looks down on you. And the billionaire looks down on the millionaire. And so on, and so on.

Always looking over your shoulder, making sure you make more than someone else isn't a great recipe for happiness. Also, it's entirely out of your control. If you're determined to make more money than your neighbour, brother or whatever, well there's no way you can control their income!

I've grown my No CS Degree newsletter audience to over 8,000 people in 3 years. I might feel superior to someone who has 7,000 subscribers. But maybe they've only been active for a year. So in this scenario, I've got more subscribers in absolute terms but they are on track to overtake me in the next year. When they do, I'm going to get annoyed if I've been comparing myself with them the whole time.

Compare yourself to your past self

I've come along way in 3 years of running a business by myself and picked up a ton of skills and experiences, while meeting a lot of cool people on the way. If I only looked at the fact some others founders had become millionaires in those same 3 years, I'd be pretty miserable. I also wouldn't recognize the growth I've experienced and all the work I've put in.

It's a lot more gratifying to compare your present self to your past self if you are going to compare anything. Your business has grown 10% this month but your friend's business grew by 20%? Well, still a win for you and good for your friend!

Maybe I've taken 30 seconds off my personal best in running but I still came 30th in a race. Sure, it would be nice to win but I'm going to feel a lot better if I focus on my massive gain in speed rather than how I fared against other people.

Some reasons it's good to compare yourself

For sure, if you can look at someone who is more successful and be inspired by them without putting yourself down, that's great. I definitely draw inspiration from friends of mine that make more money from me. As long as you use this comparison to show yourself what is possible, that's ok. Just don't beat yourself about your friend being a millionaire and you're not.

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