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Self-Doubt and Entrepreneurial Persistence: How Founders of High-Growth Ventures Overcome Cognitive Constraints on Growth and Persist with their Ventures

Entrepreneurial Resourcefulness: Competing With Constraints

ISBN: 978-1-78190-018-5

Publication date: 14 August 2014


Overconfidence in one’s entrepreneurial abilities is often assumed to motivate the behaviors of founders of high growth ventures. However, when founders encounter significant obstacles in the firm growth process, some begin to doubt their efficacy of their abilities to manage these growth processes successfully. In these circumstances, prior research suggests that such self-doubt creates significant cognitive constraints on an entrepreneur’s growth ambitions. Similar to other types of resource constraints, cognitive constraints are thought to impact firm performance outcomes negatively. Despite these claims, in this study, phenomenological analysis of the experiences of a group of entrepreneurs creating and managing high-growth ventures based largely in Silicon Valley suggests that a number of these entrepreneurs experience significant levels of self-doubt but still persist in growing their ventures. Yet current entrepreneurship theory provides limited guidance regarding how entrepreneurs overcome these self-doubts and persist in creating a new venture. To address these theoretical limitations, in this chapter, we examine the cognitive process through which entrepreneurs wrestle with self-doubt in order to overcome self-imposed, cognitive constraints on firm growth. Based on this analysis, we develop a process model using a unique sample of interviews with 27 high-tech, high-growth entrepreneurs who have received venture capital funding. This model suggests entrepreneurs overcome self-doubt by managing the emotional impact derived from the discrepancy between their ideal and actual selves. Furthermore, entrepreneurs engage in an active process of transforming negative mental states by leveraging their intentionality, engaging in forethought, taking consistent action, and relying on the support of others. Overall, we find that entrepreneurs display a high level of entrepreneurial agency when attempting to transform negative mental states in order to persist with their ventures. Implications of these findings for cognitive theories of entrepreneurial action are discussed.



Haines, H. and Townsend, D. (2014), "Self-Doubt and Entrepreneurial Persistence: How Founders of High-Growth Ventures Overcome Cognitive Constraints on Growth and Persist with their Ventures", Entrepreneurial Resourcefulness: Competing With Constraints (Advances in Entrepreneurship, Firm Emergence and Growth, Vol. 15), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 95-124.



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