Five things entrepreneurs need to stop calling themselves

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A room of men, mostly wearing suits, are seated in red, blue and yellow chairs, facing away from the company. They are watching a man, out of focus, as he presents at the front of the room. He is wearing a shirt and tie, and is standing at a podium with a MacBook. There are two large digital screens mounted on the wall, behind and to the left of him.

When you pitch your company, you’re also pitching yourself. You need to convince your audience that you’re smart, creative, confident and totally capable of taking your startup from the basement to the boardroom. You need to let everyone know that you have advanced expertise in a particular area.

There are good ways to be convincing: being well-rehearsed, dressing the part and talking up your impressive experience, education and accomplishments.

And there are bad ways. Very bad, cringe-inducing ways. Like calling yourself any of the following.


If you want to elicit groans from a room full of experienced VCs and tech industry leaders, casually throw in a reference to disruption. “Disrupt” (and all its forms) is arguably the most overused buzzword in the world of entrepreneurship — so much so, that New York Magazine once penned an entire article encouraging its retirement. Even if your product or service is the biggest industry game-changer since Uber, stay away from calling yourself a “disruptor.”


Social media was born and with it, the need for pithy personal bios. Suddenly, everyone was calling themselves a guru of something — of SEO, vegan baking, pet grooming, blogging, etcetera. Thanks to this proliferation, “guru” is now entirely meaningless and 100 per cent cheesy.


You’re only an influencer if enough people have told you so. But even then, you’re not allowed to call yourself one. Why? Because it reeks of pretension. If you’re referring to yourself as an influencer, chances are you are not truly one. Tim Cook is one of the world’s leading influencers and there’s no way he’d ever refer to himself as such.


Referring to yourself as a thought-leader doesn’t make it so. To be a thought-leader, you must have a truly unique perspective on a problem and/or a unique way to fix it,  you must talk about it, and address it. You also need to have some level of recognition. In an article for the Financial Post, Cheryl Kim writes that a good litmus test is to consider “Does anyone disagree with me enough to say so out loud?” If you are a thought-leader, you won’t need to tell anyone; they’ll already know. 


Advanced coding, sales, or marketing skills do not make you a ninja. Or a rockstar. Or a Jedi. Using any of those terms in your deck, LinkedIn profile or on your business card would be a big mistake; you’ll attract eye-rolls, not respect. Influencers, mentors and experts want to work with intelligent and humble people, not cocky know-it-alls with a Twitter following.