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The Dunning-Kruger Effect on Startups


9 min read

We use the term “startup” often. Typically, we imply a young company with new ideas and potential for development. The average firm founder is male (82.8%), highly educated (84.8%), and 38 years old. Most of the time, these businesses have a few eager investors. Angel investors are of course looking for the next “unicorn”, a business worth more than $1 billion.

The Internet provides limitless possibilities at a low cost, so it’s no wonder that many people start businesses in their kitchens. All you need is a laptop, an intelligent mind, and a barrel of coffee. Though not indicative of a failed Dunning Kruger test,

There is another side, of course. The failure rate of first-year startups is 98%.

I’ve been working with startups since 2006, assisting with development, marketing, and sales, and I used to keep track of all the companies I worked with. I’ve always dealt with company founders as individuals, not as brands. Some of them succeed, and some fail. Let’s define Dunning Kruger and what startups could do to overcome its drawbacks.

Why Startups Fail

Statistics don’t lie: 42% of such products did not meet market demand; 29% of startups ran out of money; 23% had the wrong team, and 14% ignored their customers’ needs. The source of these issues is that they are all caused by the Dunning effect, which occurs when a leader confuses illusions with reality. But let’s take a closer look at the failure process.

Money Ran Out

Cash flow ceased because no new funds were brought in. Is it due to poor sales or high costs? Working without money may also refer to challenges in obtaining the initial and recurring finance required to keep a business functioning until it starts to create profits. If your project passes the Dunning Kruger effect test, good resource planning is one of the factors.

Wrong Market

The number of unskilled and unaware people attempting to start enterprises with no defined target audience in mind has skyrocketed. So far, things aren’t going well. The next phase is for them to go after everyone in their neighborhood. The scope is too broad this time. Your capacity to promote to your target audience will grow in direct proportion to how successfully you identify your specialty.

Lack of Research

David Dunning and Justin Kruger suppose that unskilled people don’t even try to do more research to find that they know small. Knowing what your clients need is critical. All too often, would-be company owners approach the market certain that they have a great product or service to offer, only to discover that no one is interested. You may better predict your target audience’s desires and requirements if you research them and the market.

Bad Partnership

As with many other aspects of life, having a business partner is challenging if a founder is unaware of personality and social psychology. You each have specialized expertise in a separate subject. If nothing is done to resolve the conflict between your opposing ideas for the company, it will undoubtedly produce tension within the ranks. You work more hours than your spouse, who works fewer hours but feels they are accomplishing more. Because the cooperation failed, the firm went bankrupt. Most arguments may be prevented before they begin if the corporate plan clearly defines each member’s job.

Bad Marketing

A company may be defined by two words: marketing and accounting. You can sell or supply almost anything to someone if you master these two areas. Unfortunately, the majority of company owners are specialists in their field but unaware of it how to sell. Don’t spend time trying to figure out your own marketing plan when you can get someone else to do it for you. You’ll have to invest some money, but if you do it well, you’ll earn much more than you put in.

Dunning-Kruger Effect Losses

Individuals squander time as a result of the Dunning Krueger curve. Illusions make people oblivious to reality. Competitors with quick thinking may take the idea and make it successful. That is why some business concepts are first and foremost.

Situations like that occurred in my professional life. We began with a feature-packed app and overcame a few difficulties. After 9 months, full functionality was anticipated. A competitor launched an app with fewer features and immediately became the market leader.

Entrepreneurs become corporate evangelists as a result of the Dunning-Kruger curve, too. They may persuade people to quit their jobs, work for free (or in exchange for stock), or invest. But everyone can start by inspiring colleagues. They are smart because they are unable to perceive reality. The Dunning-Kruger effect.

Why Startuppers Cannot Perceive Failure

Have you ever met someone who was overconfident yet destined to fail? These occurrences occur on a daily basis (at work, among friends, and in the family). People often undervalue their abilities and performance. Indiscretion might result in breakdowns and financial losses.

Typically, an entrepreneur’s self-deception prevents a successful enterprise from taking off. This tendency is referred to as the Kruger Dunning curve. Individuals with little ability cannot recognize their lack of skill, resulting in a false sense of superiority.

People love to overestimate their abilities. To a young entrepreneur, everything looks simple and apparent. Due to selective perception, humans often perceive only positive examples of individual entrepreneurship. The awakening occurs at the bottom of the curve, called the Dunning Kruger valley when the entrepreneur recognizes his shortcomings and strives to improve.

Why the Dunning-Kruger Effect Is Hard to Recognize

Every event seems easy when seen from a distance or in retrospect. Recognizing the Dunning Kruger curve in rival firms is simple. Many people, however, fail to see it in themselves. There is a valid explanation for this:

  1. The Dunning-Kruger effect is often caused by the prior successes of a person, a close friend, or a well-known person as a result of social psychology tricks. The person had either been a key figure in the building of a successful firm or had previously done so.
  2. Some may feel that success in one market, industry, or product would be simple to reproduce in another, all while causing no harm. They fail to recognize the ever-present need to bridge knowledge gaps and to mount stupid Dunning Kruger curve.
  3. A lack of experience in general is also a factor. As a result, the person may get entirely involved in a world of fantasy. As a result, a graph’s curve may climb abruptly before collapsing sharply. Everything appears possible when you don’t know what you’re talking about.
  4. People often make the mistake of believing that mimicking another person’s success will lead to their own. You’ll never know what went into making this achievement possible. Transferring knowledge from one organization to another is rarely successful especially while being inflated self.
  5. The inability of assessments. How much of the time do you feel you are the best at something?
  6. Many people assume, incorrectly, that a leader cannot fail.

For these reasons, people fail to recognize their own incompetence (in some cases even inadequacy of the behavior). On top of the Dunning-Kruger curve, correctly assessing others’ talents and knowledge is challenging. This person does not think that someone else can know or see more than they do. As a result, they disregard sound advice and influential persons.

Incompenent people with poor self-esteem may see adversaries everywhere as a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

How We Test For Dunning-Kruger

We’ve created a list of questions that can help leaders to test themselves and make a so-called journal of personality. To get the greatest outcomes, you must submit honest responses throughout. Dunning-Kruger Effect questionnaire:

  1. How long have you been working in this industry? a) more than five years; b) one to five years; c) one year or less.
  2. How can you determine how well-rounded your industry expertise is? a) an experienced hand who doesn’t need any help; b) someone with some experience who might use some advice; c) someone who is just getting started.
  3. Have you ever considered starting your own business? a) yes, by myself; b) yes, with a companion; c) no, I haven’t.
  4. Have you ever been a part of a failed startup? a) yes, I was a team member; b) yes, it was my own firm; c) no, I haven’t.
  5. Is there a limit to how many people on your team you’ll pay attention to? a) None, they lack the essential skills; b) I welcome feedback from anybody who wants to supply it; c) There are a few people.
  6. Can you tell me how much time you spent researching the market? a) less than one month; b) one to three months; c) longer than three months.
  7. Do you know who your competitors are or where you may find them? a) any competitors are inconsequential; b) they are known to me; c) they are well-known and carefully examined by me.
  8. Please explain why your team must stay loyal to you: a) I have a wonderful idea and a great sense of humor; b) I have the capacity to lead them to success; c) We can make this a reality with their support.
  9. Could you explain what you do for the company? a) the primary visioner; b) the primary decision maker; c) the worker bee.
  10. Is it possible to do business without you? a) not at all; b) not for more than a few months; c) for at least a year.


  • If most of yours are A-answers,you may be subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Write down as quickly as possible all of the areas in which you are really inadequate yet have been pretending differently.
  • If you have mostly B-answers, you should review your organization with the most experienced, dependable members of your staff. You may be unaware of all the possible hazards.
  • The Dunning-Kruger effect does not affect C-answerers in general, although you may be subject to the imposter effect. You are suffering from the inverse Dunning-Kruger effect, in which you overestimate your own coolness.

The goal of this questionnaire is to make you think about reality and how you perceive it because incompetence leads to inflated opinion.

Dunning–Kruger Effect Maintenance Checkup

Bertrand Russell once told that the world has a dilemma because the dumb are confident while the knowledgeable are unsure. As every problem has a cure, there are some actions you can take to avoid the Dunning–Kruger effect (or make it less painful):

  1. Simply admit your ignorance and be willing to learn and improve.
  2. Set reasonable objectives for yourself and keep track of your progress as you go.
  3. Hire people for balance. A great team of high performers should consist of people with different complementary skills.
  4. Interact with competent people as much as possible. (Accept the fact that there are people smarter than you.
  5. First, you must determine if your business concept is viable. If you need to restart, don’t be afraid to do so.
  6. Make a practice of doing detailed market analysis and updating your data on a frequent basis. The view from the helicopter is breathtaking, but you should keep an eye on the radio for updates.
  7. Prioritize areas where you have a clear advantage over the competitors.
  8. Inquire about your development and be willing to accept constructive feedback.


Who Is Affected By Dunning-Kruger Effect?

David Dunning and Justin Kruger discovered that if they did not get feedback on their own performance, even experts in their field might easily overstate or understate their own talents. We now define Dunning Kruger just like that. In a 2021 study, those with high degrees of intellectual humility underestimated their outcomes on just one of two test.

Why Is the Dunning-Kruger Effect a Problem In Management?

This phenomenon may cause conflict, impede the growth of a team or project, reduce employee productivity and morale, and even lead to poor decision-making in high-stakes scenarios. As a result, managers must learn to pass the Dunning Kruger test and devise measures to overcome it.

What happens as a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Because of the Dunning effect, you could not realize your strengths because you’ll think that everyone else is naturally gifted in the same areas in which you excel. So, you lose the capacity to recognize your own strengths and skills.

What is the opposite of Dunning-Kruger?

The fear of being exposed as fraud is called imposter syndrome. In these situations, even the most intelligent and skilled individuals tend to underrate their own talents. They have doubts about their ability to execute their assigned work. Consequently, the individual has passed the Dunning Kruger effect test, but they are still in an extremely low-esteem scenario.

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