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Types of people to avoid having in a startup

Posted at — May 31, 2019 by Abishek Muthian

I abhor judging people, but there are times when if a person's behaviour is not taken into account it might lead to a chain-reaction of undesired consequences.

One of such occasions is having someone in our startup, be it co-founder or employee or ourselves; the behaviours listed here is cancerous to our startup especially if it is exhibited by ourself.

Good news is like any behaviour which inhibits our progress, if given a chance to retrospect; these can be resolved. I've had some of them and I've consciously taken effort to address them. But when the behaviour is exhibited by others, especially those whom we are assessing to be part of our startup we might not be in a position to enforce a behavioural change and so it is wise to avoid having them in our startup.

This may sound hypocritical that when we give ourselves a chance to address the erring behaviour, we're not giving it to someone else. The agenda here is to avoid yet another point of failure in a startup as there are plenty and to take a decision in favour of the welfare of the startup 'organism' as a whole comprising of our customers, employees, clients, philosophy etc.


Ego is a part of everyone, but an Egotist don't have a hint of humility in them. Ego can sometimes help in self improvement, but excessive ego will be detrimental especially in a startup environment. The Egotist believe that their opinion is special, causing friction in teams.

It is generally easy to identify an egotist, it is the person who doesn't want to agree on something when every other concerned individual has done so; and yes the egotist does it every single time.


The Envious person is the close cousin of the Egotist. They just don't want others to succeed and don't take any positive action to attain the success they envy.

They will be a hurdle in the startup environment, even though growth of a startup will result in their own welfare; they will cause obstruction as they just don't want someone else to succeed.


The Narcissist is the genetic child of close-cousins Egotist and the Envious. They feel like they are the center of Universe, no they themselves are the Universe.

Given a chance, the Narcissist will always project themselves over the startup and over others in the startup.


The Entitled would always see the events only from their perspective and experiences. This doesn't play well in a team with members of different backgrounds.

It is easy to spot an entitled person, they are the ones which 'call the manager' for minor errors thinking that it asserts their authority. They often go into confrontation with waiters in a restaurant or other similar environments where they can 'call the manager'.


The Manipulator gets their way by lying or hiding the truth. Manipulator is dangerous because manipulation is contagious and not localised to the environment.

If a client manipulates our startup into doing something in promise for a bigger project in the future which may not exist, often times we will be forced to manipulate our subordinates into doing something which they needn't do; compromising our integrity.


The Liar always lies, unlike the Manipulator they need not have an objective to lie. They love lying and lack integrity.

Chronic liar is easy to spot, they lie for little things even where truth doesn't affect them aversely.


The Paranoid is just as dangerous as the Manipulator as this could be contagious as well, but the Paranoid doesn't necessarily poses ill-intent.

A paranoid person can induce anxiety in the team. When a paranoid from established company who has no idea about startup ecosystem joins a startup, they'll be anxious about job security from day one even when there's no evidence of their job being under threat.

It is easy to identify a paranoid person, they are not calm or composed.


Excitement is good, but always excited is not. 'The Excited' is always explicitly over excited about every new thing, make huge promises but always under-deliver or not deliver at all.

In a startup environment they are the opposite to the Paranoid, they will be very excited to take up something new only to drop it soon; as their excitement is always short-lived. They cannot be trusted with responsibility.


Wise people have said, one should dream . But always dreaming at the expense of loosing focus on the near-term goals is not good. 'The Dreamer' looses the sense of reality as they are focused only the consequences of attaining the aim. The aim without a plan is just a wish. The near-term goal would seem unexciting to them when compared to their 'over than life' aims, hence they just skip the near term goals there by having a ladder with no steps in them.

Dreamers are quite common among entrepreneurs, many want to be the richest person in the world without having a business plan to make money from their startup. They want to dig for water in Europa, while taking no action towards solving current water crisis.

Contrary to the advice of countless motivational speakers, there is scientific consensus that we should dream smaller. Gabrielle Oettingen, Prof. of Psychology at New York University says,

Positive fantasies and daydreams as pleasurable they are, they have a problem when it comes to fulfilling our wishes and attaining our goals.

-Gabrielle Oettingen

In her research, she found that these positive fantasies seduce us to feel already accomplished and they take our energy away.

Before you feel that it may be a double whammy when both positive thoughts and negative thoughts are counterproductive; Prof. Gabrielle has a solution.


Based on 20 years of scientific research, WOOP is an easy-to-learn mental strategy that brings us closer to our desires and turns dreams into achievable goals.

WOOP stands for,

Research suggests that, if we follow WOOP methodology for our wishes instead of just dreaming about it, we may actually achieve the goals instead of it just being a wish.


Everyone has the right to their identity like culture, language etc. What I call 'the Identity-ist' is the one who voluntarily projects an identity only to cause friction. They don't give equal respect and dignity to the identity of the others and often project theirs just to feel superior.

Showcasing identities such as religious, political, sexuality when it is uncalled for in a startup environment or for the matter of fact in any environment doesn't lead to productivity. Paul Graham has written an essay on how to keep the identity small .


Everyone is lazy at times, when our body and brain is just tired. But 'the Lazy' enjoys it, they never strive to become better at what they do. They irrationally expect a status-quo for eternity and when something unexpected happens they'll be at the mercy of others.

It is easy to spot the lazy in a startup environment, it is the person whom we give second chances a hundred times even at the cost of our growth.

Toxic Workers

In a study conducted by Harvard Business School on Toxic Workers, they found empirical data to suggest that "avoiding a toxic worker (or converting him to an average worker) enhances performance to a much greater extent than replacing an average worker with a superstar worker".

The paper defines a toxic worker as, "a worker that engages in behaviour that is harmful to an organization, including either its property or people".

Some of the behaviours listed above could constitute as a behaviour exhibited by a toxic worker. The study states that, one approach to managing toxic workers is simply to avoid them.

But to avoid them, we need to find them in first place. The study states workers who are overconfident, self-regarding, and profess to the follow the rules are much more likely to be terminated for toxic behaviour.

The study also mentions that the work environment might be contributing to the toxicity of an employee and that toxic employees generally tend to be more productive. But, avoiding toxic workers is still better for the firm in terms of net profitability.


In general, it's best if we are able to identify people with extremist and mediocre characterisation early and avoid taking them in our core team for our startup.

Yes, people can change and everyone should be given a chance to change; but the cost of change shouldn't be at the expense of the growth in a startup.

Change log:

January 2020: Added WOOP.

December 2019: Added Toxic Workers.

August 2019 : Added Conclusion.

June 2019 : Added Entitled.

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