Salieri Syndrome — The Entrepreneur’s Hidden Nemesis

Salieri Syndrome

Anton Salieri is the rival composer vividly depicted in the movie Amadeus. Salieri is seething with envy at Mozart’s talent, genius and potential for success. He is one of a small handful of musicians with enough savvy to appreciate Mozart’s extraordinary talent. Instead of helping, Salieri thwarts Mozart’s destiny in every way possible. He poses as a friend, a confidante, a helper, and a mentor — all the while, subverting Mozart and subtly undermining his efforts to succeed.

“God bless the mediocre!”

Salieris in the Midst

Salieris are dangerous because they seem like allies, fans, and helpers, so your guard is down. They have just a little power — not because of their own accomplishments — but because of a position they hold inside an organization. They are gatekeepers with access to resources, connections and opportunities.

  • The big company manager who befriended you in 4 meetings and implies that he wants to be your first customer.
  • The Angel who wants to invest along with his friends, but just needs a few more pieces of information.
  • The economic development manager in charge of an accelerator, or funding program or competition.
  • The engineering manager who doesn’t want to release the initial product because the technology might have a few flaws.
  • The cofounder who is supposed to be locked-in-sync with your vision, but has their own agenda.
  • Ghosting — unreturned emails, or emails returned too late.
  • Gating — of resources/information and introducing new obstacles.
  • Gaslighting — remembering conversations and commitments differently than they really were.
  • Delaying — until all momentum is lost and you have to start over.
  • Deferring — introducing unexpected decision makers who need to be convinced.
  • Detailing — constantly asking for more detail, more documentation, before proceeding to the next step.
  • Defecting — working with or talking with your competition, after your initial meeting — without ever telling you.

3 Ways to Counter Salieri Syndrome

1- Beware and Be Aware

  • “So you are saying that once we get buy-in from Jim the Engineering Manager, you can generate a purchase order within 2–3 days?”
  • Confirm via email: “Great, let me send you an email right now summarizing what we just discussed, to remind us when it’s time to follow up”
  • Confirm further: “Are there any other steps or issues that might delay us?”
  • HT to Scott Adams



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CJ Cornell

CJ Cornell


Professor of #Entrepreneurship & Digital Media. Serial/Parallel Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Mentor, Angel Investor, #VC. Crowdfunding & #Startups Evangelist