Advice is cheap…remember that the next time you’re given some.
As a start up founder, you have a responsibility to yourself, your co-founders and your fledgling company to seek out the best advice you can about how to grow and manage your venture.
I would advise you to not follow any of it.
Well, I would follow that particular piece of advice…I mean, if you don’t follow advice that says don’t follow advice…I guess you’d be following it. Right? Let’s try this again.
If you’re a smart founder, you will seek out, and you will find, lots of good advice for how to grow and manage your venture. Just be careful as to what advice you take.
You may have noticed that as you’ve started your tech company, you’re missing a few things. Capital? Probably don’t have enough of that, right? People? You’re certainly missing access to enough human capital. Access to customers! Yeah, you’ll never get enough of that. However, notwithstanding your lack of all these ingredients, the thing you’re going to need more of than anything else is entrepreneurial skill. Entrepreneurial skill is that combination of brain smarts and gut smarts that allows you to assess the stuff you’ve got control over and the stuff you don’t. Entrepreneurial skill is what you use to figure out the best ways to get what you don’t have, mix it with what you do have, and then arrange it all in ways that make your business grow. Put that way, it sounds kind of complicated. And it is. It sounds like you’re gonna need some help. The good news is that there are hundreds of books on founding companies. Maybe you should read a few of those books, or apply to one of the dozens and dozens of fancy 12-week accelerators and get all the advice you need to sort this all out.
Sounds logical, but my experience tells me it is more complicated than that. I’ve actually had clients come and tell me how excited they were after a meeting with a potential supplier or vendor who is well-known in their industry. The important thing to remember is that without the context of knowing some details about your business, advice from these strangers might be interesting…but should not be taken seriously! You should consider listening to advice from advisors if ALL of the the following elements are present:
1) The advisor has a track record of success. The advisor does not need to have launched, grown and exited a business to be a good advisor, although that history certainly helps. The advisor may only be a successful investor or successful corporate executive or attorney/accountant. Or incubator manager! What matters is a depth of experience and track record of helping companies launch.
2) The advisor needs to know your business. Getting a question answered on Quora by Steve Blank or David Rose does not necessarily make it good advice. It might be good advice, but it might also simply be 80% advice…that is advice that is probably good in 80% of the situations…and the chances of your business being in that 80% is only…what? Like 80%? Not 100%. No matter how experienced the advisor, it is difficult to provide good specific advice if the advisor is not familiar with things like your balance sheet, your sales pipeline composition, the capabilities of your team (i.e., both your dedicated team and those team members you think are dedicated but may actually not be), etc., etc. etc. I don’t believe any advice from a single one-hour meeting should be taken all that seriously…especially if the meeting came about from you asking something from the advisor…like advice from a VC with whom you’ve had your first meeting. I can’t tell you how many clients have come back from that first meeting with a VC and tell me “They told me I’m not raising enough money”. For the record, this is probably true…you probably aren’t raising enough money, but that has little to do with how much money you SHOULD raise!
3) The advisor begins making his or her network open to you. In my experience, when someone who fits #1 above, and begins establishing a relationship with you along the lines of #2 above, and THEN makes an earnest introduction to someone else in their network, that advisor is making a longer term commitment in you and your venture. This is a sign that this advisor is not just thinking about the 80% advice, but is really thinking about your business and how this advice lays into it.
Good advice comes from good advisors who have at least an intellectual commitment to your business. The smart entrepreneur knows how to sift through good advice, bad advice, well-intentioned advice and contextually relevant advice. An entrepreneurial skill that can’t really be taught is how to mix all those together and pull out the threads of relevant actions for you to take. After all the advice…actions are all up to you!
Wayne Barz is Manager of Entrepreneurial Services for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Follow Wayne’s blog at www.TechonomicMan.com or on Twitter @TechonomicMan.