Startup Tip #1) Don't Listen to Me or Anybody Else

I’m putting this first because I know you’re busy starting a company and I can save you a lot of time by telling you to skip all the other tips and listen to this one. Or don’t. That’s the whole point.

When I, and later we, were first starting out, we sought a lot of advice. We talked to friends, mentors, other startup veterans, current founders, VC contacts, teachers, etc. Most of them had really good advice, but the problem was that we talked to too many people. For every smart person who gave a given piece of advice, we could find an equally smart person who said the exact opposite. I remember one drive down the Peninsula where we mapped out exactly who was in which camp on each issue.

The fact is that when people give you advice, they’re basing it on either something that worked for them, or something that went horribly wrong for them. If they never got to a million users, they’ll tell you, “Don’t bother building in scalability up front — just get the product out there.” If they were bought by Google for their caching technology, they’ll tell you, “Focus on the platform, keep the product simple.” On financing especially, you get advice all over the map. “Take as little money as possible to get to your next proof point.” “Take as much as you can right now in case things don’t work out right away.” “Don’t take money from the A-list VCs because they’ll pressure you into taking a bigger risk.” “Don’t take money from some no-name VC because it’s all about the smart money.”

It’s not that the advice isn’t helpful, it’s just that following any one person’s advice is almost certain to be wrong. They started their company in a different time, a different space, with different constraints. You should listen to as many people as possible, but also realize that they’re not really giving you advice, they’re giving you their own biases. Many of the best advisers realize that and will be upfront — “…of course, that’s just what worked for me.” But if you’re talking to someone who doesn’t add that disclaimer, be sure to add it yourself as the advice enters your brain. Or don’t — that’s just what ended up working for me.

Up next: You Will Always Be One Step Away…

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