I read a great piece by Ev Williams last week on why ‘All the Startup Advice You Read is Wrong (But you should read some anyway)’ which examines why most of the advice you come across isn’t applicable to your business.
The problem is that startups are undeniably complicated and unpredictable beasts. With so many uncontrollable variables at hand, most advice that intends to pinpoint how A made B happen, invariably can’t work for your business. The issue with this type of advice is that it’s bound to personal and unique experiences- the formulaic ‘what works for one, works for all type’ of entrepreneur’s pocket handbook just isn’t applicable. Just because Steve Jobs dunked his cookies in his coffee four times every morning before meditating 5 hours whilst listening to the Beastie Boys, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Then comes the over-generalized advice, which incessantly pounds you, day in day out, the same shebang, just regurgitated in a different way. Breaking news, “to be an entrepreneur, you have to take risks and be passionate about what you do”! Really? Funny, hadn’t thought of that before. I mean come on! Being passionate and taking risks is basically the layman’s definition of being an entrepreneur. This kind of advice wastes time. Given that one of your most precious resources is time, I’m sure you’d like to hear less of the obvious and more of the personalized, valuable and down-and-dirty advice. Although this might not be directly applicable to your business, these types of “lessons learned” are sure to sprout ideas and creativity (the kind of startup advice we like).
Here are some of the most annoying pieces of startup advice I have come across.
1. “HIRE A-PLAYERS”
Unfortunately we don’t all live in a uniform world where A-players are ‘en masse’, lining up outside our doors, begging to form part of our businesses. And we certainly don’t live in a world where every startup has boatloads of cash to pay these alpha dogs. And what about the entrepreneurs that live in outer Mongolia? Did someone say, “Inequality in the A-player per capita”?
We all freely use this term A-player without really understanding its meaning. What defines an A-player? Is an A-player in Uzbekistan the same as an A-player in Silicon Valley? What differentiates an A-player from a B-player and so on? I checked the good old World Wide Web and it hasn’t yet enlightened me. As we don’t seem to have any clear definition based on sound fundamentals, I think we should be more careful with the way we throw around this term.
Anyway, without further digressing… The age-old advice of strictly hiring A-players or forever holding your breath isn’t valuable advice for the majority of us. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it enough. It’s logical. Work with highly experienced and amazing people and the chances of success are higher.
We would all love to be surrounded by a bunch of uber-experienced whiz-kids, skilled to the bone with pure natural talent and drive. However, attracting this top talent isn’t as easy as offering up a plate of your mammas home cooked pies to a bunch of professional eaters. If you don’t have the right combination of location, money, idea and team, getting top talent to sign on isn’t always easy as pie.
As reality rears its ugly head, it’s most likely you will have to put up with some B player or C-players (however you want to define that). Surely 90% of startups find themselves in this situation and as a leader you need to extract the best you can from them and transform them into a X- Player (new term coined for a super abnormal extraordinary employee).
Although the chances of success are higher with the A-Team on board, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you success, just lots of destruction and cool weapons made out of forks.
2. “BE PASSIONATE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO”
Really? Hadn’t thought about that. Being passionate about what you do is implied when you start your own business. Passion is why you get up in the morning and do what you do and why you don’t work for Morgan Stanley. Passion is expected; it comes with the job. If you don’t have passion and drive for what you do then you shouldn’t start a business. Being advised to be passionate is like being advised to open your eyes each morning.
3. “IF IT DOESN’T WORK OUT, JUST PIVOT”
After 5 months of 18-hour workdays you finally launch your MVP. After sending out a few emails to your friends, colleagues and The Next Web, it turns out that you don’t have any traction. “No worries, just pivot!”
Pivoting, thus changing the course of direction of your business when the original model doesn’t work shouldn’t be taken lightly. We hear about pivots here there and everywhere which is a great thing, as long as the businesses involved are actually validating their new chosen course of direction.
Widely accepting that it’s “ok” to pivot doesn’t mean that you should give up all of your hard work after a few weeks to try something new. It should be taken as a last measure when you have tried everything you can to get your current model to work.
Don’t get me wrong, pivots are great and can save businesses but when they are validated. Most things “premature” aren’t good, or so I’ve heard.
4. “EMBRACE FAILURE”
This one really kills me. Failing sucks. Period. I hate losing, at anything, as I’m sure most of you do. But “ 90% of startups fail” they tell you. Who cares? I don’t want my startup to be one of them. What should other people’s failures have to do with you? How often do you read that failure is a core element of entrepreneurial life? “If you don’t fail, you don’t learn.”
I’m not debating the truth in the fact that failure ‘can’ help you take a reflective stance on your previous experiences and sometimes will help you see where you went wrong. However as Jason Fried points on in his great book, Rework, “Success gives you real ammunition. When something succeeds, you know what worked–and you can do it again. And the next time, you’ll probably do it even better”.
“Failure is not a prerequisite for success. A Harvard Business School study found already-successful entrepreneurs are far more likely to succeed again (the success rate for their future companies is 34 percent). But entrepreneurs whose companies failed the first time had almost the same follow-on success rate as people starting a company for the first time: just 23 percent”.
As you can see, success is what counts for future success. Not failure. If anything, learn from other peoples’ failures and avoid going down that track at all costs.
On another note, if failure is so expected in the startup world, doesn’t it become more widely accepted as an acceptable thing to occur? I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure that being constantly told that failure is expected; it affects in some way our drive for success. Embracing losing has become so widely accepted to the point where entrepreneurs think, “Hey don’t worry that this one failed because the next one will be a rocket ship”.
In conclusion, failing is a part of life and if it happens to you then best find out why it happened and apply that knowledge to your next venture.
5. “TO BE SUCCESSFUL YOU HAVE TO WORK LONG HOURS”
Working long hours doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a moody shit who is most likely destroying a relationship at home. Your kids/wife/husband/boyfriend/pet tiger miss you!
It’s not a competition and we definitely shouldn’t idolize people who work all day and night. Working more hours doesn’t mean you get more work done nor does it make you more efficient, it just means you work more hours.
Resourceful people who organize their time well can get the same amount of work done in half the time. Taking the correct measures and applying yourself during the day without wasting time with unnecessary meetings and distractions, enables you to accomplish your work instead of focusing on unnecessary bullshit.
If you work extremely long hours week in and week out then you are most likely to succumb to the following disorders: being an ass, being a moody-ass, neglecting a relationship at home, looking down on people who don’t work as much as you, being a tired psycho, having a warped sense of accomplishment, narcotic addiction etc etc.
Culture can be somewhat to blame for this where working long hours and overachieving are seen as signs of accomplishment. People seen as putting in the extra hours are the ones that are deemed smart and hardworking, essentially creating a system built for workaholics.
Pulling the occasional all-nighter before launch day or parents night is sometimes necessary but working 80-hour weeks is neither healthy nor productive.
Don’t forget “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.
If this all sounded completely disparaging then you are taking it the wrong way. I love startup advice. I mean, who doesn’t like getting free guidance from the guys and gals that have been there and done it before? Startup advice can spur creativity and inspiration but we need to understand that what works for one business won’t necessarily work for another. One person’s good advice will be bad advice for someone else. Also if we are going to get advice, it shouldn’t be the same old stuff said in a different way. Think unique! Take heed with the advice you read (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it) and may it help you in some way or form!
Neil Krug “Bad Advice”
Time tracking advice