7 counter-tips to entrepreneurs

I’d like to protest against some general advice, by giving some general advice. Written by @hauge2

Dave Kerpen’s post titled 7 tips to entrepreneurs is undoubtedly based on experience, and written with the best intentions. Even so, the more general advice about entrepreneurship I read (that includes stuff I’ve written myself), the more I ask myself what’s the value for the receiving end.

Based on experience. Written with passion. Anticipating success.

Based on experience. Written with passion. Anticipating success.

Example: “Believe in yourself” is an advice we hear often. I don’t think you shouldn’t believe in yourself, but there’s a problem: People who try and utterly fail also believe in themselves. At least believed. Such advice is a cliché.

What’s more alarming, is how easily such advice is misinterpreted and used in ways that was never intended. Hence, to avoid the pitfalls I’m sure the author of the original post never intended, here are my seven counter-tips to Kerpen’s 7 tips to entrepreneurs.

And please: Take this with a pinch of salt.

Tip 1: “Have an amazing support system”.

Counter-tip: “Don’t get addicted to confirmations from your support system”

Make sure you distinguish moral support from validated learning. Eric Ries talks about the entrepreneur distortion field – people who wish you the best will unintentionally give you false positives about your ideas:  The people who fuel your ego are rarely the people who pay the invoices you send. Have a support system, but spend your time on real customer prospects instead.

Tip 2: “Expect utter hell, and you’ll be just fine”

Thank god someone told me to go with “success”

Counter-tip: “Expect to fail fast, and you’ll be better off”

When finding yourself in “hell”, you’ll be tempted to think: “Sooner or later, this had to come, but I’m ready. This is the test, and I will pass!” That’s how you make yourself immune to learning (and that’s how you really end up in  hell).

Accepting “hell” as a part of the game makes entrepreneurs stay the wrong course too long. In innovation, the real artwork is to understand when to change. To make tactical decisions using data and learning, and use feelings for something else (see next counter tip). To adapt, or not to adapt, that is the question.

Tip 3: “Make sure you have passion and perseverance”

Counter-tip: “Don’t fall in love with your ideas”

The flip side of being passionate is being uncritical. What you create is not valuable simply because you spend a lot of time and energy on it. Blind passion and uncritical perseverance also make you immune to feedback.

One of the hardest parts about being an entrepreneur is balancing emotional involvement with fact-based analysis. Don’t cultivate passion. Instead, cultivate your ability to process feedback (especially criticism) so that you can learn the though lessons without loosing faith.

Tip 4: “Bring the best people together”

Counter-tip: “Find guys like yourself and build culture”

I’ve been on such “elite” teams, and while it was flattering to be included in an exquisite company of pedigree experts, we never really made it as a team. We were more like a group of egos, who mostly hit each other with one prior experience more impressive than the other.

Build a team of people you identify with, and build your story together. For inspiration, ask jazz musicians about their best co-improvisors. I promise you, it will be someone they know really well. Prior experience is valuable, but great team performances come from teams who know and care about each other.

Tip 5: “Set realistic goals and timelines”

Counter-tip: “There is no plan”

In a realm of extreme uncertainty, goals and timelines create an illusion of predictability. Face your chicken-and-egg-problems by exploration instead of paper exercises. You need an overall vision and you need a methodology for exploration. You even need a plan A that you discard in favour of a plan B, that you discard in favor of a plan C ..

Unless you truly are psychic, you don’t need to find a master plan. Because there isn’t any.

Tip 6: “Make time to read a little each day”

Counter-tip: Beware of tips (or counter-tips) to entrepreneurs

When you find a convincing post, use the “vs” word on Google. Talk to experienced people, and counter any general advice by asking “why was that important to you?” Dig out the stories behind the advice. Remember that blog posts and other things in writing are mostly about what went well.

Tip 7: “Just jump”

Counter-tip: “Don’t jump – fly”

Jumping implies making a decision that cannot be changed (in free fall you really don’t have that many options). Still, most successful innovation stories tell us that the people behind the success moved away from their original ideas. That’s why I like the flying analogy better. You can still crash, but at least you could do it controlled.

Kent Beck taught me about entrepreneurship using his Flight of the startup analogy: You start your innovative endeavour like an airplane about to leave the airport. First there’s taxing (exploration in multiple directions.) Then take-off (learning validated, we have a direction and we go for it.) So you climb (customers are coming in, will we cross the chasm to the major markets?) Finally, if we ever get that far, we’re cruising (established product, from here to eternity we tune for better profitability).

What entrepreneurship may feel like

There are news stories all the time about great entrepreneurs “key to success”. Donald Trump, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Jordan recite fancy quotes about life, the universe and everything. Such role models may have understood deep down why they were so successful, but they conceal those real reasons behind rhetorics. Don’t buy into that. Great advice is experience in disguise.

What I truly miss – I’m pointing my finger towards the mirror – are the unmasked stories behind a success. I miss the dirt.

In the meantime, people like me and mr Kerpen will continue to write general advice, and you will continue to believe in yourself. @hauge2.

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