4 startup leaders share the worst business advice they’ve ever heard

Building a startup from the ground up isn’t easy. In order to succeed, business leaders often rely on the sagacious advice of friends and mentors. But what happens when someone’s words to the wise turn out to be not-so-wise after all? We sat down with 4 Chicago startup leaders to hear the worst pieces of business advice they’ve ever been given.

Don’t let your employees see you as a peer

Zak Dabbas, CEO of Punchkick Interactive

“I received some awful advice from someone close to me a few years ago. This person told me that it would be a big mistake to let my employees see me as a peer, as it would ‘erode my leadership ability’ with them. He also advised me to keep a certain amount of distance between myself and our staff, so that they wouldn’t take advantage of our friendship and cut corners. I now realize that he was completely projecting his issues onto me. Many of the folks I work with at Punchkick are my closest friends in the world, and I thrive on our working together as peers, friends, and in many cases, like family. I’ve found that by opening up about both the good and bad issues facing the company, I’m able to rally excitement and a team dynamic I’ve never seen in a company before. I can bring my whole self to work, flaws and all, and find support and strength in the team around me. Nearly every step I’ve taken to be transparent and vulnerable with those I work with has rewarded me in ways that I can’t describe. The camaraderie and sense of family at Punchkick is worth more than any other professional accomplishment I’ve experienced.”

Don’t worry about visiting clients in person — just do webinars.

Greg Fenton, CEO of RedShelf

“Some of the worst advice I received at RedShelf was when we were just starting up. We were low on funds and needed to gain client traction, so someone told us that we should just do webinars and not worry about traveling to meetings in person. Although this advice can work once a brand/product is already established and can increase scale-ability, we would have missed out on a lot of the ‘lucky/random’ opportunities that a start up needs in the early days. It is important to scale and be careful with your time and travel funds but sitting down in person with a client can be one of the most valuable things you spend time on. Had we taken the advice of keeping everything virtual we would have missed out on a lot of the relationships that have provided us with not only new clients but also advice, guidance, customer feedback, and knowledge of our market.”

Just sit tight.

Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Founder of GiveForward

“The worst advice I got was from a small business center that shall not be named. I attended an introductory workshop where the instructor told us that the business plan class would be starting again in 8 weeks. I asked her what I could be working on until then, and she told me, ‘Just sit tight until the class. You likely won’t get much done in that time.’ I was dejected and then decided she had to be wrong. 6 weeks later, I had a co-founder, a business plan, a dev firm, and had secured a small loan. Don’t ever let people slow you down to fit their timelines. Inspiration is such a gift — grab on to it with both hands when it comes to you.”

Everyone else is doing it. You should, too.

Brad Wilson, CEO of Brad’s Deals

“The worst advice I got — and it was cacophonous — was when Groupon, LivingSocial and local daily deals were at their peak. Everyone kept saying that we should move Brad’s Deals away from our traditionally independent role sitting atop eCommerce each day and curating a very high-quality guide to where the best deals are and move into either selling vouchers or being at the point-of-sale and selling merchandise. Everyone else was doing it, right? It was very obvious that we’d lose our objectivity if we did either but many looked at the blow-out growth and assumed the underlying economics worked. They didn’t. We’d have lost our shirts and our credibility with consumers if we’d hopped on that doomed bandwagon like so many others did!”

Originally published at www.builtinchicago.org on June 10, 2015.

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