Who’s Advice Do You Really Need

I’ve been on the phone quite a lot lately with Founders & Co-Founders of start-ups and have been curiously surprised by the number of times they have asked to suspend discussions so they can “consult with their advisors” (read: VC’s, Private Investors, Mentors). Although this reflex can be, throughout our lives, readily justified by the subject at hand — what is unusual is the need to follow this routine daily and when faced with seemingly inconsequential issues. This wonderment is compounded by the current trend of brashness amongst start-up leaders, whose demeanor is nothing short of an overly confident “end zone dance” when it comes to addressing questions about their company’s future, market validation or sales strategy. So when they step back and politely defer the discussion, decision or statement till after they’ve “consulted with their guides” it feels as if they’ve confused who’s driving the car and who are the passengers and for someone who’s just raised a few million to pilot his idea, sold his solution to a handful of businesses and on-boarded twenty odd people to help, that’s a peculiar attitude.

Advice is like mushrooms. The wrong kind can prove fatal.

We ask our spouses for advice during a career orientation, our brother/sister’s for investments, parents for adolescent outbursts, our physicians on weight loss and our friends for choices on running shoe’s but those people have clear bonds of trust and authority. Paradoxically, I find it odd that these very bright and ambitious entrepreneurs turn to people whose behavior is often not, at least overtly, meretricious but who continue sublime them with a mix of outdated experience (if any) and prejudiced opinions. Wouldn’t it be wiser to turn to those that are going through comparable circumstances (other startup founders) or that have a legitimate role of expertise (a recognized director of product at a company who when similarly sized made substantial contributions to their growth)?

But why ask for advice in the first place? Harvard Business School researchers have found that asking questions makes you more likable — and could even make people think you’re smarter. That might be accurate given the right set of people but generally, a founder is often isolated and surrounded by the interested and self-righteous and if you listen too much to this advice, you may wind up making other people’s mistakes. So who does a founder turn to when a question comes up? No ones.

You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.

You just raised enough funds to hire and launch an AI first startup and you envision something really innovative and disruptive — damn it, that’s more than enough proof of vision, courage, and entrepreneurship to continue to follow your intuition! And who could you ask since no one knows a bloody thing about AI at this stage anyway? Plus, if it’s disruptive then it’s never been done before, so their advice is simply groundless. And since we’re here on Medium, what do you think Ev Williams did when creating Twitter? If we lined up all the critics and naysayers in the early days of that startup we’d probably manage to create a human chain from SF to Anchorage! From what I’ve heard from people close to that project, they stay huddled together and trudged on towards the global phenomenon we know today. And Medium, can you find me one significant spokesman for the continuous series of changes and enhancements he and his team have implemented? There’s no shortage of people who are seeking to give him their advice, hell, I’m sure even the guy who delivers his kale salad lunch voices his griefs about the developments! My hunch, he’s probably talked with close folk but not the ones you think — and that’s what you should do too.

Trust your intuition. You don’t need to explain or justify your feelings to anyone, just trust your own inner guidance, it knows best.