The Fallacies of Startup Advice

TL;DR: There’s a whole cottage industry of startup advice out there, startup founders beware.

Overused Startup Lingo

Lean! MVP! Product/Market Fit! Growth hacking! Venture! Pivot! Disruption! Viral! Network Effects! Algorithms! Agile! Rapid Prototyping! Design Thinking! Business Model Canvas! Scalability! Machine Learning! AI! Cloud! Big Data! SaaS! Uber for X! AirBnb for Y!

Urgh… just urgh.

Generic startup advice seems to have become an industry in itself, one in which those who shout the loudest, optimize for clicks, and have the biggest marketing budgets reign supreme.

We are as guilty as the next guy/gal when it comes to startup jargon, but sometimes it just gets really tiring.

There are two main facets that irritate us most:

1.Generic advice when it’s nothing but an uninformed opinion neither backed by data nor experience

Lashing buzzwords has become par for the course in startup-land.

Startup terminology is widely misunderstood and their basic tenants frequently misapplied. Blog post after blog post of contradicting advice and ‘experts’ providing a single cure for all ailments — a magic silver bullet.

At Mixer, we try our best (though sometimes we fail) to keep our mouths shut when we don’t know what we are talking about. In fact, this is one of our biggest pet peeves — folks who dish out advice with no informed basis for doing so. We seek to understand our limitations and the boundaries of what we know and what we can help with.

If we are not knowledgeable about a topic, true of most, we bring in those who are and have lived through it. We rather rely on first-hand experience over self-proclaimed expertise. We also try to surround ourselves with differing perspectives, because often what holds true in one situation is not applicable to another. You can rely on theory as much as you want, but it’s not super useful unless you understand how to apply it.

To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail

Sure, it’s important to build on frameworks and the knowledge of those who have gone before, but the best way to avoid bad advice is to THINK FOR YOURSELF. That’s why we are fans of Nassim Taleb’s skeptical empiricist. We are not impressed by those who pretend to know everything when the most knowledgeable of people are always challenging preconceptions. Situations change, market dynamics change, secrets change.

The truth is that giving advice is easy and anyone can give advice. Taking advice is easier than thinking for oneself.

In our opinion, never base decisions on advice of those who don’t have to deal with its consequences.

2. Predators that lurk around the ecosystem extracting, rather than adding value

The herd-like mentality is as prominent, if not more prominent, in startups as elsewhere. As soon as something becomes valuable the vultures start circling round and everyone wants a piece of the pie, even if they had nothing to do with baking it.

There are advisors and mentors who truly add value and perspective, but too often there are those who are only there for personal gain — sensationalist to grab attention, build their personal audiences, and boost overinflated egos.

It’s the hundreds of articles with the titles that resemble, “10 mistakes entrepreneurs should avoid”; “the single metric founders should care about” ; “reasons why [x startup] won’t succeed” or “8 growth-hacks your startup needs.”

Over the years we have met many service providers (lawyers, freelancers, development and design agencies, content marketers, ‘growth consultants’) who also fit the bill. It’s why we have created a trusted community where startups can benefit from the experiences of other startups.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt