Some Good Advice to Ignore

Advice is a funny thing. Most times we are either not ready to hear it, not ready to act on it or it’s just flat out wrong. Yet like moths to the flame, we seek out advice in times of insecurity or self doubt. Don’t know why your product and sales teams aren’t getting along? Read a blog post! Running out of money? Talk to someone who has raised a bunch of it.

The thing is, seeking advice is the easy way out, it’s decision replacement. It’s being lost in the words and hiring a guide before opening your map. It’s cowardice dressed as self improvement, and I know this because the only good advice I ever got was the advice I didn’t want to hear.

“You won’t be able to raise money right now.” “I don’t think this a good fit for any big VC’s”. These things were true but I convinced myself they were the words of non-believers.

Nearly 4 years and hundreds of mistakes into Fohr Card, I wrote a list of the 26 things I wish I had known, but I wouldn’t have believed if I heard.

  1. Bad money exists and it can be infinitely damaging. A person’s character is more important than the check they can write. Make sure you really know who is giving you money.
  2. You don’t run a VC-backed startup. Be wary of advice from people who do, they don’t understand your reality.
  3. If you focus too much on building your team, you might forget to build a business.
  4. You can’t afford “A” players; you have to create them.
  5. There is no one solution to your problem; you do hundreds of little things until that problem is replaced by a larger, more complex one.
  6. Your co-founder relationship is just that: a relationship. Like any relationship it gets hard, takes work and is more important than anything else you do.
  7. You are going to lose your confidence, and question your ability to do the job; that’s good, it means you’re growing.
  8. Speaking engagements, while initially glamorous, are often a massive waste of time. You shouldn’t be talking in front of a crowd until you’ve done something impressive enough to deserve it.
  9. VC’s phrase “no” in a number of ways. Some are: “Let me know when you find a lead”, “this sounds interesting, circle back when the round fills up”, and “we are still learning about the space”.
  10. If an investor makes you wait for more than 15 minutes, walk out.
  11. If an investor asks if you think you can do $20 million in revenue in year three, run (don’t walk) away.
  12. You are asking your early stage employees to trust that you are going to make this thing work. You have to make it about more than equity. Help them grow, push them, and be hard but fair. People stick with you because you are helping make them better people.
  13. Learn how to sell and never stop.
  14. Everything that is going wrong at your company is your fault. Every. Single. Thing.
  15. Keep your monthly nut low. Poor cash flow begets desperation, desperation begets poor decision making. Poor decision making begets “soft landings” and “aqui-hires”.
  16. If you’re not well funded, make your product expensive enough that it’s worth having someone sell it. Make it expensive enough to support you.
  17. If you’re not scaling, then I wouldn’t really worry about it. Preparing for scale prematurely is almost certainly more dangerous then not preparing soon enough.
  18. Big companies will ask for 30 meetings with you, custom features, and you’ll think it’s worth it. It’s not. The deal size will shrink by at least 70% by completion and you’ll have wasted six months.
  19. You can learn more from someone who has kept a small business open for 25 years than from a 25 year old who raised money from Sand Hill Road.
  20. Don’t lose yourself. You are more than just your business. Keep riding your bike, pay attention to your friends, read books that don’t talk about product sprints or lean management. Your time at this business will end one day, and it would be helpful if you were still a dynamic happy person when it does.
  21. Implementing a new process you read about in a blog post (like this one!) won’t fix your company. There is no off the shelf management solution. Put down the books every once and a while and talk to your team.
  22. Having vision sometimes means knowing where to go, but not always how to get there. It’s OK to ask for directions.
  23. Publicly admit your mistakes, and put the blame on yourself. It will create a culture where it’s OK to mess up but not OK to make excuses.
  24. Ever think that maybe VC’s bang the “fail fast” drum because it means founders will have to continue selling off chunks of their businesses to fund their mistakes? Accept and learn from failures, but don’t fetishize them.
  25. Banks won’t give you a line of credit until you don’t need it. VC’s won’t be interested in giving you money until you don’t need it. If you really need money, the best way to get it is selling.
  26. Don’t pay too much attention to blog posts.

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