Startup Lesson #17: Be skeptical of advice

Richard Reis
Sep 17 · 3 min read
By Richard Reis

Recently, I started building an app, Gurgee. Every week I learn something new (this is a common feeling among founders). So I decided to share my weekly lessons in the hopes that (1) I don’t forget them and (2) they help you on your own journey.

Today’s post is inspired by a funny thing that happened to me a few days ago.

First, some context.

I was working on Gurgee 2.0’s Product Hunt submission (coming next week) and had to pick a good tagline.

I sent the “first draft” of the tagline to two friends and asked for their opinion.

Here are said opinions (the names have been changed to protect the innocent):

That… Was pretty funny.

But it teaches a valuable lesson!

Be skeptical of advice.

Sidenote: I already knew this lesson thanks to one of my favorite founders, Bryan Johnson. He summarized it perfectly in this post. I highly recommend reading it.

Ask two people for their opinion and you’re likely to get two totally different opinions (as was the case with me).

“The problem with advice is that it’s uniquely contextual, which means it can be deceptively misleading. The opinions you maintain, and therefore the advice you dispense, are based on dozens of personal variables that may not be transferrable to someone else.” — Bryan Johnson

Who should you trust?


The way I see it, the solution is to be better at filtering advice.

The easiest way to do that is to only listen to believable people (a believable person is someone who has achieved what you are trying to achieve at least 3 times).

Need design advice? Ask a designer. Need blogging advice? Ask a blogger. Need legal advice? Ask (you guessed it) a lawyer.

It’s interesting how we already do this in some areas of our life (e.g. when we are sick, we only take a doctor’s advice), but not in others (e.g. when we start a startup, we take anyone’s advice).

But here’s the caveat: one believable person is not enough.


He had to choose between buying the copycat company or fighting them.

In Reid’s words:

“Brian turned to one of his favorite decision-making techniques: reaching out to the world’s leading experts.” — Reid Hoffman

He asked four believable people for their advice: Andrew Mason (founder of Groupon), Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator), and Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn).

  • Andrew Mason told him to buy them.
  • Mark Zuckerberg told him “don’t buy them, the best product will win.”
  • Paul Graham told him “they’re mercenaries. You’re missionaries. They’re like people raising a baby they don’t actually want.”
  • And Reid Hoffman advised him “not to buy.”

After asking four believable people, three said “fight” and one said “buy.”

Ultimately, Airbnb decided to fight (and won).

If you want to raise your chances of making the right decision, your best bet is to ask at least three believable people and triangulate their views.

“Triangulate your view with believable people who are willing to disagree.

By questioning experts individually and encouraging them to have thoughtful disagreement with each other that I can listen to and ask questions about, I both raise my probability of being right and become much better educated.

This is most true when the experts disagree with me or with each other. Smart people who can thoughtfully disagree are the greatest teachers” — Ray Dalio

And that’s it for today!

See you next week.

Be well.


Thanks for reading!😊If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.You can follow me on Twitter at @richardreeze to find out whenever others just like it come out.

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Richard Reis

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"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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