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A Tale of Two Entrepreneurs: One Says ‘Yes,’ One Says ‘No’

Guess which one is successful. Which one are you?

Photo by visualspace by Getty Images Signature, edited by Author

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

So starts A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

I’ll leave the overall plot to you. (C’mon, you need to read the classics!) But the famous first line is what most people remember. The juxtaposition of rich vs. poor, privileged vs. deprived, the differentiators of “social class” are described in detail in the book. The comparison and contrast of people of varied financial and legal status makes for quite the story (leading to murder, revolution and other dramatic situations).

And so it is with entrepreneurs. I’ve literally worked with thousands of entrepreneurs. Some startup founders seem to just have their act together from the start. They are excellent presenters, they rapidly catch on to new business practices, they know to listen, and they carefully consider the advice of others with experience.

Then I’ve encountered NO-trepreneurs: NO, I don’t listen, and NO, I don’t need advice, and NO, I don’t have a plan. Seriously, they are the “no/know” founders, who refuse help or guidance or advice, and who “know it all” in advance. I’ve met plenty of these, and as you might expect, few of them were actually successful.

After all, a great deal of being successful in a startup depends on whom you hire (i.e., solid management, knowledgeable tech people, quality sales people), whom you listen to (my dad used to say, “everyone will offer advice, few will take it” — find an experienced mentor and hold on to them!), and how you plan (remember the old saying, a failure to plan is a plan for failure!).

“Knowing it all” is most likely impossible. You don’t know it all. (I’m a geezer, and I’m learning new things every day!) Saying “no” to voices of experience, “no” to offers of help, and “no” to thinking ahead doesn’t exactly add up to success!

Just say ‘yes’ to discernment

So how do you tell “who’s who” in entrepreneurship (or is it “who’s whom”, or “whom’s who”? I never get it right, but I keep trying!)? Certainly, many people offer advice and tell you what they think, but is it good advice? Are they thinking in the right context?

The discernment process I’m about to describe will definitely contrast the “best of advice, and the worst of advice.” Using it can lead to you become a true entrepreneur (rather than a No-trepreneur). First, a standard bit of knowledge: “Consider the source.” Certainly, we all appreciate those who take an interest in us and those who want to assist us. But are they experienced in the field? Is their experience relatable to your situation?

Years ago I was forming an Advisory Board for the companies in my incubator. I’m happy to say I had no shortage of volunteers. Many folks stepped forward to offer their time and expertise to assist the fledgling companies in my program.

After an initial discussion and evaluation, I determined a lot of my volunteers had management experience, but that experience was in a Fortune 500 company, NOT in a startup! Most certainly, nearly all of them had something to offer (many in terms of finance and accounting, for example, and sales and marketing), but few had actually worked in a startup company.

Over the years, I’ve found that entrepreneurs want to talk to other entrepreneurs about what worked for them, how it worked, why it worked, and sort of carry on a “what did you do?” dialogue. These new CEOs don’t feel they can relate to someone who hasn’t “been there, done that” in an entrepreneurial setting. However, most startups need the benefit of experiences in finance, accounting, business planning, strategy, sales and marketing and in other areas — plus the guidance of seasoned entrepreneurs.

Two are better than one

I ended up pairing mentors/advisors — one person with significant corporate experience in the aforementioned area(s) and one who had been through starting up a company. Plus, I was fortunate to have many subject-matter experts who could help with specific product development and marketing questions.

I quickly learned who the “NO-trepreneurs” were. They didn’t want to listen to anyone, or they refused to meet with any of the advisors since “they haven’t done exactly what I’m trying to do in exactly the same market.” That rarely happens, so again, consider the source of the advice you’re being given, and gauge it appropriately for your own development. Also, another way to discern if advice can be utilized — get more than one opinion!

One of the great advantages of pairing up advisory board members was the aspect of affirmation — if BOTH agree on a strategy and direction, chances are it might be good to listen to what they have to say. If you, as the founder, are still in doubt, get another opinion from another trusted source!

I can bear personal witness to this one from my own experience. After an emergency surgery, I just couldn’t seem to recover, so I sought out another physician. When this doctor stated he could find nothing wrong with me, I thought, “well, maybe it’s just me.” But after three more months of struggling, I decided to seek yet a third opinion.

The third doctor discovered something both of the other physicians had missed, took care of it, and I felt better in less than a week. I continued to improve rapidly, which shows the value of “trust but verify” is real. (It’s real with your personal health, and it’s certainly real with the health of your startup!)!

Verify and validate advice

It helps to get multiple opinions/thoughts, but don’t just keep searching until you find someone who agrees with you. Look at what the majority of advisors tell you and run with those ideas. Plus, it’s always good to “prove it first.” Test a bit of the strategy/direction before implementing it system-wide. It may allow you to find weaknesses or difficulties that are unexpected, or it may bring you — and your advisors — to change your minds about the approach.

So utilize sound advice (from people you know are experienced) and ensure you get agreement (using multiple advisors) before you take off in a new or different direction. You’ll be glad you did!

Verify and validate advice — giving it a “trial period”; evaluating other companies that have tried similar approaches; run “simulations” to see if the advice pertains to you; and so on. However, the best way to “know” if offered advice is reasonable is to get advice/advisors from someone you trust — I hope that includes the person running your local business incubation/acceleration program — and/or utilize folks in economic or entrepreneurial development in your area (from the SBDC, SCORE, etc.).

Those people have a stake in the outcome. They want you to succeed, and they want you to take the best advice and move forward. After all, most economic development is driven by entrepreneurs — but not a lot of it is advanced by NO-trepreneurs who think they know it all and, thus, say “no” to those who might help. Say “yes” to experienced, validated advice!

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published on the IncubatorBlogger on July 21, 2021.

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UF Innovate connects innovators with entrepreneurs, investors and industry; incubates startups and growth companies; and fosters a resilient innovation ecosystem — all in an effort to make the world a better place.

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UF Innovate

UF Innovate

Tech Licensing, Ventures, Pathways, and Accelerate, which includes two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. We build business on innovation.

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