When there’s so much conflicting startup advice, why even bother reading?

For every piece of startup advice I have read, I have also read a counterpoint.

Mark Cuban says dont hire a PR firm. Paul Graham says hiring a PR firm was good.

Naval says find a passion market fit. HBR says passion is overrated.

Raise money from VC’s. Only bootstrap.

And I could go on.

So if you are looking for an “answer” you are going to be disappointed.

The best you can do is treat these posts and advice as a guideline or a recommendation.

No one knows your situation as well as you do. No one understand the intricacies of your business, challenges and customers as you will. So, the best advice I have ever heard (I unfortunately forget who told me this) was to develop a set of filters.

1. People filter – This filter applies to who you think is your “role model” or “ideal advisor” or mentor. This filter applies to both people you want to listen to and those you dont. So if you are looking for a mentor or advisor, apply this filter first and get people who you think you can take advice from without second-guessing their intent. You can get second opinions on their advice, but questioning their advice at every step will be counter-productive.

2. Expertise filter – This filter is for specific advice on topics – legal, finance, fund raising, etc. Get advice on these items from “experts”.

3. Context filter: This filter applies to how to apply which advice based on your context or situation. This is best done with folks within your company.

Most advice though, however well meaning is specific to the situation and a guideline. After all if you dont apply your own expertise, know-how or values to them, what good is that advice?

13 thoughts on “When there’s so much conflicting startup advice, why even bother reading?”

  1. You summarized the startup founder’s quandary nicely with all the advice floating around. 🙂

    I consider that each person should read some of the most popular and best advice, so we become more aware of what options exist.

    And then make an informed choice based on the filters as you rightly said. There is no right or wrong, just different routes to the same destination. 🙂

  2. Very basics, but very important. Thanks for all the points, Mukund. I am following your blog since many days now and it is informative and very practical.

    According to me, all the blogs/advises on any topic is nothing but the experience of an author. In your specific example, Paul Graham might have had good experience with PR firm while “Mark Cuban” must have experienced something else. So one should read everything but should also consider the situation before applying any advises blindly.

    Thanks once again!!

  3. This is exactly what I observed when I attended your panel discussion at NPC2011 (you and Hemant Kanakia).

    That was within the first few days of us being out of “stealth”, I did get nervous because I was not expecting fundamental disconnects. But getting used to conflicting advice now though 🙂 Specially since you yourself changed stance between NPC to the eLagaan conference on having a marketing person on-board.

    The important thing is that I no longer think that getting startup advice is an exercise in finding the largest common subset.

    1. Jitender, can you please let me know what my changed stance was between NPC and eLagaan. I dont remember. Thanks.

      1. Sure, you mentioned at the eLagaan conference about you are now particular about any new investee teams having a mandatory marketing person on-board (or at least already have a person who is going to be dedicated to that and learning that vertical). You also mentioned that some teams you know/mentor are all struggling with this exact thing. This was in response to an audience question (which I do not remember).

        I remember specifically because you explicitly stated that you recently changed stance on this after the NPC conference.

      2. Got it. This is one that I have learned while investing in India and did my look back at 2011. Go-to-market is absolutely important element that most Indian companies dont do a good job of. I stand corrected.

  4. Actually its a bit surprising but I think so much of the advice that we take is usually based on few data points. Talking to one or two investors or entrepreneurs, listening to their opinions on a subject sometimes forces us to conform to their thinking. There are times when just talking to more people helps. Although it is also likely to confuse you but it brings in more perspective to your thinking (covers different angles) and makes you decide merits of each case.

    And at times (and I’ve personally made this mistake too) we tend to take expert advise when we should be really talking to and listening to our customers to understand their needs rather than what experts think our customers will need.

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