The pretender and the contender wear the same clothes

In the last year I have talked to over 800 entrepreneurs. About 200+ were discussions over 15 minutes. That roughly equates to about 1/2 my work time. This time was split between listening and learning from them and the rest was spent sharing some “gyaan“. For what it was worth, most of them were very nice to me and politely nodded when I dispensed my 2 minutes of “framework advice”.

What I have learned is that it is very hard to give an answer that’s cogent, well thought out and precise. In an era where there are enough advisors, mentors and other folks giving lots of advice, there’s a cottage industry sprung up around trying to “help” entrepreneurs and “grow” the ecosystem.

Here’s the challenge for us as entrepreneurs. The pretender and the contender both wear the same clothes, speak the same language and likely use the same words. We have to discern who’s who.

So what’s the framework to use to determine who you should listen to and who you should ignore?

There are enough folks suggesting that peer learning is the way to go. After all, what better than someone “like you” who has just been through the same path before. The pros of peer learning are usually – practical advice, “here’s what I did and it worked for me” and knowledge dished out without airs and graces. The cons are lack of context, the inability to give you a framework to think and providing answers to questions that you might never encounter.

There are other folks suggesting that “successful entrepreneurs” should provide you with the right advice. Meaning, folks who have seen relative measure of success and would be likely able to share more refined nuances of their journey. The pros are well thought out arguments, balanced perspective on what works and does not. The cons are that success comes over a long period of time. The things that worked a few years ago are rarely going to work as effectively.

Still others say the best advice is from “failed” entrepreneurs. They can possibly tell you everything you should not do, but not all the things you most likely should do. The pros are that you get to really understand that the rose colored glasses that are worn tend to be tinted anyway. The cons? – What should you do? Opposite of all the things the failed entrepreneur did?

At the end of the day it will become obvious that to have some modicum of success, you will have to blaze your own trail. Else someone who has done the “exact” same thing that you did, will likely “clean up” before him, leaving nothing but crumbs for others to “feast” on.

The only way to know who the pretender is and who the player is to watch them in action.

Which is why I highly recommend that you work with the advisor and mentor for a few weeks or a month before you actually bring them on board. For the first month, if they truly believe in what you are doing, they would offer their time for free, then you can overcompensate them for their work post that effort.

8 thoughts on “The pretender and the contender wear the same clothes”

  1. Insightful, quite useful.
    I really liked ” The pretender and the contender both wear the same clothes, speak the same language and likely use the same words.”

    I wish to go a little beyond this should be highest priority work for an entrepreneur differentiate between “The pretender and the contender”.

  2. In Marathi, there is saying that reads ‘ऐकावे जनाचे , करावे मनाचे ‘ – which roughly means take all the advise you can get and do what you are really convinced with. By extension, evaluate each advise dispassionately, validate and evaluate constantly against real world venture experiences for your venture .


    Vishwas Mahajan

  3. your ideal advisor will help you make non obvious choices with imperfect data. if all they do is regurgitate their war stories (beware survivor bias) – they are worth just the conversation, not an engagement.

  4. > pretender and the contender wear the same clothes

    True, but they don’t talk and do the same.. As enteprnuer since 10 years, this is what I have learned..

    Thanks to Indian IT managers.. every one in the system including technical people have learned how to talk, how to act as if they are deep into solution.. however the clear difference is at results value to business..

    Unless systems learns, how to differenate result value to business with unbaised manner.. I am sure every one has to make $ by pretending only.. (I call this as JOB model of making money)

    contender’s have no place in business or even if one exists, they would be proven as pretender by others feel embrased by such valuable people..:)

  5. The title made me think you were referring to entrepreneurs, and it may just as well apply to them. When talking about advisers or mentors, it has always been a tricky one. In the long run, we all follow the advice that rings true to our gut feeling. We already know the answers and are waiting to validate them from someone, and mostly, it won’t matter who gave out that advice. .

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