Taking advice from successful people out of distinct context is a recipe for disaster.

In following any market there are trends and natural paths that attract attention. People look to the winners –the influencers– for advice, after all, they must have done something to make it. The truth is that success often lies steeped in nuance. Ask a person for a cliff notes version of a story and they will give it and it might seem useful. But apart from a few high-level insights I wouldn’t place much weight on these secrets to success.

I continually cringe while scrolling through instagram or twitter, seeing the ‘follower’ culture that is being formed today. Everyone follows markets, deals, trends. By the time good advice is doled out on a podcast in the form of a startup success story, the advantages mentioned have almost always been competed away. At least in terms of technology, if you are building what you see today, you will be behind come tomorrow.

VC Twitter

I have read probably too many VC posts, listened to podcasts and generally consumed discussion on twitter. I would say about 80% of all posts are centered around these notions:

  • Hire great people, do this starting day one and never stop
  • Build something tangible while also connecting with people
  • It will be really hard / it was hard for me too
  • Remember to measure and test everything, quitting things that don’t work early
  • Always be raising || Only raise a certain amount
  • Discussions and anecdotes about trendy unicorn startup success/exit stories (Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Slack, DSC, Casper, etc)
  • Learn to say no to *
  • Self Improvement
  • What is your favorite
  • I hate || love
  • Talk on how round pricing has increased || doesn’t matter
  • Congratulations to * (partner/founder) for the * (raise/hire/acquisition)
  • Comment on a major news article that is venture-related (Adam Neuman)

This is all generic advice. It really doesn’t help at a practical level. These generalisms do tend to spawn more specific talking points with much more context, which is a positive. The issue with generic advice is that the poster almost always has much more backstory than the reader and therefore will be innocuously making hidden assumptions about what the reader understands. All nuance is lost on Twitter.

Very few companies are or could ever be worth a billion dollars. Suggesting they all should act a certain way because that is what does is easy to say, but harmful in practice. DTC is a good example. Branding is very important, but that cannot carry a full company in a market with strong incumbents.

On the flip side here are some topics I think are underemphasized:

  • Great design is essential. This isn’t 2008; Getting meaningful traction with an ugly MVP is very hard now unless it solves an obvious pain point. Companies need to have a stable brand identity from the start. I predict VC firms will start creating exceptional in-house creative groups (a la Gin Lane, Red Antler) that act as an attractive value-add while also giving them more insight into brand formation.
  • Launching well is important. This distinct point sets the initial growth trajectory of a business. The lean startup model can work, but a true launch should be a distinct event.
  • Just how many startups and people fail. For every unicorn there will be ####’s of companies that fail to capture market share. Most people agree there is more to learn from failure to success, but everyone still largely ignores the topic. A fallout consequence from the always-be-raising mentality is being scared to be anything near transparent, fearing the negative signal.
  • Not putting everything into a company. Many entrepreneurs have sad stories, what is posted about online is heavily biased by survivorship. Spending your entire youth in search of a unicorn is rarely the path towards feeling fulfilled.
  • Looking for risk mitigation and hidden assumptions from the start. What are you assuming to get to an assertion. What makes up the ground truth to an argument?
  • Building small, early profitability, selling early.
  • Businesses that create businesses.
  • Alternative funding models, ROW access to funding.