Don’t Ask for Advice

Advice with “good intentions” does not help you make decisions

I was at a critical juncture on my startup journey. Do I continue to moonlight or do I dive all in? I was waffling for weeks between the two, getting radically different opinions.

Realizing I had to decide soon, I asked one of my closest confidantes on what I should do. He leaned back in his chair, paused for a while in thought, then said:

"Listen to the advice, but trust your gut. "

I walked away not thinking that was a helpful conversation. What was I supposed to do with "trust my gut"? Then a week later, I quit my job and transitioned fully to startup life.

Startup founders get bombarded with advice. It comes from friends and family, colleagues, the people in your network. There is also the entire industry of advice from social media and news outlets by VC's, entrepreneurs, and influencers. And let’s face, we dole out advice here in this newsletter 🤷

Some advice you can probably head nod and ignore. Your parents, family members, and friends are well meaning, but might not truly understand the context of your work. Then some advice seems absolutely legitimate like from VC’s, mentors in accelerators, or serial entrepreneurs. You are almost compelled to take this advice at face value.

But that would be a mistake!

Let's face it advice is dime a dozen. Until someone rolls up their sleeves to help, they have no skin in the game. In some instances, maybe your parents will actually have better advice than the experts! When if someone does not fully comprehend your work, their advice can truly move the needle for your startup.

Regardless of the source, most advice comes with good intentions. The advice giver is simply trying to help based on their limited understanding of your situation. But as Jeff Bezos famously said:

"Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen."

Jeff was talking about how Amazon uses processes to do things in a more repeatable and scalable way. A mechanism that is well-thought out removes the ambiguity from decision making.

What is a good mechanism then as it applies to leveraging advice in a more systematic way? Glad you asked as we have distilled our experiences as both founders and mentors to help provide a framework to help you be more intentional about how to apply or reject advice that you receive.

Understand the Context

Recognize that advice is not one-size-fits-all. What works for one startup may not be applicable to another, as each journey is unique. Consider the context in which advice is given. Is it based on personal experience, industry trends, or a combination of both? Understanding the context helps filter advice through the lens of their specific circumstances, ensuring relevance and applicability.

Seek Diverse Perspectives

While people in your immediate circles mean well, it's essential to broaden the pool of perspectives. Engage with mentors, industry experts, and fellow founders who have navigated similar challenges. Diverse viewpoints provide a more comprehensive understanding of potential solutions and strategies, helping you make informed decisions that align with your vision and goals.

Evaluate Track Records

Not all advice-givers are created equal. Assess the track record and credibility of those offering guidance. Has the individual successfully overcome similar hurdles in their journey? Analyzing the advisor's background and experiences adds a layer of credibility to the advice received, making it more relevant for your decision-making process. Just be careful to not over-index on expertise as things change rapidly in the technology and startups worlds.

Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making

We are big believers in using data to inform decisions, especially the more consequential ones. In the same way, founders should leverage their own analytics and market research to guide decisions. While anecdotal advice can be valuable, combining it with concrete data ensures the more solid position to evaluate advice. Using tools and metrics relevant to your startup or industry therefore validates or challenges advice received so you can come to a more conclusive decision.

Develop a Decision-Making Framework

Create a systematic approach to evaluating and implementing advice. Establish weighted criteria that align with your startup’s needs and culture. Using a structured decision-making framework will help you objectively assess the feasibility and impact of various recommendations, preventing impulsive decisions driven solely by external advice or internal insecurities. For example, Amazon uses the one-way / two-way door concept to evaluate risk of certain types of decisions.

Create an Internal Advisor Network

The author and professor Adam Grant once shared that he has a “challenge network” to help give him critical feedback. He was correcting for the issue of people close to him being cheerleaders rather than give potentially negative feedback. Build your own small network of people that you know and trust to be part of your own internal network to help you evaluate more meaty advice and decisions. I called my own network the “brain trust” that was enormously helpful during my own startup journey.

Navigating the sea of startup advice is an actual skill, something you need to master as a founder. The ability to discern valuable advice from the noise is a key ingredient in the recipe for startup success.  Yes, trust your gut, but make sure to use a more thoughtful and strategic approach to advice.

What is your approach to using advice to help you in decision making? When has a bit of advice truly been a game changer for the trajectory of your startup?

While this post is called “Don’t take advice”, the real objective is to be more discerning about the advice you do take. We read a ton of blog posts and newsletters from many sources, and one of the most consistently high-quality content producers of startup content is First Round Review by the VC firm First Round Capital.

They recently published a post summing up the 30 best bits of startup advice shared over 2023. We are generally allergic to big listicles with links, this was one of the most useful posts we came across that allowed you also to dive deeper into the specific articles from the year. To make it easier for you to find the ones that might be most relevant to you, we shared the 30 posts with links below.

Enjoy, and as we like to say here at Founders in the Cloud, always be learning!

  1. Hit refresh on your interview questions for manager candidates 

  2. Set goals by trying to tell a story 

  3. Opinions come at a cost — spend wisely 

  4. Balance the core product with new bets by looking to the horizons 

  5. Pinpoint where you’re delivering feedback as a manager 

  6. Walk confidently through two-way door decisions 

  7. “Give away your people” and prepare for high performers to leave

  8. Track your mood – not just your metrics 

  9. Strip “and” out of all your headlines

  10. Inject gratification to the grind of startup life 

  11. Learn to be an emotional dampener as a manager 

  12. Hire smarter with a capacity plan

  13. Figure out how much self-doubt you can absorb 

  14. Identify your goal-setting philosophy

  15. Stay paranoid on the hunt for PMF 

  16. Don’t fumble the bag with bad deal room etiquette

  17. Diagnose your customers’ problems like a doctor 

  18. Carry storytelling into your sales pitch 

  19. Find your co-founder ritual 

  20. Keep having customer conversations until you can predict what they’ll say next. 

  21. Add “push the envelope” features to the roadmap 

  22. Zero in on net dollar retention 

  23. Level up your strategy as you get more senior 

  24. Ditch your demo and replace it with a “marketing vignette” 

  25. In a net-new role? Slow down to speed up 

  26. Lean into early founder-led sales — even for a PLG product 

  27. Focus on problems, not solutions by finding the parking brake 

  28. Use community as a springboard for product development 

  29. Understand where brand and performance marketing excel (and where they fall short) 

  30. Skinny down your MVP

It is 2024 and are we taking it easy? Hell no! Basil has been in London filming some talks for a big online AWS conference coming up where he will talk about all things AI and startups.

What a jolly old time in London for Basil!

Meanwhile, Mark is in Vietnam again to meet with founders and using Saigon as a base for several upcoming events across SE Asia this month.

Mark sweating hard on an early morning run in Saigon!

Where are you later this month? Ping us and let us know where you think we should go next 😊