Advice for being a startup founder

Being a startup founder is intense. Whether bootstrapping or knee-deep in a fundraising round, founders know their ability to absorb information is critical. If this is you, however, please be careful accepting advice. Some see advice-giving, not as an opportunity to help, but to feed their ego and mask their inadequacy.

I was reminded of this when I did a workshop with a Techstars cohort. The topic was how to amplify a founder’s story and get earned media/press. I have a lot of experience with PR and communications in startup-land, so a few founders asked for startup advice. I told them, “you have more startup experience than me!” But that didn’t stop unqualified people from eagerly sharing their experiences.

Throughout the process and demo day event, I watched unqualified people not hesitate for one second to give startup advice to these founders. How frustrating. And a bit infuriating, if I’m honest. I remember being a young business owner, eagerly accepting advice. Some lessons were good. Others were incredibly stupid.

Startup founder advice checklist

Being a startup founder is tough work. It’s high-stress. At times, it will push your mental health to the limit. Before you accept advice, here are four rules I’d strongly recommend you follow.

1: Be clear on a mentor’s experience.

Being a startup founder is a fairly unique experience. If you’re going to take advice from someone, make sure they’ve actually had an experience that will be valuable to you. They don’t necessarily have to have experience being a startup founder but should have experience relevant to your goals. If they were a CMO or marketer at a startup of your size. That could be good. Make sure they have actually traveled the path you are on.

2. People lie.

Entrepreneurs lie. At the Techstars event I witnessed people giving advice as “founders” that hadn’t actually founded a company and so-called “experts” with zero expertise. These fake-preneuers aren’t alone. I’ve met podcasters and authors that bought their way onto top lists, have been pitched by authors who lied about their publisher, and called-out people who claimed to hold impressive roles they never had.

3. Advice is unique

Even if the person appears to be qualified, take their advice with a grain of salt. Being a startup founder comes with too many variables you can’t see, connections they individual may not understand the true value of. The mentor may have hit the market at the perfect time, or has skills that come naturally to them. Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com has told me repeatedly most advice you’re given will be wrong for you. Utilize advice as you would as if you were investigating a crime. It may be right, it may be wrong, but in both cases, it can help you make your case.

4. Ignore this

Take this entire post with a grain of salt. Perhaps there’s something that resonates, perhaps not. I’ve done my best to be clear because I know being a startup founder is difficult. But I might be wrong about something. We all are. If something smells wrong, pay attention to that instinct.

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10-day guide

How to become well-known in your industry.

My name is Justin Brady. Entrepreneurs, founders and business owners hire me to amplify their story to millions of people. Subscribe and I'll send a free PDF to grow your personal brand in 10 days.