“Think Big”, “Follow Your Passion” And Other Lousy Startup Advice I’m Glad I Ignored

When I first begun with the idea of my startup, everyone was eager to give me a piece of advice. I must admit, I was reading up on plenty of must do’s, but on top of that it seemed like every friend as well as so called industry “authorities” had some words of wisdom for me. While I definitely got some amazing advice and some good advice, some of it was just useless. You know the kind of advice that sounds good but actually can do more harm. When it comes to a fledgling startup, you still know your company better than anyone else. This is why I chose to ignore many of the suggestions I received. Here is the list of some advice I pushed aside and I’m still glad I did.


1. Think Big

Unfortunately, not everyone can be Steve Jobs and create a world-changing product. Don’t worry if your idea is not the most exciting one out there. Also seemingly boring businesses can achieve great success if they deal with a problem a lot of people need to solve. When you think big, you might lose focus on fixing real life issues. Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need has been listed as the number one reason startups fail (a notable 42% of cases). So if you want to create a profitable business, thinking small is perfectly fine.


2. Take Big Risks

If you’re working on your first startup, most likely you’ve received an advice not to be scared of taking big risks. However, the key word that’s usually left out is smart. The truth is, most successful entrepreneurs didn’t splash their money around taking crazy risks. For example, John D Rockefeller, known as the wealthiest person that ever lived, was a strategic planner, not a gullible risk-taker. Rather than swinging for the fences with every business decision, Rockefeller calculated each risk to make them more feasible and you should do the same. Taking smaller risks and protecting your startup from loss will be more helpful if you want to stay around for a while.


3. Your Idea Isn’t Unique Enough

Hearing that your idea is not unique might feel devastating but it’s definitely no reason to abandon your dream. Think about it this way — a market isn’t considered established until there are 3 providers in play. Google wasn’t the first search engine, Facebook wasn’t the first social network and YouTube wasn’t the first video streaming site. Some of the most successful startups actually weren’t unique ideas, but major improvements to pre-existing ones.


4. Follow Your Passion

Even the famed entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban has called this advice “a bunch of BS”. And there are many reasons why — passion changes over time, you might not even be good at your passion and after all it’s a very self-centered view.

According to a study on career and passion, those who have found passion in a career they chose based on objective reasons are more successful than those who simply just followed their passion. Of course, if you are passionate about your business, you will enjoy working at it more. However, don’t start with a passion and think — if the passion disappeared, what else will motivate you to continue pushing forward with your idea?


5. Do Market Research First

Regarding this point, I agree with the famous Steve Jobs quote:

“Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”‘ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, p. 567

If you’re building a mobile startup you will soon realize that the traditional way of carrying out market research just doesn’t work. People often don’t know what they want. So if you asked a focus group their thoughts on your idea or product before it’s developed, you most likely would be misguided. People know the problem they have, but you have to be the one who finds the best way to solve it. Of course, to find out if your solution resonates with your customers, feedback is necessary. The best way to do it is by developing the first version of your app and observing the behavior of your customers while they use it.


6. Don’t Waste Your Money on Business Productivity Tools

It’s a common misconception that using different online tools will cost you a lot of money but will not bring much benefits. However, while you’re absorbed in your own business, you might not realize how many helpful tools are available to improve your startup’s success completely for free. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you should start using every free online tool in the market. That would only over complicate things. Instead, start with the basics and figure out what brings you the most valuable gains. For example, user behaviour tools like Google Analytics, Firebase, and Hotjar can help you understand how users interact with your product or service. Tools like Buffer, Asana, Capsulink, and others, can ensure your system’s efficiency, while email marketing tools like Mailchimp and SendGrid could be helpful to stay in contact with your audience.


7. Build for Many Platforms at Once

It might be tempting to reach your every single potential customer at once, but in the reality it’s just not possible. Distribution is one of the biggest challenges startups face, but you definitely shouldn’t aim to reach a few million people at the same time early on. It’s no use building an app that no one is interested in on all the platforms. Instead, build your app on one of them first and once you’ve created a product that people want, you can replicate your success on another platform. Instagram, for instance, launched on Android 18 months after iOS.


8. Get an Office

As you will discover while working on your startup idea, there are some things that you absolutely need. Unless your potential clients are conservative business owners, an office definitely isn’t one of them. Remote work will not only save you money (around $6,100 per month for a startup with at least 10 employees) but research shows that employees who have more flexibility in when and where they get their job done, feel increased efficiency and satisfaction. Popular tech companies, like Buffer, Zapier and Automattic have done away with their offices completely so why shouldn’t you do the same?


9. If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself

A recent study from Rotman School of Management has pointed to the crucial role of a team, showing that the success of a new business often depends on the ability of the founder to attract a strong team around him/her. I couldn’t agree more. What I’ve learned is that no man can do everything perfectly. Each one of us has our own skills and expertise which makes us better at doing some things than others. This is why it’s crucial to find people with different skills and attract them to your team. Sharing the responsibilities, delegating tasks and trusting your employees are just as important business skills as others.


Bottom Line

When you’re first starting your business, you will be tempted to soak up every single piece of advice mentors, bosses, friends and family give you. And don’t get me wrong, it is important to be open-minded and learn from different experiences. However, not every advice you get is worth following. You have to be selective about things you implement in your startup and do what makes the most sense to your company. Keep in mind that you’re the one who knows your industry and customers the best.


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