Dan Birken


The best startup advice is to trust yourself

03 Mar 2015

The startup world is overflowing with articles full of startup advice, or startup mistakes, or other “hacks”. A common press story template is to interview a few founders and have them give a point of advice based on a personal success or mistake. Then in the real world, you have friends, family, investors, and advisors all itching to give you more advice.

But the best advice is simply to do what you think is right [1]. If you have bad judgment and make a lot of bad decisions, all the great advice in the world probably isn’t going to save you. But on the other hand, if you you know something about the world that other people don’t, you might have really good judgment that for whatever reason the world hasn’t understood yet. The majority of people might disagree with you, but in fact you are right. This could apply to any aspect of your business: what your company does, your management structure, your marketing methods, your culture, your hiring methods, whatever.

There is a quote about standup comedy I really like [2]:

Standup is both the widest and the narrow-est form of performance there is. You can do anything you want... as long as the audience does one thing over and over again.

This applies to startups as well. You can do anything you want as long as your customers eventually do the same thing over and over again – give you money.

I’m not suggesting you should ignore all advice out there and blindly make every decision from your gut. You should still listen and learn from sources you respect, and follow the best practices that you want to follow. But you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment where you feel you want to experiment, even in areas of your business where experienced advisors disagree with you. Nobody founds a startup for it to fail, and yet most startups fail. But if it is going to fail, at least have it fail based on your decisions and not somebody else’s bad advice. And in case you are right, hopefully good things will happen on your terms.

1: If you think I’m wrong, you are probably right

2: From this wonderful series of blog posts about getting into standup comedy.