When you start up, everyone wants to throw in their two cents. Chances are, you’ll ask them to. Advice from seasoned entrepreneurs is usually meant well, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. When it comes to a fledgling startup, the fact is, you still know your company better than anyone — and you have to learn how to weed out the bad advice from the good.
We asked nine successful entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council to share some words of wisdom they received from a mentor or investor that they then gladly ignored:
1. Get Your Old Job Back
When I started my first company and things weren’t going well, I went to a mentor for advice. His suggestion was to see if I could get my old job back. I told him I wasn’t ready to give up. Now, we are doing extremely well, and I’m growing my second company. If I had taken his advice, I’d be putting together testing procedure specification reports eight hours a day.
2. If You Don’t Reach A Billion Dollars, It’s Not Worth It
We thought about taking on investors to scale our business a few years ago, but we found that they were interested in completely changing our business model to aim toward becoming a billion dollar business. I realized that I love running my smaller business, and I didn’t want our company to lose its personality by becoming something completely new.
We decided to skip the investors and continue to grow organically so that we could focus on the things we wanted rather than letting others shape our path.
3. Fire Your Team
I once had an active investor suggest I throw our team under the bus and spend time with potential customers. Our team was developing the second iteration of our business at the time, which was a critical process our investor didn’t understand. After explaining that our product needed more work before we could scale, he understood how critical our team was to getting things done.
Had we taken the advice, we would have been left without a product and a poor reputation that would have killed the company. Fortunately, we reached a mutual understanding when we both slowed down to explain the thought processes driving us.
4. Diversify Your Marketing Strategies
This was advice from a mentor in our early stages, which we quickly learned to ignore for the benefit of our business as we doubled down on a few marketing strategies that worked well. Once we built our business big enough that we could hire more team members, we were able to allocate more time to marketing and discovering new, scalable marketing strategies. It felt terrible to go against a mentor’s advice, but it was the best decision for our company.
5. Try Something Else
Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something. Late last year, an investor told us that our market was too hard and that we should try something else. The problem is that this investor had never been involved in our market and didn’t have the slightest clue what the competitive landscape looked like. Feedback from investors and mentors is critical, but it is also critical to have a filter.
6. Get Rid Of Your Business Partner
A potential investor once advised me that my partner wasn’t serving any value towards the company, mostly based on the fact that he didn’t have a lot of experience in this particular space. Quite the contrary, he’s the best partner I could have and the company wouldn’t be alive today without him. I find that so many people judge a book by its cover, but overlook the tenacity of the individual and other relevant experiences that they can bring to the table.
In my case, my partner has put in a financial stake, as have I, but brings over a decade of business management and organizational experience. His unique skill set offsets my weaknesses and vice versa.
7. Focus on Valuation
A lot of people will tell you that when gaining investors, valuation is important. Although it isn’t something you should just throw to the wind, ultimately investors are buying the CEO or partner. Relationships matter. It is more important to build a strong relationship and heavily focus on that than getting your valuation down perfectly.
8. Pick a Vertical
To date, the most commonly received (and ignored) advice has been “Pick a vertical; you can’t dominate if you’re horizontal.” I’ve received this feedback from incredibly successful entrepreneurs who have had more exits and whom I respect. It’s good feedback, and I wouldn’t say I’ve ignored it. I’d say I’ve chosen not to act on it.
The reason I’ve chosen not to act on it is because I believe that our company’s existence is about the consumers of enterprise workforce software, and because the notion of consumer business software is so new that focusing on a vertical now would bring our growth potential to a screeching halt. We need to show several verticals that business software doesn’t have to suck. After we do that, we can focus on high-growth verticals.
9. Change To Fit the Trend
Don’t ever change your business approach because an outside person says it’s falling along a trend! Do what your vision entails, refine it (using investors and advisors), and be comfortable with it.