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Dilemma of an entrepreneur, whom to seek advice from and whom to ignore

Nikhilesh Tayal
14th Aug 2015
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Startups are picking up in India, and so is the ecosystem. Many people now want to be part of startups, be it as an entrepreneur, investor or employee, and this definitely is a good sign. An entrepreneur, during his or her startup journey, meets, interacts with, and seeks advice from lots of such people. The right advice from the right people can be extremely helpful, but at the same time, people who don’t have enough startup exposure can mislead entrepreneurs.

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Source - Jokesmantra.com

From my experience - founding two startups – I’ve created some categories of such people. I warn you not to spend much time with these folks.

Fake Investors - Many people nowadays call themselves angel investors, but do not actually actively invest. They may or may not be part of an angel group. They will reach out to you, give you half-baked gyan, and ask you to send them all kinds of documents. Mostly, they don’t have any intention of investing in your startup, and can easily waste your 3-4 months.

For example, we at stagephod.com were covered by Economic Times, and thus were approached by a fake investor. He had no knowledge about startups, let alone video maker marketplaces, or any kind of online marketplace for that matter. He just said that no one in India was creating a market place to hire video makers, and that was why he in interested in investing. He even sent us a letter of intent. We were lucky to have past experience on our side; we thus gauged his interest (or lack thereof) early and saved ourselves lot of time and effort.

Not-so-genuine entrepreneurs - These are people who started ventures but didn’t apply themselves, did not execute much, and closed their startups after a few months. These people have lots of general gyan to offer, without much substance on the topic of actual execution. Interacting with these people can mislead you.

Fake wannapreneurs - There is no problem with being a wannabe. The problem only begins when one intentionally or unintentionally misleads people with one’s own half-baked gyan. You find these people in all kinds of startup events, but they actually don’t have the courage to start up, or the intention to. They generally give gyan about what works and what doesn’t, what is scalable and what isn’t, etc.

Startup enthusiasts - Just to give them a category, we can call rest of the misguiding people startup enthusiasts. They do not have any practical knowledge about startups, or doing business in India. Generally, these people are experienced professionals and hold senior positions in IT or at consulting companies. Some are associated with startup related organizations/groups, or investment films. They try to show off their startup knowledge, which they have acquired either from their batchmates who are doing startups, or from startup blogs or from startup events they have attended.

This brings me to the point. How should we separate sound from noise? Whom should we trust and seek advice from? I have a rule of thumb for this; you should only take advice from people who have been there, done or are doing that - people who are actually getting their hands dirty, executing rather than just talking. Some of them are:

Entrepreneurs turned investors, or those who invest actively – Generally, these people give quality, relevant advice. They know the problems startups actually face, and can help you with refining business models, and give you execution tips.

Entrepreneurs who have built a company, or are in the process of doing so - They understand what it takes to build a business in India. They can share insights about running a business, and can also introduce you to the right people and processes.

Genuinely failed entrepreneurs - These are people who have put significant effort into their startups, given them their all, have come out with different solutions, pivoted, and have actually done most things right, but somehow couldn’t sustain their startup. These guys will also have some useful insights to share with you.

Domain Experts - Every startup has had to crack some key problems in order to succeed. These problems could range from how to crack B2SMB sales, how to build a team of large inside sales people, and how to engage users more, to what the pricing strategy should be, what type of content one should write, etc. A domain expert can definitely give you insights about all his problems. These are people who were associated with now-successful startups in their early stages.

You should figure out what the key challenges in your startup are, and when you meet startup gurus, ask them these specific questions. There are people who can help you, but if the guy still gives you general gyan, you know what to do.

Last but not the least:

Intuition - Because no one knows you better than you do. You followed your intuition and took the startup plunge. You have to continue doing that for the rest of your life now.

I have written this post in the context of startups, but this applies to every scenario in life. For example, just as a project manager at an MNC can not give you advice on startups, a successful entrepreneur might not give you relevant advice on relationships. So be very selective when it comes to taking advice, as not every connection is a good connection.

Could you add some more archetypal startup people, whom one should either avoid or follow? It would be great if you mentioned your experiences too. Let us know in the comments.

 

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