Even after a 20+ year career as an entrepreneur that includes a couple of nice wins and my share of lesson-packed failures, I still seek advice from other entrepreneurs every chance I get.
I’m lucky in that I work with folks who are smarter and better than me. I also pester other entrepreneurs who have had bigger successes than me (and far more painful failures) — people I’ve lucked into becoming friends with over the years.
Two problems. 1) I’m indeed very lucky to have this kind of access to these kinds of people — it’s taken decades to build that network. 2) There’s rarely time when our schedules open up and we can sit down together for even a half-hour.
We’re entrepreneurs. We’re busy.
So for the last 10-or-so years, I’ve been trying to make this kind of access to advice as affordable and frictionless as I can, to make the startup struggle easier for every entrepreneur I can reach.
Sure, I write a lot of advice-filled blog posts, but that kind of advice, by its nature, is meant to be universal and generalized. And yes, I personally advise a handful of startups, but I can only handle a very small number at a time, and I usually work with the same entrepreneurs for years at a time.
There must be a middle ground. So I came up with Teaching Startup to fill it. The concept is pretty simple on its face. Entrepreneurs join Teaching Startup, they ask questions, those questions get answers from a group of entrepreneurs who have been at it for a long time and have faced those struggles up close.
In practice, it’s really freaking complicated. I’ve spent years distilling the valuable parts of advisory, and I’ve spent the last year drilling down into what makes the advice itself the most valuable to the most people in the most efficient way.
You can’t get there without asking entrepreneurs what kind of advice they need the most. I do this one-on-one all the time, and last week, I ran a poll out to our Teaching Startup membership to do just that.
As it turns out, the advice that new entrepreneurs need is the same advice that experienced entrepreneurs need. I know this because we have both new and experienced entrepreneurs in Teaching Startup, and they responded the same way. Oh, and it’s the same kind of advice I still constantly hunt down.
Let’s look at the results, from worst to first.
7% said More motivational “been there” advice
Guess what? Entrepreneurs don’t really need additional motivation. Don’t get me wrong, they need motivation, bucketloads of it. But they don’t need a life coach helping them get their business across the finish line.
If I got irritated by things, one of those irritations would be the vast amount of entrepreneurial advice out there that falls into this category. Those same advisors tend to disappear when real world problems can’t be solved by “believing a little harder” or whatever.
7% said Help confirm hypotheses I have
Slightly below motivation in the not-needed category, the low response here seems counterintuitive, because this is the exact thing you think of when you think of “expert advice.” Help me make the right choices.
But peeling back the layers, the best advice is less about being told what you want to hear, and more about being told what needs to change. Entrepreneurs aren’t a timid bunch. They don’t need a lot of validation of their ideas. They need answers on the execution.
14% said Different perspectives to generate options
The most underrated and misunderstood kind of advice. Just because someone tells you what they did doesn’t mean you have to do it. Sometimes your brain just needs a little oil to get it unstuck.
22% said More hands-on experiential advice
One of the unique differentiators of Teaching Startup is the fact that we drill down into hands-on advice, sometimes deeply. This is where we find some of the balance between the general nature of a blog post and the individual attention of a one-on-one. If you don’t need help with a particular type of hands-on issue, you can skip to the next one or find yours.
50% said make complex concepts simpler
This is what it all comes down to. If being an entrepreneur was easy, all of us would be wildly successful. But it isn’t, and we’re not. One of the reasons we became entrepreneurs in the first place is that we’re very, very good at solving problems. But that’s just a small fraction of what it takes to go from idea to reality to success.
No matter how long we’ve been doing this, we entrepreneurs never stop trying to break down various complexities in all kinds of systems. In fact, the longer we do it, the more complex those concepts become.
That’s where we need all the help we can get.