“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
President Calvin Coolidge
If a Cat has Nine Lives, How Many Does a Startup Have?
In fact, examples of perseverence include:
- Pandora was nearly bankrupt; today it’s valued at $1.75 billion.
- A year ago, OMGPOP was nearly dead. But one hit led to a $200 million exit to Zynga.
- Angry Bird’s Rovio staved off bankruptcy to become an IPO candidate.
- Jeff Bezos was lauded and ridiculed early on, but he ignored the haters to make Amazon one of the most valuable brands in the world.
- Even a large multinational like FEDEX overcame its share of obstacles, legend has it that founder Fred Smith “won enough hands of blackjack in Las Vegas to help meet a payroll.”
- And last but not least, Apple came back to become the most valuable company.
You’ve Got Hope!
Comebacks aren’t restricted to sports, they happen in business, too.
But does that mean you should put your head in the sand, charge ahead, ignore the critics and warning signs?
It depends. After all, when you consider that Fab and Groupon pivoted their way to greatness, it begs the question: how do you determine what advice to take when it comes to sticking to your guns or not?
Let’s Remember the Basics
Humans value success, money, power, respect and fame differently. But ultimately, while simpler things like health and happiness measure our satisfaction, in business the most common standard for success is some kind of liquidity event.
Options vs. Talk
An advisor once told me that entrepreneurs sometimes think they have options with regards to exits when all they have is talk. It’s thus important to differentiate interest, intent and action with regards to deal-making.
“Wanna Know What I Think?”
“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.” Publilius Syrus
While the journey is rewarding to the entrepreneur, it’s the outcome that matters to other stakeholders who will tell you what they think, regardless of whether it makes any sense (or you want to hear it) or not.
Advisors, Consultants, Mentors
Advice can be:
- Practical, Applicable and Realistic OR Impractical, Inapplicable and Unrealistic
- Sincere OR Self-serving
- Relevant OR Irrelevant
- Stuff you know OR Stuff you don’t know
- True OR False (only over time do you know if was true or false).
Ultimately, some genuinely like to help others (the “missionaries”) and vicariously live the entrepreneurial dream; others don’t generally root for you unless they have skin in the game (the “mercenaries”). Each group may have something to offer and teach you, but you may have to incentivize them one way or another; to quote John Doerr: “no conflict, no interest”.
To the mercenary the incentive may be equity; to the missionary, it may be an advisor title.
Advice: The Good, Bad and Ugly
Advice can be good, bad and ugly:
- Good advice is usually Practical, Applicable and Realistic, though sometimes Impractical, Inapplicable and Unrealistic advice may prove useful, too.
- Bad advice tends to be wrong, though it comes with good intentions.
- Ugly advice is self-serving, spiteful and envious.
You really need to weed out those who give you ugly advice.
Bad advice can still be helpful in general ways provided you can find ways to apply and adapt it to your reality and business.
Lessons of Advice Giving/Seeking (file under “obvious, but worth stating”)
Advice is a double-edged sword:
- More often than not, when people give you advice, you already know it.
- People don’t listen, so mastering how you communicate and frame advice is important.
- Memory is selective: people will retain a portion of what you say.
- Interpretation is subjective: no matter what you mean, people will understand things in a different way.
- It never hurts to ask and seek advice, as you’re under no obligation to apply it, but if you don’t implement what someone recommends, they may feel slighted.
- It’s almost more important what people don’t say than what they do say.
- You have to ask the right questions, and, hmm… you actually have to let the person answer those questions.
- Just because people appear to not be listening doesn’t mean they’re not, so be careful what you say; they will hold it against you if it backfires (people like scapegoats).
- Advice is akin to the falling tree in the forest: information is a valuable asset and creativity is a valuable skill, provided they’re put to use. Increase your social value by being generous with both.
- You need confidence and diplomacy to ask and receive advice. You won’t like most of the advice you’re given and people may be offended by what you have to say.
An entrepreneur’s ability to communicate is an undervalued skill.
So What Do You Do?
But it’s what you do with advice that ultimately matters.
The common denominator in successful businesspeople (executives or entrepreneurs) is knowing when to follow your gut, mind and heart – each one is usually saying something different.
Using the data and applying it to your industry and business is paramount.
How do you quantify and qualify success? For example, tech is a zero-sum, winner takes all game. Despite your traction, maybe you’re fighting a losing battle. Content isn’t, and most content companies take a long time to become big businesses. If you can stay in the game, maybe that’s not a bad strategy.
While the grass is greener on the other side, pivoting non-stop to chase the latest fad isn’t a strategy either. Sometimes it’s the macro backdrop: location hasn’t lived up to the hype, video is underwhelming, and online media remains small.
Be Honest With Yourself
Mainly, be honest with yourself. You’re the man in the arena, after all. If you’re having fun and are passionate about what you do – and can manage the emotions that come with the highs and lows of entrepreneurship – my advice is persevere even if the definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting a different outcome. Sometimes you don’t need to trade the whole team, you just need to make some mid-game adjustments. After all, to win the championship, you have to stay in the game and keep it close, for you’re always only a lucky play away from winning.