First-time founders put themselves on a steady diet of blog posts, articles, and eBooks, in the hopes of gaining wisdom on how to launch a successful startup. But about two thirds of the time, conventional wisdom is just downright wrong.
To illustrate this point, here are three common pieces of advice. Two worth ignoring, one worth following.
1. “Don’t go it alone as a single founder.”
This standard piece of advice is completely wrong. The thinking behind it usually goes something like this:
“If the founder couldn’t talk friends into joining, the case for the company must have been weak. It’s too hard for one person to launch a successful startup when they have no colleagues to brainstorm and consult with, and with no team members to push each other forward.”
Hogwash. Single founders can do just fine. A founder might be single because they have a singular passion. Sometimes friends can’t match your nuanced view or don’t have the life-force to get out of bed and grind in the service of someone else’s dream. The ability to enlist friends has more to do with charisma than a strong case for a product. Your charm or lack thereof early on will likely have no material effect on whether your startup gets off the ground. And finally, if you’re ever feeling down, friends and family can bring you up.
As a founder, if you want to go it alone, go right ahead.
2. “Pick a location where the experts are.”
Again, this advice is plain wrong. The logic goes something like this:
“Startups prosper in some places and not others. Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, etc. The reason startups thrive in these prime locations is because that’s where the experts and VCs are.”
That’s nonsense. You will flourish wherever you live if your thinking is expansive and habits are productive. Experts are on the internet. And herdish hipster hubs and startup cultures are known to release toxins into the local population. The fear of failure among peers breeds twisted performance indicators. Delusion, peer pressure, and conformity run amok and can be bad for business.
But if you live in one of these hubs, that’s okay, too. Close the door, get your butt in the chair and get to work. Just like you would anywhere else in the world.
3. Don’t hire a bad programmer.
Here’s where I break the pattern and agree. Disagreeing is fun and useful but has its limits. There’s never a reason to hire a bad programmer!
Non-technical founders sometimes think they’re hiring good developers and then wonder why their business feels like it’s composed of molasses. But having no tech background is not an excuse. I came into the technology world as a musician, with the technical knowledge of a chihuahua.
Luckily, even chihuahuas know it’s not okay to skimp on programming. When hiring programmers, I didn’t bark up the wrong tree; I started at the top, even when my company was at the bottom.
I knew from being a working musician that the best talents are more open to a gig than one might think. You have to approach them in the right way that makes them feel seen and appreciated. Before you reach out, learn about what makes them unique. Did they write a book about programming? Did they design or build a respected application or Open Source software? Is there anything about your story that’ll interest them?
Great talent can leave you feeling like you’re in a desperate relationship. Talented people are going to be passionate about things other than your company. Still, it’s worth it. It paves the way for great lessons in software development and leads to relationships with other great programmers.
Conclusion: Roughly 66% of startup advice you hear online is pure twaddle. The rest is accurate and often life-or-death. Startup success isn’t just about knowing the rules, but about knowing which rules to ignore. The best part is, as a founder, you get to decide for yourself. If that process appeals to you, congrats, it probably means you picked the right job.
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