Mentor Advice: 2 Rules for Startups

by Ethan Austin
December 5, 2011

I have two rules about asking mentors for advice.  Rule # 1 – Ask for advice frequently.  Rule # 2 – Don’t follow all the advice you get.

RULE NUMERO UNO: One of the smartest things you can do as a startup founder is ask for advice from experienced entrepreneurs, mentors and investors who have been in your shoes before.

Here’s why it’s important.  Your goal as a startup founder is to make as many decisions as possible each day. The more decisions you make on a daily basis (whether they are right or wrong), the faster you move your company forward.

But making crap loads of bad decisions each day isn’t going to get you very far.   So I suppose it’s more accurate to say that your goal should be to make as many good decisions as fast as you possibly can.

Generally, the more informed you are about a subject, the better your decision will be. The problem for most startups is that it takes a long time to gather information and so the question they face is how to balance the need for speed with the need for information gathering.  I think this is where advice from mentors and investors comes in handy.

Asking someone who has been in your shoes before for advice on a narrow subject is probably the fastest way to gather information from which you can make your decision.

Mentors =  information hack.

Think about it this way – when you were trying to figure out how to program your DVR  for the first time, you could have learned how to do it by spending 30 minutes reading the instruction manual.  Or you could have learned how by spending 5 minutes asking someone with a DVR to show you what to do.  Either way, you ended up with the same result. One path was just a lot faster.

In this example, asking for help would have saved yourself 25 minutes.  You could have then used this bonus time to figure out how to get the clock to stop blinking 12:00.

In other words, by asking for advice you are able to accomplish two tasks (i.e. make two decisions) in the same amount of time it would have taken you to accomplish one task had you tried to do everything on your own.  Advice FTW!

RULE NUMERO DOS: One of the dumbest things you can do is follow this advice 100% of the time. 

If you were to follow 100% of the advice you received 100% of the time, you’d end up running your business like a chicken with its head cut off.

Mentors and investors can provide an immense amount of value to a startup; but they should never be a substitute for independent thought. At the end of the day, no one understands your business as well as you do.   Use mentors and investors as a source for guidance, but don’t abdicate your decision making responsibilities to them.  Take all their advice, throw it into a big mentor stew, stir it around in your head for a bit and then draw your own conclusions based on the available data.

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