There are several pieces of advice that endlessly float around the startup ecosystem constantly being recycled, rewritten, and Retweeted. Beyond the fact that these nuggets of supposed wisdom are at best tired, if not outrightly inane, they often reveal themselves to be contradictory. Despite their lack of depth or consistency, many people seem to think that repeating them over and over again makes them look intelligent or inspirational.
Today, I ask you to please stop.
You’re probably contradicting yourself and engaging in hypocrisy, and we don’t need daily reminders posted as images to our Facebook newsfeed. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular pieces of advice making the rounds.
The hottest advice right now is, “Learn to code.” By itself, I mostly agree with this. As Marc Andreessen said, “The spread of computers and the Internet will put jobs in two categories. People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.” Obviously it’s better to be in the first group.
The problem with this advice is that many of the same people (not Marc) who keep telling us we need to learn to code, also keep telling us to “follow our passion.” What if our passion isn’t programming? What if our passion is painting or mountain climbing or playing piano? If you’re one of these wise advice givers, please tell us what we should do if we’re not passionate about coding. Are we just screwed? Unless you’re speaking only to programmers, you can’t really give both pieces of advice without contradicting yourself.
Another popular piece of recycled advice is, “Build a business not a feature.” Again, I agree with this. Unless your company is profitable, it isn’t really a business at all. You’re essentially just experimenting with VC money.
There are two ways that this advice is hypocritical.
First, take a look around at the majority of people telling you this. How many of them are profitable? I suspect you’ll find most of the people repeating this mantra working on unprofitable startups that are not self sustaining businesses.
The second problem with the people giving this advice is that they don’t recognize any business that isn’t a website. I’ve always maintained that someone who opens a restaurant or an auto shop or any brick and mortar business deserves at least the same amount of respect as someone who starts an online business. But most of the “build a business not a feature” advice givers don’t see that. Recently, someone told me to, “start something.” It was more than a little ironic that this person burned through all of their VC money and closed up shop while my past companies have employed dozens of people on revenue, and my current business was self-funded and profitable from day one. So yeah, I agree, build a business not a feature, but you might want to look in the mirror before dispensing that advice.
Then there’s the always fashionable, “Change the world.” I appreciate the sentiment and it certainly would be nice if more people set out to change the world.
But here’s the deal. Changing the world is a really high order. Very few of us will ever do anything that affects the world in a meaningful way. I think deep down inside, most of you know that. So please stop claiming that your niche web 2.0 startup is changing the world. It’s okay to be in it for the money. And if any of you truly believe that mailing underwear or some startup that can be described as “like this for that” actually makes you a visionary world changer, then please let the rest of us know what kind of drugs you’re smoking.
If you have something new to say, a different perspective, something humorous, or an opinion or a question that makes us think about our views, then by all means please share it. But if the wisdom you’re sharing is blatantly obvious, give us a little credit that we’ve figured it out on our own.
If the advice has been widely circulated, assume we’ve already seen it. I’m pretty sure we all know what Steve Jobs said about staying hungry and staying foolish, no need for you to Retweet a reminder.
Most importantly, if you can’t honestly give the advice as someone who practices what you preach, please don’t pretend you’re an expert on the topic. You’re probably just exposing yourself as an unoriginal hypocrite, and I think we’ve all had just about enough of that.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]