How to get advice

May 20, 2013
post startup

A key task for any co-founder is getting advice. Especially if you are new to something it is key to ask. It is important to understand that others have more experience in things that you will bang your head against. Getting advice is key to a successful start and helps you keep on track, helps you grow and helps you reposition yourself. Advice is a key ingredient for many of the most successful entrepreneurs and not getting advice is a silly thing to do.

So how does one get advice? A lot of young entrepreneurs mistake advice with a “how-to”. Trust me, there is no how-to on being successful, there are way too many factors that come into play and if there would be a how-to we would drown in a flood of successful startups and would need another word for it.

I grew up next to a buddhist monastery and many of my fundamental world views are based on buddhist principles like do no evil, live an altruistic life and live what you teach. One very fundamental principle that always stood out for me is that a student teacher relationship is something that needs to be re-evaluated, constantly. A student should always ask himself if the teacher is right, if the topic is relevant to the student and if the teacher is going into the right direction from the students point of view.

Taking this principle and applying it to getting advice lead me to always trying to get to the essence someone advises me on. I try to get the core principle, the core idea and then evaluate how it fits into my world view, into my bigger picture. Reevaluating advice and having a clear idea of your core values and your core idea helps you applying advice and still staying true to your values. Advice used as a how-to, blindly followed and executing upon without understanding the underlying learnings can derail perfectly good ideas and teams. Not because the one giving advice wants to harm you but because blindly following a recipe is rarely giving you the insights that you need to apply the recipe in the right way.

Always try to understand what the key learning is and how to apply it to your startup. Advice comes from people, often successful, from their point of view and from their point of view in their companies. It may be highly relevant but it is always from their angle, be aware of it and know how to evaluate its usefulness to your startup.