10 Entrepreneurs Share the Worst Advice They Ever Received
When in doubt, trust your gut.
1. Dress like everyone else to fit in.
2. Listen to the vocal minority of your users.
3. Be fearless.
4. Don’t call attention to your work.
5. Don’t try something new.
6. Growth is the most important metric of success.
7. Your idea will fail.
8. Go big before you’re ready.
9. Follow someone else’s lead.
10. Play it safe.
If you decide to make the leap and launch a business, the people in your life -- from family and friends to investors -- will all have opinions that they will gladly share with you, sometimes whether you ask them to or not.
The fact of the matter is, you can take in all the advice in the world from the most respected sources, but if it doesn’t feel right to you, you have to trust vision and conviction enough to go your own way.
We asked 10 entrepreneurs about the worst advice they ever got and what they learned from it.
Name: Alexis Maybank
Company: Project September
Bad advice: Right as I was coming out of college and was going to work in a predominantly male environment as the only female, people would try to be kind, but would tell me that I must dress and act a certain way in order to fit in. I felt so uncomfortable and so not like me. A few years later I broke away from that and realized you are your own brand. And the more comfortable you are, the more confident and memorable you’ll be. You’ll be the most effective if you achieve your own personal style.
Read more about Maybank: The Co-Founder of Gilt on What Her First Job at Ebay Taught Her About Running a Company
Name: Luis von Ahn
Advice: I don’t know if it's bad universally, or if it was just bad for me. When you’re building a product, typical advice is listen to what your users are saying. I have found that is terrible advice for Duolingo. The spirit of the advice is good, but a lot of times, there is a problem that arises. If the feedback channels are such that that only a few users get to talk to you, you are only hearing the loudest ones, not all of them, and that is where it breaks down.
We have a forum on our website where people can talk about language, but they often ask about features. I have found that listening to people in the forums is a terrible idea. For example, we redesigned the website a few years ago,and people in the forum were saying how terrible it was. Hundreds of posts about how this was the worst decision we had ever made. All the while we were looking at the metrics for the new website, and they were significantly better.
If you are just listening to the people who reach out to you, than that is a biased sample of people who are a loud minority. Of course that is not always the case, but unless you know what you are doing, you should watch out for that bias.
Read more about von Ahn: Why This Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users
Name: Julia Hartz
Bad advice: To be fearless. This is unattainable, because humans are innately built with fear, and it’s part of how we survive. I think it’s better to examine your fears and divide those into buckets. There are irrational fears that you should pack in a box and put on a shelf, but then there are warranted fears that you should listen closely as you think through challenges. You will encounter fight-or-flight situations where you need to act fearlessly but feeling the fear a little isn't always a bad thing.
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
Name: Tim Chen
Bad advice: I'm Asian. My parents told me to keep my head down, work hard and show my value through work rather than through my mouth. I think that might work well in some industries, but even in those cases, there is a benefit of speaking up and communicating.
Name: Heidi Zak
Bad advice: The worst advice that I've gotten is to not do something. There is never been a time that I have regretted going somewhere new. Most regrets come from not seizing an opportunity or not doing something. A lot more comes out of saying yes than saying no.
Name: Scott Harrison
Company: Charity: Water
Bad advice: Growth is everything. While we had eight years of consecutive, and often breakneck, growth, we didn’t grow in our ninth year. We focused on foundational efforts, made great strides in increasing the sustainability of our global programs and built a new subscription-revenue program. But I had a personal sense that something was wrong, that I’d failed the organization, because I’d placed so much effort in “always growing.” We grew again the next year and, looking back, I realized how important it was to have that experience, stay the course, and stay true to our values and vision.
Read more about Harrison: Everyone Can Adopt This Founder's One-Step Productivity Advice
Name: David Bladow
Advice: When I started Bloomthat a lot of people told me it wasn’t going to work. I think it was well intentioned, but I’m glad I ignored it. Take that kind of advice with a grain of salt and keep pushing.
Name: Oliver Kharraz
Bad Advice: When we launched Zocdoc, there was a lot of investors that told us to go national right away. We had launched only in Manhattan, and we stayed in Manhattan for three or four years, which is forever in internet time. To actually learn how the business works at the smallest possible scale before we expanded as to the complexity of the business and ignoring the advice to go broader and staying hyperfocused early on was was crucial to our success.
Read more about Kharraz: This Founder Says to Succeed You Need to Question Everything
Name: Bastian Lehmann
Bad advice: To be like someone else. I see that happening a lot in college when everyone has to fit into one thing. It’s totally okay to have a different playbook. Just listen to your heart and try to find what you want to do and the people that support you. That’s the answer.
Name: Daniella Yacobovsky
Bad advice: That's tough because I always find advice to be helpful in some sort of context. It's more about taking that advice and being smart in how you apply it to your own business. One example is when Amy and I first decided to leave our jobs in finance and venture into the startup world. We had a lot of people warn us that it was a risky move and while they were definitely correct, we still remained focused, made thoughtful decisions and went for it.