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7 ways well-meaning advisors might hurt first-time entrepreneurs

The fastest way to hurt a first-time entrepreneur is to stake a claim on his or her precious time by either giving irrelevant advice or leading him or her on a path that will not meaningfully move the needle.

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, good advisors can help you accelerate your journey towards your dream destination. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find really good advisors who can carve out their time and mindshare for you and your project. There are many well- meaning advisors who might hurt you without intending to hurt you.

Here are seven ways that might happen and what you can do about them.

1. Being nice to you

Sometimes the truth is bitter. The sugarcoating truth might dilute the value to such an extent that you might think, “There is no real problem here.”

Being nice to you might avoid awkward or uncomfortable conversations, but won’t help you in the long run. You want your advisors to be direct and honest, not nice.

What can you do: You need to be more open to receiving all kinds of feedback. If the advisor senses that you are defensive, he or she might avoid being direct just to save time and energy.

2. Setting wrong expectations

When you are a first-time entrepreneur, you are banking on a lot of people around you because you really don’t know a lot unless you have been part of another startup from an early stage. Your advisors are setting expectations either by saying them explicitly or implying them in some way. If they don’t intend to follow through with their said or implied promises, it will start hurting you.

What can you do: First, make an assessment yourself whether the advisor who is promising something can really deliver on that promise. For example, if an advisor promises to help with fundraising, see if he or she has helped any other startups on that front. Ultimately, the startup is your responsibility and you need to do most of the work. Delegating completely will not help much.

3. Reciting sound bytes

This is when your advisor tells you something super obvious, but says it in a very compelling way. A few examples of restating the obvious are as follows:

  • You’ve got to get an A-team or else…
  • The only way you know you are getting traction is by customer win. Get those first few deals under your belt.
  • Slides alone won’t help. Get a prototype at least.
  • Focus on three things: technology, team, and traction.
    And so on.

None of the above advice is bad, but it is something that is available everywhere.

As an entrepreneur, you would have read this in books, articles, and talks.

What can you do: Ask for specific help with your projects so that the discussion is focused.

4. Making ice-cold introductions

Your advisor introduces you to a contact (probably because you pestered them).

However, the introduction is not a warm one. In some cases, it includes a caveat that will show an arm’s length relationship between you and your advisor. The rest is easy to guess. The person they introduce you to will meet with you as if it were an obligation for them.

Nothing material happens from that meeting.

What can you do: Before you ask for an introduction, think about what would make your advisor comfortable with making that introduction. If there are concerns, address them. If your advisor is still not comfortable, don’t force the issue. An intro of that kind should mean an implied endorsement. Without that, an intro would not be of much use.

5. Not focusing on today

You have some serious concerns and questions about what to do today to make some progress. Your advisor is forward thinking, and she is telling you what all problems can happen the day after tomorrow. That is required, but she won’t let you come back to address today’s issues and concerns. So, you are stuck twice: First, because you don’t have enough to take care of today’s issues and concerns; and second, your day-after-tomorrow’s concerns are piling up. Sadly, if you don’t handle what is required to be done today, there is no question of doing something day after tomorrow.

What can you do: It is your responsibility to shift back the conversation to address today’s issues and concerns after thanking your advisor for all the insights she provided. This is an art rather than a science.

6. Not answering the right questions

Your advisor is available to you to answer the questions that you have, but that is not enough because you may not know enough to ask the right questions that you should be asking. As an advisor, one of their responsibilities is to proactively guide you to ask them the right questions because they know that you don’t know enough to ask them.

What can you do: You could always ask one question to open this thread and that is, “Please tell me what other questions should I have been asking you at this stage of my venture?”

7. Not moving the needle enough

Your advisors have a responsibility to help you move the needle in a meaningful fashion. This means because they are in your life, you should be able to make more progress as compared to when they were not in your life. While some progress is internal (like your personal growth), that won’t be sufficient. The progress has to be real, meaningful, and measurable.

What can you do: Design your requests to your advisors in the area of their core strengths. That way, you are making the most of your advisors without being a major cost to them.

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