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Startup advice is confusing. Here’s how to make sense of 6 common contradictions

Fast Company | Andrew Vasylyk | Dec 2020

startup lessons - Startup advice is confusing. Here’s how to make sense of 6 common contradictions

The founder of StartupSoft says that even though contradictory approaches can both seem sound and come from reputable sources, there are ways to parse the information to work for you.

Founders looking for guidance are faced with too much information. Google any startup related question and open up a few links, it’s quite likely that you’ll find conflicting advice. Similarly, there’s a good chance that if you go out and ask people yourself you’ll hear opposing thoughts.  What should founders do? Who should they listen to? Let’s look at a few examples.

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Following customers vs. following a vision

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” –Henry Ford

This quote is often used to argue that customers don’t really know what they want and asking them about it is pointless.
Henry Ford isn’t alone in such thinking. In his 2018 letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos wrote,

“Market research doesn’t help. If you had gone to a customer in 2013 and said, ‘Would you like a black, always-on cylinder in your kitchen about the size of a Pringles can that you could talk to and ask questions, that also turns on your lights and plays music?’ I guarantee you they’d have looked at you strangely and said, ‘No, thank you.'”

On the other hand, the Lean Startup methodology, which is by far the most popular framework for starting companies, takes a seemingly opposite approach in which customer feedback is the main driver of your product and, in many ways, your entire business.

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Weathering a storm vs. beating a dead horse

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” –Steve Jobs

Perseverance, grit, and tenacity are some of the most important traits of successful entrepreneurs.  At the same time, having enough self-awareness to say “no” or “enough” is just as crucial.

Impact vs. effort matrix

Unfortunately, there is no universal list of things that are or are not worth chasing. It’s a call that founders have to make, usually relying on two things:

  • Effort: How difficult is it to achieve a certain goal?
  • Impact: How mission critical is the goal?

Innovating vs. imitating

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” –Pablo Picasso

To outsiders, Silicon Valley is synonymous with innovation. Startup founders are seen as contrarian geniuses who create unique solutions and first-of-a-kind products.  But in reality, the world of tech is full of copycats. For example Instagram Stories and Snapchat, Uber and Lyft, Apple and Xiaomi, Indiegogo and Kickstarter, etc.  Should you take the lead or follow others?  Ideally, do both. Your product should be familiar, but different.

Too early vs. too late

“Timing is that element of your startup growth mix which is not under your control. You know the ‘how’, but it is the ‘when’ that deludes you.” —Bill Gross

For startups, timing is critical. It may be the single biggest factor, accounting for as much as 42% of the final outcome.  A guaranteed way of not being too late is to be the first. In Zero to One, one of the most popular book on startups, Peter Thiel argues that founders should not enter markets where competitors already exist.  On another hand, the advantages of being first may not justify the risk. For example, Apple is known for rarely being first, and they’re certainly not struggling.

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See: 

How to Value a Fintech Startup

4 Ways the Startup Landscape Will Shift in 2021

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