How many self-styled startup experts have actually started a company? How many have gotten a startup to critical actually know what they are talking about? The online world of startup experts is infested with people who don’t know what they don’t know. I guess these people read the same tired clichés that sit in rich overabundance all over the web, and over time take on what they read as if it’s what they experienced. So clichés run around masked as expertise. Which makes for a lot of bad startup advice.
Here’s an example for you. The idea that passion alone can make a startup successful is absurd, but extremely common. It’s all over the web. Comments, blog posts, and updates are full of this illusion. We see it in angel investment pitches for the angel group I’m in. Watch a few episodes of Shark Tank and you’ll see it there, as entrepreneurs talk about how passionate they are and the sharks just roll their eyes. This again? The truth of the matter is that passion, although it does help get through the long days and late nights, doesn’t make that much difference. What matters is giving value, offering something people will pay for, showing up every day, and doing the work. And I wonder how many of those people who advise others to “just follow your passion” have ever actually built a business. “Do what you’ll love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is a naive cliché. Ask anybody who actually did successfully start a business. There was a lot of work involved.
Another example? The way-too-common assumption that startups have to get funded is just wrong. The latest available SBA statistics show about 450,000 new businesses start up in the U.S. every month. But in an average year, only 70,000 or so get angel investment, and fewer than 5,000 get venture capital. Real people start businesses using grit, savings, credit card debt, loans on house equity, and loans or investment from family. The normal process of a startup is not, not by a long shot, a process of going from idea to funding without a ton of hard work in between. Not does it take investment to make a startup. Some need it, and many others don’t. It depends on the business.
And a third example is a pet peeves for me, the idea that education doesn’t coexist with entrepreneurship. Why bother to get an education if you’re going to be an entrepreneur. I ranted about that one last month, in Young Entrepreneurs: They are Lying to You. For every Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg there are 10 million normal people wishing they’d stuck it out and gotten their degree.
However, for the record, I don’t mind it when someone shares expertise and experience accumulated from being close to startups, as sometimes happens with attorneys, business school profs, small business development center (SBDC) counselors, and others. They can be legitimate helpers. And of course there are functional experts who have expertise to share on marketing, writing, design, development, finance, and so on, without having started a business. But they should declare their expertise and stick to it. They should not reinforce the clichés.
The level of certainty I see, way too often, is amazing. Having read a bunch of blog posts about Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Richard Branson doesn’t make anybody an expert – but so-o-o-o many people act like it does. There are people who draw from the enormous overabundance of startup advice available and repeat the common clichés, because they sound good. So they tweet, post, write, and comment. And they perpetuate the clichés with an air of certainty.
I think certainty itself, related to startups, is a sign of inexperience. There are no general rules that apply very well to startups. There is always room for “on the other hand.”