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A founder I was meeting for the first time was telling me about her startup. She spent the first 15-ish minutes of our meeting describing her project. Then, once she’d told me everything she wanted to explain, she asked a question that, to her, seemed simple. She asked: “Why is nobody buying my product?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked that same question by a founder. In fact, I get asked that question almost weekly. But something was particularly jarring about the way this founder asked. She did it in the same way she might ask me to…


The self-help gurus of the world want you to love yourself, but is that really the best thing for entrepreneurs?

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Entrepreneurs are never satisfied with the things they create. For example, no matter how much you like or dislike the article you’re about to read, I — the entrepreneur writing it — think it’s terrible. To me, the concept is hackneyed, the writing is simplistic, and the lesson it teaches is flawed. Even this introductory paragraph stinks. I don’t know why anyone would want to keep reading.

And yet, because some of you will read the entire article, and some of you might even share it on social media, the article probably isn’t as terrible as I think.

At least…


Follow his instructions and maybe you can do the same thing!

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Ask ten different people what the first social networking website was, and you might get 10 different answers. A lot of younger people think it’s Facebook, but, of course, that’s not true. Some people will guess MySpace, but that was really the first social network to become truly mainstream. Before MySpace there were sites like Friendster and LiveJournal and Blogger. But none of those can claim to be the first social networking website.

Instead, the first social network on the Internet was a website called SixDegrees… as-in “six degrees of separation,” a name that comes from the work of famous…


5 steps you can take to help overcome the most common mistake in entrepreneurship

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Within a few hours of publishing an article called Are You Building Your Startup Backwards?, I gave a lecture about “the fundamentals of entrepreneurship” to a group of graduate students. The TL:DR of the article is that most entrepreneurs create products before establishing a market, and that’s… well… bad.

After I’d finished my lecture, a student approached me with a question. He and his co-founders had developed an augmented reality app, and he wanted advice for how to find customers.

Sigh… it was yet-another founder who’d built his startup backwards. So, as I’d done in my article, I explained the…


There are thousands of options to choose from, and that’s a good thing.

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I teach an entrepreneurship class at Duke University. Every semester, exactly one week before the start of classes, I send an email to my incoming students introducing myself and giving them their first assignment:

Dear Class,

I’m looking forward to working with all of you this coming semester. Prior to our first class, please obtain a copy of the book The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris and read as much of it as you can before next week. We’ll use it as a jumping off point for the remainder of the semester.

-AD

As you’d expect, students hate this assignment…


It’s a problem that plagues nearly every entrepreneur, and most never even know it

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An entrepreneur came to see me with a problem. She’d spent 12 months building a phone app to help diabetics track their daily exercise. But, six months after launching the app, she hardly had any users.

“I just don’t understand,” she huffed. “In all our tests, people liked it and thought it was really valuable. So why can’t we get anyone downloading the app? If people would just use it, I’m sure they’d love it.”

I’ve seen entrepreneurs facing the same problem more times than I can remember. They spent months or years and tons of money developing their products…


You can spend hours learning to give great fundraising pitches, but you’re probably wasting your time

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I spent five years trying to close my first round of institutional (i.e. venture capital) financing. Sure, before that I’d successfully raised “friends and family” money and angel money for multiple companies, but VC money was more difficult, and I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I found the answer during a meeting with a VC who, luckily, was tired of listening to fundraising pitches.

I’d just sat down at the VC’s conference room table, and I was reaching into my bag to get my laptop when he stopped me. “If you don’t mind,” he said, motioning for me to put…


Being a frugal entrepreneur can help your company survive, but it can also kill it

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In their earliest days, startups are supposed to be scrappy. After all, with minimal resources, they don’t have many other options.

This type of “lean” approach to building startups even has a name. It’s called “growth hacking.” You’ve surely heard the term. It’s basically shorthand for: “You’d better figure out how to get customers without spending lots of money because, unfortunately, you don’t have any.”

For most startup founders, growth hacking is a necessity. That was certainly the case for me. When I launched my earliest companies, I didn’t have any money. All I had was time, so I had…


You don’t have to be the next Elon Musk to achieve enormous startup success

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Great companies are led by great CEOs, right? Of course they are. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs… all visionary CEOs capable of boldly predicting the future and propelling their companies toward it through ruthless efficiency, precise execution, and inspiring leadership. At least, that’s what the popular press and media around entrepreneurship wants us to believe. It’s also what every venture capitalist will tell you they’re looking for when evaluating investments — an incredible CEO. But is it true? Is it even necessary?

According to an entrepreneur named John Danner, it’s not. John is the former CEO of…


It would have definitely made me a more successful entrepreneur

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I teach college entrepreneurship courses, and one of my courses is exclusively for seniors. Because of this, at the end of every school year, I’m in the somewhat unique position of seeing the many different career paths of my graduating students. As a general rule, they’re either heading towards jobs or graduate school.

However, because I teach entrepreneurship, a certain subset of my students have different career goals best summarized by the following conversation I recently had with a soon-to-be graduate:

HIM: “Dr. Dinin, I’ve got some exciting news. I’ve decided I’m going to turn down my job offer from…

Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com

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