All Advice Isn’t Good Advice (Including This Advice)

Aaron Dinin, PhD
4 min readOct 29, 2019
Plat of fortune cookies.
The startup world has plenty of wisdom. Do you have a way of filtering the good from the bad?

One of the best characteristics of the entrepreneurship community is people’s willingness to give advice. Experienced entrepreneurs willingly and eagerly spend dozens of hours each year mentoring young entrepreneurs. When asked why, most will give the same answer: they’re “paying it forward” in appreciation for the hours of advice and mentoring given to them early in their careers.

Unfortunately, mentorship is a double-edged sword because advice — even experienced and well-meaning advice — isn’t necessarily good advice. Let me share an example…

I met a young entrepreneur for coffee, and he pitched me an IoT concept he and a couple friends were working on. It was a vague idea. The team was hardly beyond the “me and my buddies want to be entrepreneurs so let’s figure out something to work on together” stage.

After explaining his idea, he said: “Someone else we were talking to suggested we partner with Cisco, IBM, Lenovo, or one of the other big tech firms in the area. Do you know anyone at those companies you could make an intro to?”

“Seriously?” I asked, with the same facial expression I make when sniffing my infant daughter’s pants to check for a dirty diaper. “That might be the worst advice I’ve ever heard. Who told you that?”

I assumed the answer would be someone whose experience with startups consisted of watching a few episodes of Shark Tank and Silicon Valley. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the leader of one of the most prominent entrepreneurship education programs in the region. Heck, if our credentials were put side-by-side, he’d surely be thought of as “knowing more.”

“Why is that bad advice?” the student asked, clearly not pleased with my response.

“You’re three guys tossing around ideas,” I explained to the student. “You might have the best idea in the history of ideas, but, at this stage, nobody could possibly know. Cisco and IBM and Lenovo aren’t going to partner with you because you haven’t proven anything. You haven’t proven a need, you haven’t proven an opportunity, you haven’t proven a market, you haven’t proven a strategy for accessing that market, and, most importantly, you haven’t proven that any of you have any competency to address any of the shortcomings I just…

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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