The One Thing Successful Startup Founders Never Discuss

Learn to talk about the right things or risk wasting your time

Aaron Dinin, PhD
5 min readNov 12, 2020


Image courtesy Sound On via Pexels

Nearly every day since I started teaching entrepreneurship at Duke, I’ve gotten some version of the following question:

“Can we meet to discuss my idea?”

I get it in-person. I get it via email. I get it via Twitter. It comes from founders, from students, from friends who know I do “entrepreneur-y” things, from entrepreneurs who randomly find me online, and dozens of other places. Every time I see the question, I shake my head and sigh.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love talking with entrepreneurs about their businesses. If I could clone myself a thousand times, I’d be thrilled to have all thousand of my clones meeting with entrepreneurs and doling out entrepreneurial advice all day. But I wouldn’t allow a single one of those clones to discuss someone’s “idea.”

That’s because, in the world of startups, the most important types of people you’ll talk with — advisors, investors, and customers — don’t need to hear about your idea. For them (and you!), discussing ideas is a waste of time.

Why advisors don’t need to hear about your idea

I sit firmly in the first (and least important!) category of the three types of people startup founders speak with. I advise startups.

Sure, startup advisors are the people who seem most like they’d need to hear about ideas. After all, advisors exist to help entrepreneurs make better decisions, so wouldn’t that include giving them feedback on their ideas?

In a word: NO!

Regardless of how experienced an advisor or mentor is, none of them will fully understand the intricacies of a venture based off a single conversation. As a result, when you ask startup mentors for advice about your idea, you’re forcing them to make tons of assumptions about your business. Using those assumptions — which are almost certainty inaccurate — they’re going to tell you what they think. At that point, the chances of their advice being good or bad is purely a question of luck. If they make correct assumptions, they might have useful advice. If they make incorrect…



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 @