I’ve dedicated a chunk of the last 10 years of my career to helping entrepreneurs both new and experienced get a better handle on their business. So I want to make sure you know that this post isn’t about me; it’s about helping you.
When random entrepreneurs ask me for help, I do my best, but physical, temporal, and legal limitations kind of put me in a box. I have a project going to address a larger and broader need for startup help (more on that later and please try that first), but even when I do get personally involved, which is rare, I’ll only answer direct questions.
I’m a working entrepreneur and a formal advisor to several companies, so that helps me prioritize my spare time. Direct questions also help me stay away from making assumptions or trying to guess what the entrepreneur needs.
But like I said, this isn’t about me. It’s about helping you.
So when those same random entrepreneurs ask me to review their product, their company, their deck, or their business model, I give them a polite but flat refusal.
Here are the reasons why you shouldn’t ask for a quick review, and what to do instead.
They Will Lie to You to Make You Go Away
What I’ve learned over 20 years of being an entrepreneur and 10 years of helping other entrepreneurs, is that my answer — the flat refusal — is the best answer I can give you.
The worst answer I can give you is to make up some shit to get you off of my back. Being a working entrepreneur with a long history, I’ve learned this is pretty much the go-to move in a lot of cases.
There are three ways to do this, and each one is really difficult to determine the validity of.
- They tell you that your idea will never work, and you need help on a certain front from someone who is not them.
- They tell you that your idea is awesome, and then they give you some options, which I’ll cover in more detail later in this post.
- They will give you a big helping of word salad that leaves you in exactly the same place as you were before.
Any of those could be true, but here’s the thing. Any analysis of a project you’ve put weeks or months or years into isn’t going to get an honest evaluation in 15 minutes.
People naturally don’t like confrontation and they also naturally like to help (I don’t care what anyone says about the latter, I believe it). So the easiest way out is to give you some stock answer that satisfies you but gently keeps you from coming back.
They Will Lie to You to Avoid Hurting Your Feelings
Now let’s talk about those positive options I hinted at above, because the worst feedback you can get is a false positive.
If your idea or your product or your model sucks, you need to know immediately, and furthermore, you need to know why. Again, this is a determination not to be made in 15 minutes, so you have to decide if the positive feedback you just got is because the person felt like you needed a little emotional bump to keep going or if they want you to sink a shitload of time and money into an idea that they really didn’t explore much.
They Will Lie to You to Try to Get You to Pay Them
I’m a formal advisor to a number of companies and a consultant to others. I take this job very seriously. There’s a process.
If you want to be my client, you need to tell me that — or I need to get it out of you — before I spend any time reviewing what I need to review to determine if I’m the exact right person to help you. Because if I’m not the exact right person, I won’t take your business.
Some people will.
It’s rare. Like I said, I believe people naturally want to help other people. But there are those rare times when someone will tell you what you want to hear to get to your money.
Even if they don’t have an interest in any of that, and even if they are honestly interested in helping you, you need to be asking direct questions of the “what did you do here” variety. If you come in with a blanket “review-and-pick-your-brain” request, these next two things will probably happen.
They Will Have the Wrong Expectations
If you were to ask me what my endgame is with any of my startups, at any of their stages, it would take me hours to explain it to you. I have plans on plans for today, tomorrow, and the future.
I’m guessing you do too.
I’ve never spent less than 20 total one-to-one hours with any investor, just explaining what the endgame is, before an agreement was made, let alone going under the microscope of due diligence.
You will never get there in 15 minutes, or an hour, or even a couple hours. The quick review sets the wrong expectations because it doesn’t spend a lot of time on the intended outcome, and when it does, there are so many variables to consider that they will ultimately guide you to where they think you should go.
They Will Only Consider How Closely It Matches Their Own Aesthetic
Along those same lines, they’ve got a worldview, and you don’t have a grasp of what that is.
Before I was an entrepreneur, I flirted with the possibility of becoming a full-time musician. I love music. But I love certain kinds of music and hate others. Hate? Yeah. It’s a strong word, but the passion I hated with is also what made me good at what I loved.
It’s the same thing with business.
If you don’t know what I love and hate, you don’t have the required context for my subjective response to your life’s work.
Don’t do that.
You Need Answers From Experts
To bring it home, this isn’t about me. It’s about you. And you need answers.
This is why I stick to direct questions. Because you don’t need my approval, you need an answer if I have it. And if I have it, I am totally willing to give it you.
In fact, my project, Teaching Startup, is built on answers from me and other experts. It’s my belief, and now I’ve got the data to prove it, that an hour spent reading the answers you need is worth 10 hours of fishing to get those same answers.
You Need Answers From Peers
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with reviewing a model or a deck or a product if you can take the time to get past all of the hurdles I described above. But you don’t need an expert for this, you need a trusted associate, and you need their time.
You can find an experienced mentor, maybe one you’re already close to, maybe one who might even work for equity. But even a mentor should be the exact right person to help, and they should take the time to determine that. They don’t need to have built a company from scratch, but they should have experience in business and a desire to see you succeed.
Failing that, find a friend, preferably someone who knows what you’re trying to do, and if they’re willing, spend the time explaining to them all of that context and the endgame and everything else. They don’t need to be experienced in anything other than what you’re trying to accomplish, as long as you trust them.
You Need Answers From Customers
These are the most important answers you can get. There are a ton of ways to get this started. Here are my favorites:
- Gather together a bunch of beta testers who have interest in the product or the problem you’re trying to solve.
- Go to early access and offer potential customers free access while you make changes and figure out the solution.
- Launch the damn thing and go get actual, paying customers.
Experts are invaluable, mentors are a huge help, and you need as many friends as you can get. But ultimately, your customers will be the true arbiters of your success.