Venture capitalist Fred Wilson says you can’t always listen to investors–himself included.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Fred Wilson’s blog.
I’ve been doing a tour of the summer accelerator programs and a question I get a lot is about the feedback the teams get from the investors and mentors they meet with. They ask me how much should they react to the feedback they are getting advising them to do things differently, pivot, change the product, change the strategy, etc.
I call this constant advising/mentoring of early stage startups “mentor/investor whiplash” and I think it is a big problem. Not just with the accelerator programs but across the early stage/seed startup landscape.
You cannot meet with a potential investor (me included) or mentor/advisor without getting a lot of feedback about your business. If you take many of those meetings a week, then you are going to get pushed and pulled in lots of different directions and it will cause confusion, wasted time and energy, and even a loss of confidence in what you set out to do.
You cannot let that happen to you. You are the domain expert on your business. You have spent way more time and energy thinking about your business than someone who takes a 30 minute meeting with you, having never thought about it for one iota, and then gives you a ton of advice that you are doing everything wrong. You have to learn to hear that feedback but not react to it.
Here is what I recommend:
1) Create a spreadsheet and list each meeting and the feedback you got in it. List who gave it to you and what they said. If you can categorize the feedback easily, do that. A column for each category of feedback might be good. Over time you should look at the totality of the feedback and see if there are things that a large percentage of people are giving you. If that is the case, you may want to pay more attention to that.
2) Apply the “investor discount” to feedback you get from investors. Advisors/mentors who have no agenda are a purer form of advice. Investors have their own agenda. They want to invest in “bigger ideas” and “larger outcomes”. When they tell you that your idea is too small, they may be talking to themselves, not you. Do not make their problems your problems. This is your business, not theirs.
3) Listen to customers, users, and the market. Advisors, mentors, and investors are not the market for your product. Get your product out into the market and get feedback from real users and customers who you will serve as you grow your business. If they like what you are doing and investors do not, do more of what you are doing. The investors will come around when you are scaling into your market.
With those three rules in the frontal lobe of your brain, take as many meetings as you can get. Solicit feedback. Listen to it. Write it down. But do not act on it immediately. It is advice not direction. You are the boss of your company. Do what you think makes the most sense. And get your product in front of users and customers as early as possible and listen to them even more. Because the market will tell you what to do if you listen carefully enough. And Mr Market is the best advisor you can have.