How I learned to stop giving advice

I used to be such an asshole. I would meet someone and they would tell me about their startup and 10 minutes in I would start giving them suggestions on what they should do.

“Have you thought about adding an integration with Salesforce?”

“You guys should try and sell to design firms, they have lots of clients. Maybe you could even white-label it.”

“Why not just raise 100k and see what you can do over the next 3 months?"

After 10 minutes of conversation I had the nerve to believe I had thought of something that had never occurred to them about their product or company. What an asshole.

As the founder of Adzerk I get a decent number of introductions to people wanting to chat with me about their startup. I have also had the opportunity to mentor a couple of the companies coming through TSF. Over the last 6 months I have been using a new method of trying to help these entrepreneurs and I am happy with the results. I think the entrepreneurs are getting more out of their time with me and I feel much more confident and useful.

I ran across something called the EO (I didn’t end up joining) but on their site I read about the idea of relating experiences instead of giving advice:

"Members don’t give advice; they speak from prior experience, letting you draw your own conclusions on how to best proceed.”

edit: a better write up on what they call the gestalt protocol.

This made a ton of sense to me. The reason people want to talk to me is because of my experiences over the last 3 years running Adzerk. The best thing I can do is listen, ask questions, and relate the experiences I have had that have the best chance of helping them.

If someone is struggling with sales I will talk about our attempts at out-bound sales, what has worked and what hasn’t.

If someone is struggling with raising money I will talk about how I raised our seed round, or share some of my experiences around pitching VCs and getting introductions to investors.

If someone is.. well you get the picture.

It is that founder’s job to take what I can relate about my experiences and determine if it applies to what they are doing. They know their product, vision, and domain more than I ever will.

This has also helped me fight imposter syndrome. I used to wonder why I was being asked for advice when Adzerk still has a long way to go, but now I realize that the experiences I have had are valuable and I can help people by sharing them.

This is one of the reasons I decided to start up this blog again. I stopped blogging largely because I learned how much I didn’t know and felt I had no right to be telling others what to do when there are more knowledgeable people out there. I have since realized that my experiences are unique and can be incredibly useful to the right people - so I am going to give this blogging thing another shot.

Thanks to Nate Kohari, Glen Caplain, and Anil Chawla for reading and providing feedback on this post.

-James @averyj

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