A little over a year ago (December 2009), my good friends Gary Haran (@garyharan) and Marc-André Cournoyer (@macournoyer) invited me to lunch to discuss their startup ambitions. Or more precisely, to discuss the idea that would change their lives and those of so many others: Talker. Just like most first time entrepreneurs, they had high hopes and no fear. They had caught the wonderful disease I call “entrepreneur naivety”.
It was exciting to see these two super smart guys taking the plunge into the crazy world of startups. I was obviously willing to give them as much advice as I could to help them achieve their goals.
However, I don’t believe in giving “empty advice”. That’s useless and a waste of everybody’s time. Instead, I exposed all the problems and roadblocks I identified in their idea and go-to-market strategy. And there were many. Not ridiculous-many, but first-time-entrepreneur-many.
There’s a very fine line between providing valuable advice and killing somebody’s dream. Giving blunt honest opinions and useful advice is hard. However, it’s probably the most valuable things young entrepreneurs can get from more experienced people; novice entrepreneurs tend to repeat the same mistakes.
At the end of our lunch meeting, I told the guys that I didn’t think their business would grow as fast and as big as they were hoping, mainly because of the competitive landscape, but that they should give it a shot anyways. After all, they’re rockstar developers… it wouldn’t take them long to build it and they’d learn a ton. Worst case, they’ll waste just a couple of months of salary, best case, they’ll be rich. It was worth a shot.
And of course, they went for it. They had passed my “got some balls?” test.
Fast forward a few months, I get a phone call from my entrepreneur friends. They said that what I had predicted was happening: competition was tougher than previously anticipated, the user base wasn’t growing as fast as expected, and more importantly, they still couldn’t afford their private zoos.
They once again sought my advice and mentioned that they’d be willing to sell to the right buyer, at the right price. I gave them a few pointers on what to do, who to talk to, and how to play their cards right to make things happen.
I had lunch with them again yesterday and they told me how much my support and advice had inspired and motivated them. Really!? I felt like a fraud. I didn’t do anything special… I basically (unintentionally) crushed their dreams into oblivion. The advice I gave was so obvious to me, yet, it made a huge difference. Apparently.
Their immense appreciation made me realize something: the smallest things can have a significant impact on other people’s lives. What I did was easy: I just had lunch and a couple phone calls with friends and gave them my 2 cents. It inspired them to work harder, faster and to aim for success.
This is something veteran entrepreneurs need to do more with up-and-coming guys. Grab a coffee and give your honest opinion. Expose flaws, problems and help find solutions. Apparently, it helps a lot, or at least, it gives them hope.
It sure made my day.