Why Most Founders Don’t Take Good Advice

Most advice is not good. I admit that. Most investors don’t know what they are talking about. Most founders give very industry or stage specific advice that is out of context. 

But due to the depth of knowledge and experience here in Silicon Valley, there are many high quality people who do give great advice. Credible people giving credible advice. 

Yet most founders still tend not to follow good advice given by credible people. People who usually only want the best for their mentees. 

I spent 6 years running one of the top global accelerators in the world, running 12 programs with over 370+ founders. I used to get really annoyed when we would share best practices in fundraising, or customer acquisition or hiring and firing and have it all be completely ignored. 

But I have come to accept that this will always be the case. My hypothesis? Even if your advice is correct, there are good reasons why they will not take it. 

Here is Why: 

1) Some things they can only learn the hard way ie. Experiential Learning.

The most common example is Hire Slow, Fire Fast. Almost no one follows this advice because if you have not gone through this yourself it’s just so esoteric or theoretical. 

2) The advice is “Cognitively Dissonant” that they don’t understand it. Or more likely, do not want to understand it.

This occurs often because it breaks their worldview and it’s too painful or just does not fit with what they believe. 

3) They think they are Exception to the Rule. 

The journey of a founder is VERY hard, thus it’s highly irrational. You need to have a little bit of naivety and/or delusion to be a founder, otherwise you would never start. This leads you to think you are unique and different so that the best practices don’t apply to you. 

But in all 3 cases, the market aka Reality ALWAYS educates you quickly & painfully. 

This is no different than when growing up and you used to ignore your parents advice because you think you know better. It’s something that can only be learned with time and experience. It reminds me of the Josh Billings joke:

‘When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

As an advisor, mentor or investor, all you can do is be there to help them up if or when it goes wrong. And in my case, also to say “I told you so!” ;)