Kevin George is the co-founder of HireCanvas. This post is part of the Lessons Learned series featuring NYU entrepreneurs’ first-hand accounts of challenges faced in starting a business and the lessons learned along the way.
As a Summer Launchpad participant and co-founder of HireCanvas, I, along with my co-founder and peers in the Summer Launchpad, spend a lot of my day seeking advice. But talking with advisors, mentors, coaches, peers, family, etc., is about a lot more than just listening; it’s about accepting what was said.
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Scott Holand and I set out on our journey to improve campus recruiting for universities, corporate recruiters and students in the fall of 2013. As first time entrepreneurs, we often find ourselves seeking guidance from those around us. While I’d consider many people to be mentors, we’ve come to recognize that not all advice is actionable despite the givers good intentions. In the end, Scott and I have to make the final decisions ourselves.
However, learning how to accept advice can serve every entrepreneur well. Here are the four things I try to keep in mind when seeking advice:
1. Lots of advice can be overwhelming – take the good and leave the bad
Quite obviously, you can’t follow everyone’s advice. Imagine steering a ship through uncharted waters and making sharp lefts, rights and u-turns to accommodate each passenger’s whims. No one is happy, and that’s no way to get anywhere!
So, to make any progress, you have to distill the good from the well-intentioned but less helpful. Quite often good action is a hybrid of many suggestions from many people. That’s why it is so important to have mentoring conversations with a variety of people.
2. There is (usually) no right – so don’t be afraid to disagree
One investor may direct you to start monetizing today, another will swear by building your user base and then monetizing, and even a third will advise you to start charging but at a discount.
While hearing conflicting opinions is healthy, you can’t be afraid to make a decision that conflicts with what someone has passionately told you to do. As a young first time entrepreneur, this can be harder than you think, especially if your adviser is someone you respect, is a serial entrepreneur or is someone very experienced in your field.
3. “Have you thought of?” – relax and talk it out
When someone gets excited about your concept, you’ll see their gears turn and suddenly they’re saying, “Well, you should do X,” “Have you thought of Y?” – 95 percent of the time, of course, you have thought of Y.
First, chill out. It is awesome that someone else sees your vision and is thinking about your concept. Second, nod your head, talk through each idea and see where the conversation goes.
You’d be surprised how often talking through a feature or approach you already thought of, but with a new perspective, could lead to good ideas.
4. If someone just doesn’t get it, it’s not their problem; it’s your problem
One of the most frustrating parts of starting a business is talking with someone who just doesn’t get it. They’ll suggest services or connections that aren’t even in your ball park, ask about competitors that you don’t even think are in your space or simply don’t understand what you’re doing.
It is incredibly easy to walk away thinking, “They’re stupid,” but really, you are stupid. Not everyone is going to love your product or believe in it, and that’s okay.
But, if someone doesn’t understand what you’re doing, it’s not because they’re thick, it’s because you didn’t explain it well. This is something I still continue to work on every day.
Learning how to accept advice has been invaluable. For example, my personal and professional mentors helped me to decide to work on HireCanvas full-time starting in January. In the time since, HireCanvas’ mentors have helped guide us through challenges such as determining which target customers to prioritize, how to deliver an exciting pitch and what types of skills to seek to expand the team, just to name a few.
We all need advice and learning to take the good and leave the bad, respectfully disagree, talk it out and learn even when you don’t hear what you want to, can help you become a better listener and stronger business leader – but don’t just take my advice, get out there, talk to customers, talk to mentors and learn what works best for you.