Opinion: Shoot me if I ever say these things to a startup

I have been involved directly or indirectly with startups all my working life (except Celera which was a big company but with a startup spirit). And it’s amazing what kind of free and useless advice you can get along the way, particularly in the first three or four years. I am surprised at how startup founders/teams keep ignoring these ‘words of wisdom’ and chug along. These are some of my favourite (!) ones with my typical responses. Please send me yours.

1. You are setting yourself up for failure

Huh. As opposed to what? It’s a startup, the entire thing is set up for failure, I think that’s why it’s called a startup and everything you do is likely to fail. The beauty of this advice is that it can be applied to any generic thing – like hiring, revenue targets, funding. The terrible thing is that you have to prove yourself every time, but the person can be right only one time and say – I told you so.

2. You need more grey hair in the team

Usually comes from people who are in the business of funding startups. Actually this one is strange, because how many 40-year olds will kick their monthly salary addiction and join a bunch of youngsters who are still looking for money? My usual response: don’t worry, we will all have grey hair of three years of running this startup. Including you.

3. When I was at (any big company which has been around for more than 20 years), I have tried this and it did not work.

Ok. Thanks. Lets do it.

4. Send me the five-year detailed projections

When it comes from an investor this is fine. Like one investor told me in my early days – from what you have told me, I am certain about one thing; that spreadsheet will look very different in three years.

When a potential advisor/ mentor asks for this, it’s time to run.

5. What if Google decided to enter your business. (Substitute with Facebook, Walmart, Infosys as needed)

This is typical MBA speak. Right answer is: “I dont know. What if they entered your business?”

6. When Infosys

Anything after those two words can be ignored. You can replace Infosys with Reliance, TATA, Birla without losing any effect.

7. This is exactly what you should do…

Pay close attention to this one. As you will have to do exactly the opposite of this advice. Mostly.

8. As you can see I can add value to your business…

No. I don’t think so. The only person who can add value is the team. I can only get advice from you. The only thing worse than this is “My cousin can add real value to your business.”

9. You should learn from (any company in a totally unrelated industry), those guys have excellent systems and have great technology backbone.

This one is unique. Every time I heard this, I got all doe-eyed and bushy-tailed about the systems/IT etc. Most often “that” company shut down in 18 months. Most of the time, the folks running them were older, who had spent 10+ years in corporate settings. Almost always they had secured funding in the first few weeks of incorporating, (most likely quit their day jobs, after funding). And 100 per cent of the time competing with their ex-employer with a faster better product. Many years later, I realized the truth. They were missing the guts to stick around. ‘Sticking around’ is the #1 trait required for a startup. Things WILL get worse. To quote the gangstas – if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

10. Let’s meet at Leela Palace for breakfast and discuss the cash flow issues you mentioned.

Are you inviting me or am I supposed to pay for this breakfast and compound the cash flow problem further. Best thing is to either time a call or visit to the loo when the bill arrives.

Republished with permission from Ashwin Naik’s blog.


  1. Rohit says:

    so you mean…start up teams need no advice n they themselves know everything…i agree dere r many ‘so called’ consultants n advisers who suggest a lot to justify their fees but making blanket statement is over the board unless u want us to believe this post to b satire…

    u r being very unkind to VC n investors (hope investors in ur company r reading this post)…

  2. Mahesh CR says:

    Neat stuff 🙂 #6 and #9 are particularly nasty.

    On a serious note, would be helpful to know demographics(% of investors, customers, advisors, employees etc) of people who offered this gems of wisdom.

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