And here's the conundrum - given a wise mentor (or VC) with years of experience telling you it's a bad idea - what should you as the founder do?
One thing I always tell founders at the beginning of all my talks is that they should always be aware of the background of the person giving them advice, because that will taint the advice. However, if the advisor does indeed have just the right background so that their advice is highly relevant, what to do?
The other part of what I tell founders is that ultimately, it's their company, their life, their decision. One of the things that makes startups hard is that you can't fall back and blame someone else. You made that call. You're the one who screwed up (if you did).
So what to do then? Steve Blank suggests asking yourself three questions:
- Are you passionate enough to still believe?
- Can you explain after why getting out of the building and hearing all the negative news you still want to persevere?
- Will it change the world enough to make it worth the trials, travails and pain in getting there?
... and then if the answers are positive, ignoring the experienced mentor and going for it anyway.
Asking yourself these questions may well be worthwhile, but in my opinion, if someone with experience and insight tells you that your startup is doomed, what you should do is much less dramatic: discuss why (in detail) with the advisor, to get a good map of how they expect your startup to fail. Then work hard to minimise those risks, which are probably very real.
Under no circumstances should you simply ignore the advice and "follow your passion". Most likely, the advisor's risk map is way better than yours. So use it to minimise risks.
As I often repeat, what you want is a plan that still has risks, but where the potential downside of those risks is minimised and the upside is maximised.
For example, if an advisor tells you "don't market this product to these large companies, they really won't give a shit about it," the right reaction is not to go and do it anyway "because you believe in your dream". Instead, figure out a way to test whether those large companies do give a shit, before spending lots of money on marketing to them.
Advice, good or bad, should never result in you relinquishing your responsibility to think for yourself.
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