OWNER'S MANUAL

10 Silly Things Entrepreneurs Say

And more importantly, what to say instead.
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Some people keep lists of overused phrases and verbal tics.  Others keep score of business clichés.

CEO Ben Smith and SVP of Business Development Mark Menell of Wanderful Media, a startup that re-imagines the digital circular through FindnSave.com and a suite of mobile apps, like to collect silly things entrepreneurs say.

Not just things they've heard though; their list includes a few things they've said and later regretted.

Here's their list, and why they feel those statements are misguided:

"We can't give up that much ownership! What will we ever use that extra $2M for?" 

This statement sounds thoughtful, conservative, and careful.

It's usually just misguided. In terms of dilution it's good to maintain as much control as possible, but don't let your ship go under in lieu of accepting the right financing deal during that crucial proving period.

"If you aren't regularly sleeping under your desk you're not committed." 

You can't beat employees into commitment. If your idea is so great, inspire them to be as dedicated as you are.

If you can inspire people to be passionate you can let go of rigid rules and authoritarian mandates because everyone will give all they have for the sake of a shared dream.

"Why can't we do both? We can do both." 

You got here by not taking "no" for an answer. So when you're given boundaries your first instinct is to break them.

Sometimes you just can't be both an enterprise and a web company at the same time. Solve the problem for the target market that needs it most right now, and solve the next one as you expand. Do one thing and do it well.

Focus, focus, focus.

"I don't get this relationship stuff; I'm all about putting my head down and getting stuff done." 

Without relationships, you will also not have the best information about what is really happening--such as when the largest acquisition in the history of your space goes down.

Plus, without relationships you will not be able to remove friction. Buying companies with weeks of paperwork and diligence can be great experiences because of trusted relationships.

Relationships matter in the startup world. Treat them like the 50-year investment they are.

"Our consumer product is great. Now we just need to hire a designer to fix the UI/UX." 

Steven Covey didn't invent the saying, "Begin with the end in mind," but he burned it into our collective consciousness.

You don't have many chances to win someone over to a new way of doing things. If the UX is clunky, poor quality or difficult to navigate, you may lose the early adopters and there goes the house of cards.

Perception is reality for consumers, so make them perceive you as pretty terrific.

"I know we should fire him, but let's wait a few weeks until we get past (some seemingly critical event)." 

An old Texan VC once said, "Y'all can't cage an eel." If an employee has different priorities than yours, especially priorities that involve stealing from you whenever possible, there is no cage that will hold them.

If you have holes in your team's skill set, fix those problems immediately. Do it in a clean, honest and transparent way--everyone involved will respect you for it.

"I know I'm not the long-term CEO for this business." 

Really think about this one before you say it. You want to inspire confidence in your team and those whose investment dollars you ask to be trusted with. Everyone likes to know who is accountable.

You (or your co-founder) better be the CEO today. It is appropriate and respectful to take great input from your team, but management by committee is not ok.

Also, know your limitations--even great CEOs at larger companies can struggle at startups, and vice versa.

"I know he has zero integrity but he's so talented. If I go into this eyes wide open, I can handle him."

This is related to dumb thing #6, but at a much more dangerous level. Everyone has problems, so you shouldn't abandon someone that could help you just because they aren't squeaky clean.

But, and this is the big "but," only gamble with what you are prepared to replace. As that Texan VC said on another occasion: "Look around the table. If you don't see the pigeon, you are the pigeon."

"We just need to give engineering a clearer spec document; they don't have to agree with what we're trying to do." 

We are all sick of those infographics: "What sales promised..." "What engineering built..." "What the customer wanted."

We don't learn because we seem to keep running into this same problem every generation. The web gives us clear, instant communication, and there's no reason to withhold vital information from your team.

Trust them with your mission and they will get on board.

"We are meeting with VC X, but it's not a pitch."

Even the toughest birds get a little tender when they meet a VC. There's a lot of money on the line and is tremendous pressure to get everything right.

Your best defense is to never stop pitching: at the grocery store, at the dog park, in the restroom (just kidding).

Get so good at your pitch that it doesn't matter if it's the top VC in the Valley or your aunt's bingo group. Keep pitching until you hit a home run.

Yeah, that metaphor doesn't work, but keep pitching anyway.

What would you add to the list?

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 1, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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