STARTUP

Best Advice I Ever Got: Daniel Ha

Daniel Ha, the founder of Disqus, explains that sometimes, the best startup advice is the kind you only benefit from after making a few mistakes of your own.

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You can't take more than a few steps through start-up-land without stumbling across another blog post full of entrepreneurship advice. It's everywhere--and there's no shortage of newly minted, fresh-faced CEOs who want to share their anecdotes with you.

The best advice are the learned lessons combined with the right perspective layered in. Here are a few things that I've learned from people I trust most.

1. Collecting advice isn't enough.

There's so much advice floating around out there because people love doling it out. It's easier to give advice than it is to live it. So the first thing you realize, as a receiver of advice, is that you can't simply collect advice and construct an instruction manual for success. Otherwise, this whole start-up thing would be easy by now. Even the most popular, agreeable advice is an invitation for you to make your own mistakes to learn from.

Paul Buccheit, a wise programmer and entrepreneur, likes to say: "Advice = Limited Life Experience + Overgeneralization." You'll notice that advice reads most effectively when stated in extremes. "Always do this. Never do that." It's important to realize that no situation is the same, and advice is only applicable if you understand the entire context. The best way to use advice is to contextualize your own experiences--and then learn by doing.

2. Quickly learn how to evaluate opportunities.

Joe Kraus, the founder of Excite, said: "Take opportunities when they are presented. You never know where they will lead." I like this advice because it embodies the hustle and attitude that's needed to get a start-up going. Your competitors may be richer and more experienced, but you can always be more prolific with the opportunities that you choose to take. This means that, instead of concerning yourself with being the "CEO" of a three-person team, you should be thinking about doing whatever is necessary to surface more opportunities for your start-up.

There are caveats to this, of course. Don't get so eager for opportunities that you end up getting lost on a path that isn't worth the time of your small company. This is a mistake that many start-ups make: they bend over backwards to please a big-name partner and they end up getting a bit bullied--losing time, control and positioning. First, you shouldn't be too good to take up any opportunity...but, then again, you also should. Sound contradictory? It sort of is. The only way to balance this is to truly understand what is needed for your company's success. Only you and your company will know what this is, so learn it and learn it soon.

3. Define the success that you want to achieve.

There's always so much happening, every day, when you're running a start-up company. You're building a team, developing a product, selling a vision, and making the numbers work. To-do items are constantly being crossed off. With all that's happening, it's easy to mistake these "crossed off to-do items" as positive progress. It's important to always remind yourself what your goal and mission is. You can define it by day, week, month or longer--but always define it. You can work for hours answering emails, reacting to people, and addressing issues as they come up, and still make zero progress on the goals that you've defined.

One of the best phrases for start-ups is "you make what you measure." Simply measuring something often results in that something improving over time. Once you've carefully selected what you're measuring for success, your company will naturally (and appropriately) obsess over improving this measurement as a goal.

Daniel Ha is the CEO and co-founder of Disqus, the web's discussion network, reaching more than 700 million unique visitors every month and spanning nearly any topic or type of community imaginable. 

Last updated: Aug 29, 2012




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