There's a phenomenon in the entrepreneurial world called "advisor whiplash". It occurs when multiple advisors provide so many pieces of conflicting advice that founders experience cognitive whiplash. While it is most often observed in intense accelerator programs geared towards perfecting a pitch, it can also be experienced in the entrepreneurial wild when advisors, investors, potential investors, friends, relatives, former colleagues, airplane seatmates and Uber drivers all weigh in on how to make your business a success.
Being open to new ideas and making connections between disparate concepts is a key strength of entrepreneurs. However, without a system to evaluate all the incoming ideas and feedback, it can add to the noise and stress that come along with navigating the entrepreneurial territory. You need to reserve the head space for all your own ideas. Here are a few approaches I've found effective to make the most of all of this incoming advice.
First, you need to categorize the advice and decide if its advice worth taking.
If you hear the advice and your response is:
"Wow, I can't believe I didn't think of that. That's amazing!" This is the best case. Run with it.
"Huh. Intriguing, but I am not entirely sure what this person means." Don't stress! Keep reading. I have some ideas for you...
"Yeah we tried that and it didn't work." Here you have two choices, if it's coming from a trusted advisor, consider re-thinking the problem. If it's from someone not that familiar with your business or the market, keep moving.
"That is so off base I think this person believes we're in the flavored popcorn business not the healthcare IT business." Say thanks and move on.
If you reached this section of the article, then the advice has some merit: either it came from someone you trust, the idea is intriguing or you don't have enough information yet. Keep reading: here's how to evaluate.
1. Consider the motivation for providing advice.
If the advice is coming from one of your trusted advisors, you can assume this person is trying to help you, so keep trying to learn more. On the other hand, potential investors are often looking for an easy reason to say "no," so unless you built your company specifically for Richard Branson to invest in and he passed, you may want to take this feedback with a grain of salt.
2.Determine whether the advice comes from relevant personal experience.
A fellow entrepreneur who is further on the journey than my company is often provides us with very relevant advice. This is why I was puzzled when he said hiring a salesperson was a bad idea. After a bit of prodding, I discovered that his salesperson had expensed a $10,000 client trip to Bermuda. Knowing that my salesperson's last expense report included a meal of beef jerky and Diet Coke for $6 helped me realize that this particular piece of advice from him was not relevant to our experience. In this case, the advice came with a personal experience that clouded the advisor's judgment.
3. Get more information.
Recently Wellpepper was approached by a company, on the recommendation of one of our customers, to white label our SaaS platform. I consulted two of our advisors, both of whom are CEOs of B2B SaaS companies, for advice. One thought it was a good opportunity for us and one didn't. As advisors, both were highly motivated to provide good counsel and had directly relevant experience, so I knew I needed more information. At the company where white labeling worked, it opened new markets for very little investment. At the company where it was more challenging, the costs of supporting and educating the white label partners were substantial. For our opportunity, I realized that there was potential market overlap--not expansion--and the support costs would be high. We passed.
When you break it down it seems obvious, as the most powerful tools often are. It's possible you're already using this framework intuitively and don't realize it. However, understanding the mechanics can help you evaluate and act on or dismiss advice more quickly and effectively. Staying curious will help you take advice that will help you while staying true to your own company goals and entrepreneurial values. Good luck on the journey!
Anne Weiler is CEO and co-founder of Wellpepper, a clinically-validated and award-winning platform for digital patient treatment plans. She cofounded Wellpepper in late 2012 with Mike Van Snellenberg to address issues in communication and continuity of care after a personal experience when her mother was released from 6 months in the hospital with no instructions and a month for a follow up visit. Anne's expertise spans concept to go-to-market for technology startups and established businesses. Prior to Wellpepper, Anne was Director of Product Management at Microsoft Corporation. She joined Microsoft in 2001 with the acquisition of Canadian web content management company Ncompass Labs.