I won’t sh#@% on you.

“Your idea is worthless; your execution is everything”: a refrain I’ve preached for years. As a coach & mentor to entrepreneurs, I must practice what I preach. Too many would-be advisors provide feedback solely on their point of view, rather than that of the market. My wife calls this “should-ing” on people: telling folks what to do without benefit of understanding their business or their market. As such, I’ve adopted the opening salvo, “How can I help you?”

“How can I help you?” is a simple phrase that provides me (and the entrepreneur) a cache of data. This phrase tells me:

  • If the founder can concisely tell me his idea, team & market [Elevator pitch]
  • What level of research the founder has done [Level of effort & commitment]
  • Who they’ve teamed with [Ability to attract others to the cause]
  • How far they’ve progressed [Technical capability]
  • Who their target market is [Customer discovery]
  • What their “issue” is [Risk assessment & market understanding]
  • Why they are pursuing the idea [Passion]

Entrepreneurs offer answers to this opening question with numerous variations. Number one the list is: “Do you think it is a good idea?” Far too many coaches simply provide an answer to this question and, even worse, they ‘should’ on entrepreneurs without facts! Unless I am the exact customer that the entrepreneur is pursuing, it doesn’t matter what I think; it matters what the market thinks.

My role as a coach is to provide a framework for the entrepreneur to get out there and discover if customers will pay for the idea. I cannot simply provide kudos. Having worked with hundreds of companies, I can provide historical reference and guidance on data that must be collected and analyzed in many verticals. Investors who have seen thousands of pitches have similar reference points yet still employ subject matter experts and do customer discovery during their due diligence. As it says on every prospectus: “Past results do not guarantee future performance”. Therefore, even with a framework, ensure you analyze the market.

Entrepreneurs, I implore you to seek out mentors with data sets that can advise your decisions. Do not fall into the advisory trap of seeking out “successful business people” to help.  Better yet, get out and go ask your potential customers. Lots of them. As W. Edward Demming stated, “In god we trust, all others must bring data”.

Parting advice:

  • Seek many opinions, but weight & rank their value based on experience and data.


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