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August 29, 2022

3 Terrible Pieces of Startup Advice (And What You Should Do Instead)

3 Terrible Pieces of Startup Advice (And What You Should Do Instead)

“Garbage In, Garbage Out” is a term often used in engineering where bad inputs will result in bad outputs. Much like how athletes need to fuel themselves with the right nutrients to achieve peak performance, entrepreneurs need to select the right sources for advice as they seek to build a big company.

But the market for bad advice is red hot, so when choosing who you work with, we recommend those with experience riding the high highs and low lows of the startup journey. Still, we often encounter many founders who have been ill-advised.

Here’s 3 examples of the bad advice we frequently encounter and what you should do instead:

1: “Build before you sell”

Customers will need to see a working app before they buy.

Many advisors will tell you that customers want to be able to use a product before they commit time or money. This is completely false. As Kickstarter and the millions of consultants all over the Globe show: you can absolutely sell something that doesn’t exist yet.

You’ll need to invest time, make good use of presentations and perhaps even media to entice potential customers; it’s far from easy. However, if you try to build without all this initial customer feedback on your demos and ideas, you will almost certainly get a lot wrong and have to rebuild most of the product.

2: “You don’t need a deck”

My buddy from Stanford raised $10M with just a memo.

Each year a few high-profile entrepreneurs announce an enviable fundraise that was done without a deck. It usually sparks a rush of other early-stage teams trying the same. This is a bad strategy for most startups.

A deck is a familiar format for investors, making it easy for them to consume the core information about your business. Memos are less common and require the investor to read a lot more before understanding how your startup works. Given the number of opportunities most startup investors receive each day, it’s a big risk to ask an investor to commit that additional time, when they have so many other options that are much easier to review.

3: “Hire a VP of Sales early”

You’re a product visionary, you need to be focused on building not selling.

Lots of founders hate doing sales. Unfortunately, you have no choice; the first sales for a company must be done by the founder(s) and any sales team will initially be led by them too. This is to ensure the product can actually be sold at all, and you have the credibility to call out bad sales performance in future.

The process of completing a sale early on is tough and usually requires lots of iteration. While it’s tempting to delegate this process to a new and talented VP of Sales, it almost never works out. Without a clear sales process to optimize, most VPs of Sales will get bogged down pursuing partnerships and ultimately blame the product for their lack of progress. It’s not forever, but those first sales are yours to own.

Your startup journey will already be rife with challenges — bad advice should not be one of them. By avoiding these examples of bad advice, you can eliminate costly missteps and keep your startup on the right path.

Do you have your own startup questions and are in need of advice? Have you received other versions of questionable startup advice? We would love to hear it! We debate startup questions on The Startup Helpdesk podcast.

Submit your questions to us at

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Ash Rust

Ash Rust

Managing Partner, Sterling Road

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