SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Should Your Startup Ignore All the Advice?

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 6, 2009

Maybe.  Simply emulating what appear to be the reasons for other’s success without understanding why it works or what the ramifications of a particular strategy may be is certainly likely to fail.

Jason Cohen is tired of being lectured by others on how to run his startup.  Based on the indisputable fact that a lot of advice is contradictory, he is frustrated to the point he declares that most success is due to outliers.  Because of this, and with a quote from Malcolm Gladwell, he concludes the real answer is just to buck the conventional wisdom.

I couldn’t disagree more with the view that you should ignore everyone’s learnings, do whatever you want so long as its different, and just assume some magic outlier factor is all that separates you from success.  Call it luck if you want to be blunt about the outlier factor.  How many have decided that success is a matter of luck and the only reason they’re not successful is they haven’t been lucky?  I remember hearing a conversation between two older men I overheard one time where they were in violent agreement that all successful people were either lucky or crooks.  It’s very comforting to think you don’t have to learn, you don’t have to take responsibility for your own success or failure, because it’s just luck.  But ultimately, it’s also debilitating.

Luck is a factor, but successful people also make their own luck.  They have a track record of enough successes that it gets pretty hard to assume its just luck

BTW, out of curiousity I had to go check out Jason’s company, Smart Bear Software.  Unfortunately, the site was down at the time:




3 Responses to “Should Your Startup Ignore All the Advice?”

  1. dpatti said

    Great posting smoothspan. I’ll have to keep checking out our blog.

    FYI, I’m inclined to agree with the “old guys” you mention, but would like to add one caveat to their statement. I truly believe that 99.9% of millionaires are either lucky or crooked, but I subscribe to the old adage, “Luck is when opportunity meets hard work.” This still puts the onus on the individual to prepare for an opportunity when it arrives, but acknowledges that we don’t 100% control our financial fate.

    It also recognizes that many businesses deals are won by those who most quickly jump into the gutter by lying, cheating, back-stabbing or breaking the law. One need only read the Washington Post headlines during the past week to see this playing out.

  2. Yves said

    There is also a simple difference between viable businesses and amazing businesses. You get lectured with real amazing stories because everybody is looking at unreal successes. Still there are plenty of deals to make out there without becoming the next Facebook.

    Maybe is it what Jason tries to say… He can also be successful without being the next 37Signals.

  3. ajaydawar said


    This one is tough. I empathize with Jason Cohen. Many a times, during product meetings, I hear someone saying …”But did / did not do XXX….” I get so frustrated because there is no way of finding out why did / did not do XXX and did their decision really work and if so why or if not why. In most cases, the protagonist’s information is only superficial or just a sound byte. The frustration is also caused because I genuinely want to learn from others’ experience but cannot, because of insufficient information. Some experiences are well framed and well argued like who wrote about challenges of popularizing a platform. Even if you do not agree with them you know exactly why. Some are just sound bytes.

    As I struggle with this myself I am now coming up with my own system. If you are about to make an important business decision, take advice from people who have had first hand experiences and ask them a ton of questions. If you are just gathering knowledge and perspectives, then keep an open mind.

    P.S: The site is up now

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: