The thing with investors’ advice – Mark MacLeod

June 1, 2020 - Mark MacLeod

The thing with investors’ advice

If there is one thing you can count on from your investors, it’s advice. I remember back in my VC days at Real Ventures, when I would spend time with entrepreneurs in our Founderfuel program they referred to it as “Mentor whiplash”. One mentor or investor would tell them to go right, the other would tell them to go left. Yet another, would tell them to just go straight. You get the picture.

I have spoken with many founders, especially newer ones, who struggle with what to do with all that advice. Particularly, if it comes in a more formal, accountable setting, like a board meeting.

Here’s the thing with all advice, no matter who it comes from: It’s all just input. The ultimate decision and accountability is yours.

Often advice is framed as suggesting to follow what worked for the person when they were in a similar position. However, that was a different time with different context and circumstances. In today’s dynamic markets what worked a few years ago may not work now.

If your investor board members are “telling” you what to do then there are a few issues. First, you’ve lost control of your board (that’s a separate topic for another time). Second, it’s a lose-lose proposition. If you follow their advice and it’s right, you won’t get full credit. They will take some or all of the credit. They will also wonder about your ability to lead since you just followed them. If you take their advice and it doesn’t work, it is 100% your fault. They might think that their advice was right, but you botched it in the execution.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can never accept that advice. After all, investors have seen a lot of rodeos. They pattern match across many companies and have vast experience to draw from. Just don’t blindly accept it. And never follow their advice because you feel pressure to do so since they fund you.

If it’s a major decision such as the launch of a new product, pivoting the business, etc. walk your board through your rationale. Whether you adopt their advice in whole, in part, or not at all, walk them through the decision logic and assumptions. That way they have the same framework you do and can apply that to monitoring the success of that decision in future board meetings.

Yes, take all the input you want. Just remember, it is only input. You must make the ultimate decision.

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