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Another day another thousand articles posted by the latest entrepreneurs to achieve a milestone of success: Raising venture capital, launching the flavor-of-the-month iPhone app, or being acquired by Google or Facebook. Inevitably the subject of the article is “I just became mega-successful, and here is exactly how I did it, so you can be mega-successful too.”

Well, they never use those exact words, of course. Most often, these success stories really are more akin to the 22 year old who wandered around Cape Kennedy, opened a door and found themselves strapped-in to a Space Shuttle launch.  When they return, they write a book about “here’s how I became an astronaut, and here’s how you can become one, too”.

When you’re struck by lightning, it’s best not to assume you can teach the world how to harness the power of the heavens.

 

 

I get bored and cynical every time I read a blog post from a first-time entrepreneur who has “discovered” the 7 amazing secrets to entrepreneurial success.  Usually their amazement is because they were so inexperienced in the first place, and some basic truths about business and entrepreneurship never occurred to them in the first place.  Much like how an 18 year-old living on their own for the first time is amazed to discover that ‘if you don’t pay your rent on time, the landlord will evict you.’ It’s an important lesson, but hardly an amazing secret that now qualifies them as an expert.

SFrustrated-PixleBayo many new entrepreneurs self-anoint themselves an expert because they’ve started out so clueless in the first place. Expertise is not measured in the difference between zero knowledge and what you have just learned – expertise is what you know more, or do better, than the majority – or better than other experts.

OK. End of that preemptive rant.

Now an exception.

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Icon of Money in the Hand on Digital Background.Let me start this post by stating how much respect I have for venture capitalist Fred Wilson.  He is easily in the top-5 influential thought leaders in the entrepreneur-investor ecosystem. His blog “AVC” is required reading for everyone on both sides of the table. But today he really pulled the trigger too quickly on a post.

He was postulating about a product idea – where entrepreneurs might pay for a report that lists what each venture capital firms’ investing criteria is, based on their track records  (something that arguably should be on their websites).  Let’s set aside for a moment that he is proposing a $100 fee for each entrepreneur seeking funding, here’s the crux of his argument:

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Getting time and attention from experienced advisors is a rite of passage for the first-time entrepreneur.
Free Advice

Entrepreneurial advisors provide everything from informed feedback, market validation and technical direction, to introductions that can lead to partnerships, investors and customers.

Advisors are often former serial entrepreneurs themselves with well-earned battle scars from risking, failing and succeeding enough times to have sharp
insights into the venture building process. They have a special empathy for the struggling entrepreneur. There’s satisfaction in helping an up-and-coming entrepreneur avoid the same mistakes, and giving them insights that will help accelerate their progress.

Not all advisors have the right experience, and it is very hard for the entrepreneur to know which advisors can truly help their company.  It takes many first dates to find those perfect matches. But advisors kiss a lot of frogs too: Frogs, hunchbacks, maniacs, dreamers, neurotics – and I suspect a few psychotics. Entrepreneurs come in all sizes and for advisors it can be exhausting to try to help them all – particularly those entrepreneurs who don’t really want to be helped, or who are not ready for outside advice.

So, for the entrepreneur about to go seeking advice from advisors, here’s some blunt, very blunt, advice:

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As an investor, advisor and mentor to entrepreneurs and new ventures, I get to hear a lot of pitches – whether as a judge in a competition, in a boardroom, classroom or a face-to-face pitch. After a while, they all start to sound alike. In fact, when investors get together, they lament (or even parody) how all the pitches sound alike. To be fair, as an entrepreneur, I used to lament with other entrepreneurs on how predictable venture capitalists can be in their responses.

Today, giving more evidence that I apparently have way too much time on my hands – I created this “Pitch Bingo” game for investors and advisors.   The next time you are listening to entrepreneur pitches at an event, click on the Entrepreneur-BS Bingo Game link, and you will get a BS-Bingo card (everyone’s card has a different random combination of entrepreneurship buzzwords).   Cross off the word when you hear it.

 

Entrepreneur-BS Bingo Game CJs Entrepreneur-BS-Bingo

CJ’s Entrepreneur Pitch Bingo

 

The first person who completes a BINGO with a row or column must shout out Zuckerberg!
And Tweet to #CJ-BS-BINGO.

And just to be fair, I’ve also created one called Investor-BS Bingo!   Now entrepreneurs can keep track of the predictable jargon investors mindlessly toss out during pitch meetings.   (notice the phrases “Term Sheet”  or “Yes” don’t appear – since they say it so rarely).

CJ’s Investor-BS Bingo

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18-Mistakes-That-Kill-Startups-THUMBInfluential and iconic venture capitalist and entrepreneurial though leader Paul Graham, known for his epic essays on entrepreneurship, recently penned an interesting one listing the 18 mistakes that kill startups.

While I wholeheartedly agree that there are many fundamental mistakes that can derail (or even kill) a startup’s chances for success, not all 18 of these are true “startup” mistakes.  Mistakes like “Poor Investor Management” assumes that your venture is far enough along that you have investors who need managing.  Like all advice – these 18 cannot be taken at face value.  Mr. (Dr., actually) Graham cites “Obstinacy” as a top-5 mistake –

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Look-Back-at-Startup-Funding-by-Fundable-ThumbnailHere’s an interesting infographic that really does a good job of illustrating how startups receive their initial (external) funding.

The specific data is from 2014/2015 – it is really timeless. First time entrepreneurs should really take a hard look at the sources of funding to decide where they want to focus their time and energy.  While I take issue that the data mixes “”small business” and “entrepreneurial startup”, the chart does indeed provide a concise view of where the funding comes from, and where it flows.

A special shoutout to Arizona’s Desert Angels who is featured as one of the nation’s top investors in startup companies.

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