Get Startup Advice for Relationships – Not Answers

Summary: Most experienced entrepreneurs (1) know their top 2-3 challenges and (2) constantly ask for advice. Want to build your relationships & get instantly credibility? Ask for lots of advice.

This post is in response to this week’s Startup Edition Question: Where do you get advice?

If you want money, ask for advice

I Solve Startup Problems By Asking for Advice

A few months ago I decided to start building the SoHelpful team in the Philippines after seeing the success one of my Angel investments (Collabspot) was having building a team there. Unfortunately, I had a problem – I know very few people in the Philippines.

So I hoped on a plane for a 4-hour flight from Beijing to Manila to help mentor at Startup Weekend Manila and regional accelerator I lined up as many events, coffee and lunch meetings as I could pack in.  Every time I met someone I explained what I was trying to do and asked them for advice. I asked other entrepreneurs how they built their teams. I asked great developers why they chose to work where they did and to give me advice on attracting top talent.

And … it worked. I met dozens of people, got some great introductions, and learned about land mines to avoid. I’m well on my way to solving this problem and – best of all – I met dozens of new colleagues in the process.

Startup Advice is Collaborative – Not Instructive

I used to think of startup advice as a pupil-to-teacher relationship – inexperienced entrepreneurs asking gurus for answers. I was hesitant to ask because I (subconsciously) felt I was admitting weakness or ignorance. I now know I was completely wrong – it turns out the most experienced & effective entrepreneurs ask for advice constantly.

Your problems are complex and often unique to you. No one but you can provide the answers. But by asking for startup advice you get is an opportunity to talk through your options, hear how others have solved the problem. Of course more experienced people will have more context, more stories to share – but they probably don’t have the answers.

During good startup advice sessions one party presents a problem - imagine two people having coffee and one of them puts a problem on the table. They then talk through the problem, options for solving it, why the problem exists. No one expects to arrive at answer to complex problems in 30 minutes but everyone walks away a little smarter.

Why Startup Advice is So Effective at Building Relationships

Talking through startup problems is the fastest way to build a new relationship – you’re instantly both in an opportunity to learn about each others’ experiences and see how each other thinks. By asking for advice you send a clear message that you’re (1) smart & experienced enough to know the value of startup advice, and (2) you respect the other person. By listening closely and asking questions you can demonstrate what you know about a complex topic.

You’re not just talking – you’re WORKING.

Talking Through Problems is Valuable to Everyone Involved

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re the person getting or giving the advice – that is to say, it doesn’t matter WHO puts the problem on the table – everyone gets value from talking through it.  In 2013 I’ve helped more than 100 entrepreneurs worldwide for 30 minutes over Skype. People often ask me, “so what do you get out of helping entrepreneurs for free?”

Obviously I’ve made 100 new business relationships, feel better about “paying it forward”, etc. But the value goes deeper than that – it turns out there is huge value in talking through problems facing entrepreneurs. I’ve learned something in every startup help session and am getting better at recognizing common challenges, emerging trends, and patterns.

Being an entrepreneur is an exercise in identifying and solving problems – giving and getting startup advice improves this skill. Most of us spend huge amounts of time diving deeply into our own complex problems. Startup advice allows me to learn a bit about hundreds of them.  My most popular blog posts such as Your MVP is About Discovery – Not Product and Accelerate Your Customer Development: How to Quickly Get Dozens of Interviews all came from writing about problems I discussed during my startup help sessions.  It turns out lots of other people have the same problems.

It Doesn’t Matter Where You Live – You Have Access to Startup Advice

I’ve had startup help calls with entrepreneurs from San Francisco to Iran. I live in Beijing, China. It doesn’t matter where you live, you can give and get great startup advice. You can always grab a free slot on my schedule and I’ll be happy to help talk through your problem.

But if you’re serious you already know that I don’t have the answers and you’ll get more value from getting lots of startup advice. So here are many other equally-talented people I trust to give you startup advice.

They will be happy to help you as well.

Photo Credit: lifebeginsat50mm via Compfight cc


  1. Mike October 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Hi Kevin and thanks for such an honest and insightful post on how this collaboration should work.

    It is very much a collaborative vs teacher-pupil relationship in my opinion too. Though I do think that people inexperienced at being mentors often think it is more the latter than the former. I’m delighted to say, having reached out to you and experienced how you work, that you are very collaborative!

    What was certainly true for me early on was expecting the mentor/adviser to fix my problem for me, but very quickly I understood this was nigh-impossible. Once I figured this out, I decided to engage differently, to appreciate the perspective my mentors bring more vs the ‘answers’ they give.

    I also love your comments about sharing openly – I’ve always believed in inviting people to collaborate with me on whatever we each need. Most often we achieve and so much more.

    Take care and keep doing good work, it is making a difference!

    • kevindewalt October 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

      Thanks Mike! I confess that sometimes I fall into the old trap of trying to give “the answer”, usually with people who seem to be asking for one.

      A skill I’m trying to improve.

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