Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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With the explosion of startup advice columns and blogs and panels, there is no shortage of opinion.  Most of this stuff is innocuous, some of it humorous and even a few border on offering valuable insight.  However, there are several ongoing memes that are getting passed around like religion.  Some of it gets plastered in posts and tweets across the Internet and some are tall tales passed around late night startup drinking and coding sessions.  So here are the top ten that I found over the past several months in startup land:

  • Titles Are Elitist – Not sure why or when exactly titles became elitist; they simply let people inside and outside the company know what a person does.  The problem however is that without titles, you have no idea who decides what.  Worse yet are the situations where you have two founder s that are joint CEO’s.  Spare yourself and your employees future headaches.  Give people titles and make someone the ultimate decision maker.
  • Only Big Ideas Need ApplyEveryone wants to dump on copycats, but the irony is that many copycats have actually had more success than the originators of the idea.  First mover advantage does not really carry much water these days, so if you think you can build a better version, go for it.  Even Steve Jobs copied ideas; his genius was in making tech products way more sexy and user friendly.
  • Pivot and Traction Whine – People hate these “startup” words, as well as viral, gamification, semantic and many others, but do we have any better options?  Yes, people misuse these words.  And yes, many people use these words in place of actual intelligent thought.  However, instead of carping on how lame these words are, let’s just be resigned to the fact that they are part of the lingua franca of the tech startup community.
  • Real Startups Do Not Outsource – Most people have no idea what outsourcing is other than what they read in the tech rags, which is mostly negative.  The truth is that outsourcing is an invaluable tool not just for large companies, but also for startups.  Throwing work over the wall approach to an offshore developer over Odesk never works, but when implemented strategically, outsourcing can be a huge boost in productive and results, particularly in the early stages.
  • The Younger, The Better – I am all for the youth movement and getting kids to take initiative.  However, saying that only people in their twenties can be successful creating massive Internet hits is ridiculous.  People do not stop being driven and taking risks and building innovative technology once they hit thirty.  In fact, entrepreneurship, like other skills, only improves over time, so experience does matter.  If you are skeptical, there is research on startups by Vivek Wadwha that drives home the point.
  • Go Code It Yourself – While some people have the talent and time to learn to code, for most people it is probably a major waste of time.  It takes a really long time to gain proficiency, particularly if you plan on building something stable, secure and useful.  Even experienced programmers have limits to their expertise.  Instead, figure out what the best path is for yourself to give your idea a kickstart, whether you find a tech co-founder or outsource your development.
  • Beware of VC’s – There are a fair number of outright evil VC’s.  Some are only mildly insidious.  Many however are above board organizations that are trying to generate a solid return on investment for their investors.  They are not your friends and they do not owe you any favors, but they are not all out to screw you out of your fair share.  It is a business transaction, so treat it as such and be prepared every VC meeting, understand the terms and always be on top of your game.
  • Feature, Not a Company – Given the long cycles startups go through in finding product-market fit, it is natural that the product will evolve into something.  It either grows vertically by becoming a major category itself or horizontally by adding related functionality.  But deciding at the onset that something is merely a feature is stupid.  No one is prophetic enough to know what is going to take off, so just focus on making a great product and that gets people excited.
  • You Must Have a Co-Founder – Entrepreneurship is a lonely road.  That does not mean however that you must get hitched.  If you can make it on your own, that shows just as much drive and desire and guts, if not more so, than if you started with some co-founders.  While VC’s and investors might be skeptical, if you can demonstrate “traction” and a solid team is backing you, then being a sole founder leaves you with a greater share of the earnings and control (which is really the reason most investors shy away from the sole founder startups).
  • Silicon Valley vs. Silicon Alley – While I enjoy the good East Coast / West Coast gangland rivalry and banter, the fact is that it does not matter where you start a tech company these days.  Tech companies are spanning the globe building awesome software in the cloud and communicating around the clock.  While it is true that New York is hot right now, there are places like San Antonio, TX and Albany, NY where startup hubs are forming in certain specialties.  Meanwhile, Silicon Valley is not going anywhere anytime soon.

There are probably a ton more that I am missing, so if anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment and I will add to the Annoying Startup Meme list.

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