Don’t Say That!


“I stink, therefore I tram.”

I spent some time living in Prague, Czech Republic.  The summers would get really hot and I couldn’t help but notice that the Czechs had a strange aversion to deodorants.  This would become painfully obvious when riding the public trams.  I wasn’t the only person that noticed this, but of course if you generalise and say something along the lines of:

“Population X has characteristic Y.”

people get upset….really upset….

But what happens if it’s true?  All cultures have their own characteristics.  If you go to India and say that Indians behave – generally speaking – in a different way to people in the UK, is that controversial?

I think it’s fairly obvious that human beings get emotion and logic mixed up all the time.  We make bad choices when we’re angry or upset for example.  But I think the problem goes even deeper than this.

I think that we avoid thinking things, because it makes us uncomfortable.

It seems that ideas and thoughts fall under four categories:

 1) Wrong & Nice 4) Right & Mean
2) Right & Nice 3) Wrong & Mean

1) Wrong & Nice

Being Wrong & Nice is one of the most dangerous categories of thought.  I have seen people come to real harm as a result of this.

When a patient, for example, is very likely to have cancer should you not just be honest and tell the patient the truth?  Are you doing the patient any real favours by not telling them that they most certainly do have cancer or that their treatment is going to be painful and life altering?

How about if an employee keeps asking for a raise?  Is it fair to just keep leading them on, or is it more appropriate to explain that if said employee doesn’t bring more value to the table that they can just be replaced by someone else who will work for less.

2) Right & Nice

This is where the majority of people spend their time.  This is conventional wisdom.  It is mainstream knowledge, with mainstream thought processes.  No need to rock the boat.

Perhaps it is because we are taught from a young age that “being right” goes hand in hand with being “nice” that we conflate being “nice” with being right.

3) Wrong & Mean

Mean people are douche bags.  No one likes them.  They often have short tempers and don’t think things through.  They often only have one perspective – their own!

Again, from a young age it seems that we’re educated out of being mean.  Because being mean or being a “bully” is bad.

4) Right & Mean

The problem is that it is possible to be both right and “mean”.

When a mother tells a child off, they may be mean, but it will likely lead to a more disciplined person down the line.

When a doctor looks a patient in the eye and says “there’s nothing more we can do”, it’s often mean, but right.

I think that being mean is undervalued by society.  As a result there’s a lot of value to be found in “mean but right” thoughts.

Peter Thiel often asks the question:

“Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on”

The reason he asks this question is because great businesses are built on insights which are overlooked by the majority of people. All great businesses are built on an insight or a secret which the other people in the marketplace overlooked, because if it’s not then you will face a lot of competition and your profits will be competed away.

When Uber had the idea that taxi services were corrupt, worked in cahoots with the government and were opposed to making things better despite their customers suffering, Uber could be called “mean but right”.

It is likely that there are many other successful businesses which could be built in the “right but mean” category of ideas.

But beyond business as well, there are a lot of “right but mean” thoughts which get ignored in the public discourse.  I fear that nowadays it is increasingly becoming more acceptable to be “wrong and nice” rather than “right and mean“.  It seems that society in general is moving down a more emotional, less rational trajectory.


Don’t Steal My Idea!

Should you tell anyone about your startup idea?  Some people like to keep things under wraps, whereas others talk about their ideas from day one.  I know super successful entrepreneurs on both sides of this fence.  But, I believe that if you are a first time entrepreneur it’s best to get all your ideas out there.

It’s clear why some entrepreneurs don’t like to talk about their idea – it’s because of the fear that someone will come along and steal their idea.

There are two reasons why I would advise against not talking about an idea as a first time entrepreneur.

The first reason is because it’s unlikely that as a first time entrepreneur you’ll have had an idea that is really innovative and remarkable.  That’s not to say that the idea isn’t a good idea and couldn’t be a very big success.  However, it’s 99.9% impossible that you’ll have had an idea that is any where near product market fit.  Just speaking to other people will give you different perspectives and insights that you may not have had.  It will get you that little but closer to product market fit every time you speak to someone new about it and provide you with ideas you haven’t thought about yet.

I speak to knowledgeable people about my startup all the time and I actively try and talk to as many people and get as many insights as possible.  For example, a friend’s husband of mine is a technical consultant for Barclays Bank and has implemented loads of technology in all the big banks all over the world throughout his career.  I speak and meet up with him quite often and he always points out aspects that I nor my CTO had considered before.  My CTO always points out things to me as well and provides another perspective.  Other entrepreneurs I know point out where I could fail and ensure that I have the right accounting protocols and legal documents in place and give me advice on how to fine tune revenue, sales and continue to execute on the plan.

The best source of advice though are other entrepreneurs who are self made in the domain / industry you are working in.  I remember when I first spoke to one of the founders of EMIS in the UK – a one hour phone call with him gave me more insight and information than anyone else in the world could have.  He gave me enough information to execute for the following two months before I needed to seek more advice.

Be weary of getting advice from people who you aren’t trying to model or haven’t achieved much in their lives.  Their opinion shouldn’t count for much for obvious reasons – they lack insight and knowledge regarding what you’re trying to do.  Instead of getting advice from laymen, get your product to market and get feedback from real users.  They will tell you what’s really wrong with your idea.

The second reason that I think that talking about your idea is a good thing is because it proves that you are the right person to execute your idea.  If you are afraid that someone will steal your idea then you shouldn’t be the one executing on your idea.  It’s likely that there is someone else out there who will do a better job.

This isn’t to say that you can’t go out and learn everything you need to with regards to your idea and literally become the most knowledgeable person in the world about it.  But if you don’t speak to the right people, accept that you’re wrong about a whole bunch of stuff and have a willingness to learn then you’ll never be able to gather enough information to be the best.

Know-it-alls make the worst entrepreneurs for a reason.  Starting a startup isn’t a test on existing knowledge – the type of test people are used to doing because of the education system.  There are only unknowns in startups – because no one has done what you’re trying to do.  Starting a startup is about trying to change the world in a meaningful way and unless you have a crystal ball there’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen.

When Travis Kalanick said the following about why they started Uber,,,,,

“It was a lifestyle thing. Me, my cofounder, and our hundred friends could roll around San Francisco like ballers.” 

….it doesn’t sound like he knew what he was on to when he started the company.  He must have learnt a heck of a lot between now and then and I can confidently say that he must now be one of the most knowledgeable people in the world with regards to different means of transportation and autonomous driving.