The Worst Startup Advice You’ll Ever Hear – and What You Should Really Do

If you’ve told people you’re launching a startup, you’ll be inundated with startup advice. Some of it will be excellent, and some of it…well, it could stop you dead in your tracks. We’ve rounded up the worst advice as well as what to do instead. 

George Chilton has lived in the UK, South Korea, Colombia and is now based in Barcelona, Spain. He is the co-owner and Creative Director of Hubbub Labs, a content marketing agency for startups. He loves writing about tech, education, and travel.

If you’ve told people you’re launching a startup, you’ll be inundated with advice. Some of it will be excellent, and some of it…well, it could stop you dead in your tracks.

When you consider that up to 90 percent of startups fail, you really want to make sure that you’re not being led astray by bad ideas.

So here are some of the worst pieces of startup advice you’ll hear when you’re planning on starting a business, and what you should really do.

“It’s Too Risky, Just Take a Regular Job”

As well-meaning as our parents are, they still remember you like that sweet little boy or girl with the scruffy hair – not some badass startup leader. Yes, going into business is risky, but if you fail you’ll live to fight another day. You’ll also be able to take all that invaluable experience along with you in your career.

You can always fall back on that college degree or trade and get yourself a job if you don’t make it. But you will, we’re rooting for you.

Startup Advice

“Wait for the Right Moment to Start a Business”

It sounds like good startup advice, but the truth is – there’s never a perfect moment to launch a startup. Perhaps you’ve just left college and are in a ton of debt, maybe you’ve just started a family, or retirement is just around the corner and you’re finally comfortable…

The fact is we face challenges at every stage of our lives and these form the basis of our excuses not to start a business. So if this has always been a dream of yours, go for it. Just remember to think ahead and have a Plan B.

“Drop Out of College: Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg Did It”

College in the states is expensive – eye-wateringly so. So it’s understandable wanting to drop out if you’re finding it too hard to pay for, overwhelmingly difficult, or simply a waste of time.

But when someone tells you to drop out because a celebrity entrepreneur did so, they’re experiencing survivorship bias. In other words, they’re looking at the success stories and ignoring the failures. The majority of people who drop out of college do not go on to become owners of world-beating businesses. Don’t quit for the wrong reasons.

“Go Big, Like Facebook”

Hold your horses. When someone – especially an investor or co-founder – tells you that you need to widen your net, it’s important to consider whether your business is ready. Facebook may have hooked kids, their parents, and grandparents, but even it began as a small platform focused on college students.

It’s far more effective to start off with a niche, find a strong product-market fit, and then scale from there.

“You Need to be a Social Media Influencer”

Everyone seems to be chasing social media followers these days. And while it’s nice to see the numbers on your social channels ratcheting up, they don’t really mean anything unless you can leverage them for business purposes.

Instead, focus on return on investment (ROI), and work on what brings in the most clients and the most revenue. That might be more likes on your Instagram #Foodporn pics, but it probably isn’t.

“Focus on Your Business, Friends Can Wait”

If you’re building a startup, it’s inevitable that your social life will suffer. You’ll probably have less money and a lot less time than your salaried friends. You’ll also be pulling all-nighters and working at the weekend.

But that doesn’t mean giving up your social life completely. If you don’t relax and blow off some steam, you’ll quickly burn out. Even more importantly, you’ll want your friends to be there for you when you need them most. Don’t neglect them – startup life is tough.

“Fake It Till You Make It”

This is by far the worst startup advice you’ll hear as you begin your career, whether you’re building a startup or otherwise. If you pretend to know more than you do or say you have skills that you don’t, you’ll only end up embarrassing yourself. Similarly, if you over-promise and under-deliver, your clients, boss or investors will drop you like a bad check.

If you’re just starting out no-one expects you to have all the answers; in fact, it’s far better, to be honest, ask questions and be open to learning new things. That’s how you really make it.

The Best Startup Advice

To end on a positive note, some of the best startup advice I’ve ever been given was “start before you’re ready but don’t run before you can walk.” It made me realize that growth is meant to feel uncomfortable and that we should move forward at our own pace. So perk up your ears, be grateful when people try to help you out, but certainly, don’t follow every piece of advice you hear. You’ve got this!

  • Originally published August 30, 2018, updated April 26, 2023