The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World

I recently co-authored an article, “The Dumb Things We Say in the Startup World” with Mark Menell, a former partner at Rustic Canyon and the past COO & CFO of ShopRunner. Having worked together on several ventures, Mark and I have more than our fair share of scars and failures alongside of a few wins. We wanted to share a few important lessons we’ve learned and some of the really dumb things we’ve heard, or even said, throughout the years.


Here are just a few of the dumb things we called out in this piece:

“If you are not sleeping under your desk regularly, you are not committed to this.” 

You are putting everything on the line. All you ask in return from employees is absolute dedication. You can’t beat people into commitment. If your idea is so great, inspire them to be as dedicated as you are. If you can inspire people to be passionate, you can let go of rigid rules and authoritarian mandates because everyone will give all they have for the sake of the dream. Marissa Mayer is wrong — a dedicated, passionate team will do absolutely whatever it takes, whether they are in the office, on the road or occasionally making it home to see their kids for dinner.

“We can’t give up that much ownership! What will we ever use that extra $2MM for?” 

It sounds thoughtful, conservative, responsible and careful. It’s usually just misguided. In terms of dilution, it’s good to maintain as much control as possible, but don’t let your ship go under in lieu of accepting the right financing deal during the crucial proving period.

“I don’t get this relationship stuff, I am just all about putting my head down and getting stuff done.” 

That might work in a transaction-based world, but never in the VC world. If you don’t have long-term relationships, you will not be able to influence broad ecosystems to your point of view. Consider Marc Benioff at as an example of how important this skill is for winning in the valley. Without relationships, you will also not have the best information about what is really happening — such as when the largest acquisition in the history of your space goes down. In addition, without relationships you will not be able to remove friction. Buying companies involves weeks of paperwork and diligence, and can be great experiences because of trusted relationships. Relationships matter in the startup world. Treat them like the 50-year investment they are.

To see what other dumb things we’ve heard…or possibly said, read the full article on PandoDaily.

About Ben T. Smith, IV

Founder of, investor in and advisor to technology and media companies
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