When I worked in corporate, I often complained that people did not show enough interest in what I did for a living. Most of the time, I got a polite smile and people moved on with other topics. Granted, the details of working as a finance professional at an engineering company is probably not the most interesting topic at the dinner table or at a club. When I decided to quit and start a tech company, this changed completely. Suddenly, everybody was intrigued, they wanted to know more. It was at the height of what I call the “App Bubble” (which is still going on by the way). “This is so cool, so courageous,” I heard more often than once.
Suddenly, my career and business idea became the main topic of discussions at dinner tables. People started sharing their ideas about how I could develop the product and the business further, how I could do things better. And sometimes, they even came up with their own ideas of companies “they had always wanted to start”.
In the beginning, I was excited. People in startup hubs such as Silicon Valley and Hong Kong encourage young entrepreneurs to get feedback on their business ideas. I saw all the advice as free feedback. The issue was that I did not take this advice at face value. I treated every single person who had an opinion on my business and my career as an expert.
“Why don’t you just raise money?”, “Why don’t you just pay influencers?”, “Why don’t you just do XYZ?” – the pieces of advice did not stop. They were so straightforward, so helpful, so logical – from the perspective of everyone who shared them with me. I became insecure. Everything seemed so easy, but why was it not? Did I do something wrong? I suffered from severe imposter syndrome. And I did not realise that I looked for external validation of my business more than for real hands-on advice. The issue was that I did that not only in the professional but also the personal context.
After some time, I had enough of it. Even more, I got sick of myself for listening to the remarks. I knew that as an entrepreneur, I had to be able to take criticism. But I learned that critcisim has to come from sources which matter. All the people who had the “great” and “easy” ideas and solutions for my business or who had “always wanted to start a business” had one thing in common: they never started their own business. When I asked them: “Why don’t you also quit and just go for it too?” I got the typical excuses: “I can’t, I’m at a crucial part of my career…”
Well, so was I. I left a promising career in finance at a crucial point and put my savings into a business. The difference was that I was willing to take the risk. Why should I take advice from anyone who has not made the same experiences, somebody who was not willing to take the same risk? I had the feeling that they were living their secret longing for getting out of their own hamster wheels through my business. Without taking any risk.
And this is the important point I want to make here: Risk needs to be a common denominator in this question. Dr. Lois P. Frankel sums it up very clearly in her book “Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money”: Never take advice from people who do not share the same risk background as yours. Dr. Frankel shares her personal experience about the time when she left her job and started her consulting. People who would have never ever left their cushy 9-5 jobs themselves gave her advice on how to run a business.
When I read her book, I could really relate to her advice. I started a business in a foreign country. Starting a business itself is a challenge. And because I love an even better challenge, I added almost 9,000 km on top of it. Not only did I have to go through a rollercoaster as an entrepreneur, I had to adapt to a new city, find new friends, build a new network and develop new routines. Why would I then apply the same factors for my decisions as who has never left their hometown and who has stayed in the same job for years?
I never wanted to insult those who got excited and wanted to share their ideas about my business. Sometimes, it can be helpful when outsiders share their view. But if it ends up putting silos of thinking on top of my life, I draw the line. I do not apply my experience as a one-size-fits-all approach to other people’s lives. Hence, I do not want it for myself.
And regarding the pressure and imposter syndrome – I am constantly working on that. My gut feeling has proven to be a reliable navigator. If I need expert advice, I talk to EXPERTS and people with similar risk profiles. I apply this for my business but also for my personal life. This also means that I am very conscious about with whom I surround myself and who is the best person to discuss topic XYZ.
In German we say: “too many cooks spoil the broth”. This also holds true when it comes to seeking advice. It is good to share, discuss and listen to other people’s views. But in the end, too many opinions will make it even more difficult to navigate your decisions. In the end, your own gut feeling will guide you.