My startup is in the tech sector.
Tech is a man’s world. I know it sounds trite, but it’s true. Meetings are guys in jeans and local vintage screen tees. Events have local beer and cheap pizza . There is never anyone in the women’s restroom.
And, of all the creatures in the tech world, one of my least favorite is “The Exited Man.” This means, he has had a least one successful exit–sometimes more than one, but usually it’s less than three. Therefore, he has learned the way. Now, this guy can be anywhere from 25 to 65, but most often is mid to late 30s. Most often, he is “taking some time to feel out the next opportunity.” He is usually helping [insert some other prominent young male figure in the local tech scene] “conduct some due diligence” or “shift some critical tasks off his plate.”
He appears interested. He appears sincere. He appears to have awareness. And then, it starts, usually with something like:
“…what you really should be focusing on…”
“…the best approach is…”
and then sometimes there is
“…I am not sure who you are using for [insert legal, accounting, marketing, or any other professional service] but I would have recommended that you…”
Of course. Of course you would recommend that. Of course you think we should focus on whatever it is that we are currently not focusing on. Of course you would have done it different, started from a different place, talked to a different person, selected a different partner, sought input from different stakeholders than we did.
Now, it may sound like I don’t accept input and advise. But I do. And they are extremely important to me. And that’s what is interesting about this when I think about it. It’s who I accept input and advice from. While thinking about my response to the most recent call from “The Exited Man,” all I could think about what it’s just like having kids.
It’s like telling a pregnant stranger the worst birth story you have ever heard. It’s like listening to parenting advice from someone who you don’t really connect with as a friend–a trusted advisor.
I love talking about experiences, sharing and learning–but the missing piece with the average “Exited Man” is that it often feels like it’s more about them listening to themselves talk than really wanting to shape and guide my startup experience.
I do have trusted business advisors and many of them have had successful exits. But the discussions are different. The listen, they are contemplative, they encourage and engage in strategic thinking–not doling out advice and critical judgement of our progress so far.
One of the most important lessons that I have learned having kids–especially when they are babies–is that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through the moment. You can undo it later, but your sanity is critical and it often depends on successfully navigating a situation with difficult choices. My baby is sick and crying all night? I would pull him in bed with me. I can “undo” co-sleeping later, but for that moment, we all needed rest.
I have done the best I can at any given moment with the information presented. “The Exited Man” believes he knows better because he can judge my previous actions already knowing the outcome. For example, an issue over ownership structure. He is quick to point out we did it wrong in the beginning. But, we did it right at that moment–because we never would have seen this issue arise. It did. We made it through it and came out the other side–all while making the best choices we could in the moment.
It’s not about “right way” or “wrong way.” It’s all about getting through the moment, Exited Man.