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Why Startups Need 3rd Party Accountability Coaches

Published: September 10, 2016

As a startup founder you’ll get a lot of advice and feedback. Everyone has opinions. Everyone wants you to avoid pitfall X,Y, and Z. Your board, your employees, your fellow founders, and your customers will all have something to say. The advice is often conflicting and deafening.

More advice doesn’t equal more clarity and at its worst (e.g. board advice) it forces violent swings in strategy and tactics. What’s needed is unbiased accountability. Is it working? Where’s the data? How are your experiments going? Are you staying true to your values? Instead, you get shotgun blasts of well-meaning but invariably biased advice.

The problem is compounded because founders exist in a cognitive bias petri dish. It’s the achilles heel of the lean startup approach. A disciplined, experimental approach sounds good in theory. But that all falls apart when someone dangles money in your face, an investor mentions an off-handed challenge, the big partner calls, or someone fluffs your ego.

So the advice is biased and you are biased … the well-meaning leading the blind.

The irony is that most founders, at some point, were the one’s giving the good advice and feedback. The rolls were reversed. And someone wasn’t listening. That frustration, and the conviction to “not make these silly mistakes”, is at the root of many startup inception stories. But like parents promising to never repeat the sins of their parents, it’s much harder to pull off in practice.

What you need, is someone with no skin in the game to hold you accountable. Not an employee, not another founder, not someone on your board, and not a friend in the business. Find that person. Write things down. Meet regularly. Describe your strategy, pivot/proceed points, and milestones. Be disciplined and focused. And get dispassionate advice linked to YOUR goals.