On top of it, blog as much smart shit as you can. It will spread and odds are it will impact someone's life. A month ago or so, someone emailed me with the subject: You don't know me, but thank you. He read my article on email newsletters, and it was finally the push he needed to leave his job + start his first startup. He's doing really well so far. I'm by no means popular at all. I can't imagine the impact guys like PG have had, but it has to be tremendous. We need to keep spreading our ideas and encouraging people. Selflessness and the goal to see more entrepreneurs succeed is why our industry wins. We all started from nothing, never ever forget that.
Long live Rajeev's rule.
Amen to that. The problem is that this article makes us feel like suckers, because we do do things for free. However her entire argument hinges upon the assertion that
As [compassionate people] we like to
help and can get trapped in giving our time and ideas away
for free because we’re afraid to ask for compensation.
That's irritating. Why the distinction? Are women different?
Update: I posted this comment on the original article, and got a good reply from Nicole Jordan:
"What an excellent comment! Thank you so much because then it opens the floor to re-enforce a very specific point - The time I spent talking with Debra was NOT her giving me advice nor me asking for it. It was two women having a much larger discussion about the challenges that we can face, why I thought her book would resonate with many I knew and my expressing enthusiasm to help promote in my circles when it came out. Which is what I did when it first came out, and am doing again. To me, that is an enormous difference than someone saying to me: “Hey, I’m launching my company in a month and can’t afford any PR but can we go to lunch so I can PYB on how I can do it myself?”"
I would venture to say that people have a disproportionate amount of ideas as compared to time to act upon them. People taking your ideas/advice and making money off of them does NOT translate into money out of your bank account. This is the same logic the RIAA is using to prosecute illegal music downloads.
Be a popcorn machine, but don't let them get ahold of your power plug. There is much that we all can give to help each other that will in no way harm our own income or current bank account. Be smart in what you divulge.
It's not quite the same thing, but it's a common bit of advice given to junior faculty to basically give away as many ideas as possible. People sometimes think they have one or two great ideas that will make their career, but if you're at all plugged in you soon have literally hundreds of potentially great ideas, and the bottleneck is doing the work to see if they pan out. Nobody is going to pay you just for the raw ideas; it actually goes the other way, you have to pay people to try them out (which is why postdocs and research scientists get paid).
Your time is valuable, and needs to be protected from people who want to take it without giving you anything. Ideas, OTOH, are worthless without ability and perseverance to actually turn them into something. Don't be an idea rat - share your stupid ideas and the person you share it with might improve it for you.
Some folks just don't know better. Others basically want every piece of data from Tipjoy for free. The former is excusable, and the latter is maddening.
I try to get pretty quickly and transparently to talk about becoming an advisor, but I don't think I've found my groove yet.
- Don't give ideas away, they're valuable, and your creative skills should be as valued as much as a lawyer's legal skills.
- Giving ideas to people when they're not going to give you anything if they do well with them is letting yourself be taken advantage of.
I'll leave the former to others, but I think the latter, especially, really misses the point that getting compensation isn't the only way to benefit from helping people. Nicole talks about the tendency of women "(and compassionate people)" to like to help, but not value their help enough to ask for compensation.
I think a related tendency, especially when women feel that they have to project an image of being ultra-capable / self-sufficient within the startup world, is to not ask for others to give / reciprocate favors. It's not a bad thing to ask for people you've helped in the past to help you.
In short, I can understand why a woman would post this point of view. Men frequently complain about having to pay child support in a divorce. In such discussions, both men and women seem to largely overlook the fact that it costs women a great deal more financially than it does men when kids come in to the picture. Women have lowered salaries, take more time off to care for the kids, lose out on career opportunities, and it is generally assumed that if she has a kid and gets a job, the child-care expenses are part of "her" costs of having a job (not "their" cost or "his" costs). I think this underlying assumption probably influences a lot of social transactions, from both sides: Other people assume "she" is supposed to give out of goodness and not expect anything in return, and "she" assumes she can't ask for anything in return either and/or doesn't know how to do so effectively. I think women are probably going to continue to struggle with this thorny issue for many years to come. We definitely don't have gender equality yet.
Now, I generally ask them to write the questions in an email.
You could make an argument that once you've "made it" this exchange becomes asymmetrical. However, I'm grateful for those interactions I've had with people who have "made it" and wouldn't begrudge that to others when/if I have.
I'm reminded of a quote from Howard Aiken:
"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."
But it's also a social question, one of balance. Even if your ideas have a good market value, where's the harm in a little free advice? The harm is only in an unreasonable amount of free advice. If you're a smart person whose ideas mean a lot to others, it's only being a good neighbor to offer a quick opinion on a few things if you aren't busy. But by the same token, a good neighbor only asks within reason.
If it's clearly worthless to have a conversation with them, I'll disengage and politely decline further requests to meet up. If there's even a spark of something interesting, I'll generally meet the again for coffee and the half hour of one-on-one time determines whether they're worth regularly touching base with.
I don't know how to do it via email, maybe ask them to set an agenda for the meeting before you agree to do it and use their reply to that as a filter.
I've gone to enough startup events that I really don't feel guilty anymore outright snubbing the clueless. There's a virtually 100% certainty that they won't amount to much of anything so why waste your mental energy on them.
I'm intrigued with the idea of having a /conversation/ with someone over coffee and not being able to get anything in return out of them. It is almost as if they are asking her to coffee and then interrogating her, (which doesn't seem to be a very good ebb and flow of a conversation anyway). If these really are intelligent people, they must have something of intellectual value to offer in return.
If they are actually looking for a consultation, make it clear what your fees are.
I think that that would be polite and maybe even an easy way to make some cash.
That, or make sure that they take you out to a really nice place for dinner.
I would have to expect that if you were giving the advice away, and it is helpful advice, you might be able to better negotiate a favor out of the person at a later time. It might be a good idea to keep a record of these types of meetings.
Disclaimer: No one ever asks to pick my brain, but if I were asking to pick someone's brain, I would expect some sort of quid pro quo...
But from experience I've learned to be extremely wary. There's been a class of people who aggressively tried to push me off of my idea and into working for their secret idea (seriously, they would try to keep it secret). There was a class of people who thought that meeting might lead to some sort of business--but it never does. Then there's the class of people who want a partnership where we do free work up front and then they make some small amount of money down the road (and I never see how we make any). Looking back--the highlight was talking to people who had just left failing companies because it helps explain what not to do.
Maybe the exchange is an understanding that when the person you are teaching is an expert, he will pass on the information to another person.
That is a higher level exchange than the quid pro quo exchange, as it is more of a communal sharing of intellectual resources. Sometimes there is information that is important above and beyond its utility to me. It is important for me to share it.
Which I suppose gives an insight into why I feel the way that I do about intellectual property. Yes, it is important that people are rewarded and compensated for their hard work and effort put into researching new things, but the real reason that you research and learn new things is so that you can pass it on.
We're social animals, and we shouldn't let go of that.
That's not why I do it at all. I love knowing things that others don't, and use that knowledge as competitive advantage.
- If you don't like the person don't help, don't talk, walk away. Save your time.
- If you are not going to execute the idea give it to someone else so at least you'll help the world to be a better place (assuming you are not working on efficiency of drug smuggling)
- If you are going to do the idea yourself you don't say it to anyone, obviously!
- If you like the person and if you are not going to do the idea by yourself and still refuse the share ideas. "What's your problem?"