Learning is about the translation, not the source

Giff Constable management, marketing, startups


I was reading Fred Destin’s post on why entrepreneurs hate VCs, when a quote caught my eye: “Learning from mistakes is far less useful than emulating success.”  It’s a message that 37Signals likes to harp on as well.  I’d argue that you have an equal shot at learning from mistakes or successes, as long as you take the time to objectively dissect the facts.

However, all this misses the real point.  No matter what you are learning from, the key is to correctly translate it to your new context.

People will preach, “this is what worked for me, so it will work for you.”  Just don’t swallow it whole.

I don’t care what philosophy or framework you are interested in — whether the Blank/Ries lean startup approach or 37Signals ethos — don’t get religious.  Tech startups share huge commonalities, yet the devil is in the details and you need to filter everything for your details — your team, your timing, your product, your competition, your market noise, your financial resources, etc.

When it comes to marketing, definitely study your and others’ successes, but remember that you are not alone.  Lately, I’ve been looking at Mint.com’s trajectory, but so is everyone else (a VC friend of mine said he’s getting tired of hearing, “We’re the Mint.com of X”).  Mint lived in its context.  Some of their strategies will work for my startup, and some won’t.  In my new context, I have to decide where copycat marketing noise will degrade effectiveness. (here’s a long post on tactics)

So two messages:

  1. It doesn’t matter whether you won or lost, don’t fight the last war.
  2. When you get a piece of advice, use your brain and make it your own.