Ask An Expert
Founders ask experts for opinions. Then, they choose do what they say. Asking product and marketing experts is ok, but it's generative research ... not evaluative.
- What is the received wisdom/standard approach/assumption(s) about a market or product?
- Am I missing an important part of the overall picture?
Experts provide deep insights into a particular problem domain. Experts provide useful input for problem types that are complicated according to the (Cynefin decisionmaking framework)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin_framework]. These are problems with predictable but many factors, components, or pieces. There are many "known unknowns"; however, they can be analyzed using cause-effect in order to uncover a range of appropriate answers. Ultimately, founders need to be able to execute quickly, so piggy-backing on others' knowledge can serve as a useful shortcut.
For example, certain industries require significant expertise in order to compete effectively, e.g., FinTech. Finance itself is highly regulated and highly dependent on detailed models used for valuation, risk assessment, or accounting. Each of these are context-sensitive. While it's possible to learn some of this from books, seeing how these play out in a competitive environment gives extra insight. Some areas of finance have high degrees of product innovation, e.g., derivative markets. On top of that, technology itself has been changing rapidly for the last few decades. Given both of the above, founders entering this market would be wise to consult with experts in areas where they feel it will help generate additional options that they hadn't considered.
Even for other contexts, quite often an expert will be able to view a founder's situation in the context of many companies facing a similar problem. For example, consulting with a Facebook marketing expert if you are considering channel testing around Facebook can be a good use of resources.
As a general rule, though, using third-party expertise to evaluate existing options is an anti-pattern. Experts will view the situation through assumptions that may not hold up in the data.
15 minutes (quick coffee meeting) to a longer term engagement (regular meetings over X weeks)
- Seek out an expert via:
- Google & Bing: Enter specific terms or questions you have and look at who is responding with appropriate content.
- Meetup: local experts in your topic
- LinkedIn: easy to locate specific experts via keyword
- Academia.edu: Find an academic specialized in a narrow topic.
- Other social media where free content is posted: Quora/Medium/Facebook
- Consider paid sources:
- FounderDating.com forums
- Contact the expert, and arrange a phone call or meeting in person.
- Questions you'd like to ask
- Areas where you'd like feedback
- Topics you'd like to brainstorm
- Conduct the meeting
- Note down key ideas or recommendations
- Ask for a referral to another expert in the same or related area if needed.
- Use your learnings to formulate a falsifiable hypothesis, and test whether their advice applies to your specific case.
In general, it is best to limit yourself to experts who either
- Have personal experience (success or failure) in the topic area
- Have gained significant insight through academic or journalistic research
Keep in mind that all advice is context-dependent. Even if an expert was successful before, the situation and competitive landscape changes over time. And despite their best intentions, an expert's advice might not be relevant to your specific case.
If you take advice from anyone, make sure their interests are genuinely aligned with yours. Confirm there are no conflicts of interest that would affect the expert's advice. It's best to pay specifically for impartial advice if you're unsure about this.
Free advice may or may not be useful. You may get what you paid for. Time spent executing bad advice is still wasted.
Some topics naturally invite strong opinions. To the extent possible try to get access to data that the expert used to formulate their recommendations or advice, in order to evaluate its relevance.
Think for yourself after being given advice.
- "Information is plentiful. Wisdom is rare. Ask experts to figure out what to test in your business" @LaunchTomorrow
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- Wired: Given “Expert” Advice, Brains Shut Down
- Harvard Business Review: Find the Right Expert for Any Problem
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