Dealing with professionals

In the startup world, there are many amateurs seeking to up their game to be professionals. I see this in the startups, in the investment community, and in the advisory world. Dealing with amateurs is a worthy topic, because that's in large part what most first time startup CEOs are. They may be professionals at their profession, but they are not professionals at being a CEO of a startup. And of course many of them are not professionals at anything yet, because they are young and inexperienced.


As an advisor and many-time startup/small business CEO, it is my job, my profession, and my passion to help grow companies. I am a professional in this because of my long experience both failing and succeeding, my ongoing efforts to keep learning and adapting, my skills and tools that help me navigate some of the complex situations I encounter effectively and efficiently, and my desire to work with other professionals and bring their expertise to bear to help grow companies with me.

Part of the mentoring process I undertake is to help others who want to become mentors and advisors into and through the process of professionalizing themselves in this new area for them. We have advisors who are top flight in their area, but who have not worked with startups in an advisory capacity before. We work with them to help them become professionals in this field and bring their other profession to bear to help grow companies.

So in some sense, any real professional in the startup world is always also an amateur in the specifics of what they are working on at any given moment, or they are likely bored. Nobody in this field is looking to do the same thing in the same way every day. If they want to do that, they can get a regular job.

Startup executives

Many startups are run by people who are just trying to make money at something and found something that might work that they think they can do. If this is you, run away! Don't do it! Find something you are passionate about and become a professional at it. Then, if you are still passionate, start a company in that area. The horse before the cart (except of course for rear mounted engines, but they are not carts).

First time startup executives, in many cases, are themselves top flight professionals in their field. They decide to start a company because of their passion and expertise, and they are off to the races. They get things going, usually do a fine job of getting research and development rocking, hopefully bring on some experts in other business areas, and build a business, earning as they are learning, and building over time.


This occasionally happens. But few people can really do all of these things well, especially people who are rugged individualists and experts in a specific field. They believe that they know more than others, adopt sometimes crazy positions, and refuse to learn, thinking that their area of expertise it the important one. Perfection is what they seek and they will not go for less.

Crash and burn

Which brings me to the outcomes. In the last month, I have seen two cases of companies on the edge of serious funding (millions of dollars with potential tens of millions in guaranteed follow-ons if they meet metrics), who crashed before they took off because of the professionals who ran them.

The professions (and insurance)

The classic professions are doctors, lawyers, and accountants. I love a quote from the Georgia insurance commissioner some years back, which goes approximately like this:

It's the same way with doctors, lawyers, and accountants. And in business, it's the lawyers and accountants that are on point.

Professionals cost money, and better professionals cost more money. That does not mean that if it costs more it is better. But it does mean that if you want expertise you will have to pay for it. And you want expertise if you are planning to grow a successful business. Not just the appearance of expertise on a board, actual experts who are actually engaged and working with you to help you win. And for the most part, you should be listening carefully and taking their advice, subject to your own judgment. We advise, you decide!

In summary

Dealing with professionals has its good and bad points.

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