The Worst Entrepreneurial Advice in the World

by Alexander Heyne · 8 comments

The following is an except from a new manifesto coming soon:

Entrepreneurial advice that doesn’t suck.

When I wanted to start a business, so many people told me “do what you love and the rest will follow.” 

People tell me “Start with something you’re good at! Pick a skill you’ve got.” And time and time again people continue taking this advice and start businesses that soon after fail.

It just blows my mind how much bullshit there is in the world that we take as “common sense” or “colloquial wisdom.”

Apparently every person I run into is a diet and fitness expert, despite the fact that almost 100% of them carry 30+ extra pounds of fat around their gut.

Apparently every person I run into is an expert businessperson who can tell me the next million dollar idea. 

And apparently everyone around me knows how to live an exceptional life despite the fact that they are living mediocre ones.

The hell is going on here?

I’ve got a theory here – common knowledge – that is, things we pass on just because they sound plausible, is almost always passed on by people with no experience in the field.

That’s why your fat aunt gives you diet advice.

That’s why your broke ass uncle gives you advice on how to be rich.

And that’s why daddy is giving you pearls of wisdom on living a happy life despite being miserable, sneaking painkillers at night, and drinking himself to sleep.

The problem is that the most ignorant of people pass on the most harmful of information – false information.

Back to the story.

So there I was, hellbent on starting my own business and really seeing how this entrepreneurial thing would pan out.

So I did what apparently everyone told me, because, well, I assumed it must be true if that many people said it!

I decided to do something I was good at.

Now here’s the thing. 

What do life coaches, karate teachers, artists, and personal trainers have in common? Come on, guess !

#1 They all started their business based on the fact that they were good at something.

#2 Most of them are broke. Sure maybe you’ve got a personal trainer friend who’s making 50 or 60k, now ask them how many hours they work for their business. Ask them how often they disconnect. It’s totally dysfunctional.

Really, most of them. How many life coaches have I met that are gainfully self employed? Not one. How many life coaches have I met? Probably over 50. Not one is making enough to quit their day job.

Karate teachers.. well, there’s not much to say. Basically every town in the USA has a new karate studio coming in and out every few years.

Artists? Yeah…

Personal trainers? Just because you love working out doesn’t mean you should be a personal trainer. And for christs’s sake please don’t become another generic personal trainer.

So why are they all broke?

They started based on the shitty “common sense” principle of “do what you love, do what you’re good at.” Wrong wrong wrong.

If I hear this shitty piece of advice from non-entrepreneurs again I think i’ll projectile vomit. Not only has this set me back by a good few years, I feel like most of the entrepreneurial “90%” failures come from this group.

Regardless of whether or not you do what YOU love, you HAVE to do what THEY love

Make something people want. Not what you think they want, what you know they want.

Want me to sum it up? Here’s some no-bullshit advice from the Millionaire Fastlane:

 How will it help them? What’s in it for them? Will it solve their problem? Make their life easier? Provide them with shelter? Save them money? Educate them? Make them feel something? Tell me, why on God’s green Earth should I give your business money? What value are you adding to my life? Reflect back to our producer/consumer dichotomy. Consumers are selfish. They demand to know is “what’s in it for me!” To succeed as a producer, surrender your own selfishness and address the selfishness of others. 

Never start a business just to make money. Stop chasing money and start chasing needs. Let me repeat that, because it’s the most important thing in this book: Stop thinking about business in terms of your selfish desires, whether it’s money, dreams or “do what you love.” Instead, chase needs, problems, pain points, service deficiencies, and emotions.

Entrepreneurs fail because they create businesses based on selfish premises, and selfish premises don’t yield profitable businesses; they lead directly into the 90% failure wastebasket. “I need a new income stream.” “I’m an expert in [blank] so I’ll do that.” “I read a ‘get rich’ book and it says to start a business.” Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. Again, selfish, narcissistic premises are VIP invitations to violate the Commandment of Need. 

In retrospect, many of us say “oh damn that was a dumb mistake.” But for some reason it’s not painfully obvious to new business people.

It’s not painfully obvious to the guy opening up another karate studio 6 months after the previous one went out of business. It’s not painfully obvious to the millions of us new people trying to be self employed and making the same couple mistakes over and over.

Why, I have no idea.

The first delusion that comes into the mind of most newly self employed is that you’ll be “doing what you love.”

Changing how you view self employment

Alright, go with this for a second:

When I first wanted to be self employed, I took the “logical step” of seeing what I was good at and seeing what I liked to do.

Wrong. Don’t do that.

I started another project because I thought “It would be soooo cool, this will change the world, this is awesome – why wouldn’t people want this?”

Dumbest, most classic rookie saying ever.

Let me repeat, you know a person is a novice when they say two things: #1 “I have a million dollar idea,” or #2 “This is so sick, this could change the world, why wouldn’t people want this?” 

When you want to be (making enough money to feed yourself) self employed, start with where you see a need.

Start seeing potential in an industry first, and then see where your skills can help. This pretty much will alleviate the biggest part of your anxiety, which is putting time and money into something that nobody will want. Believe me, finding out that one is a bitch. 

I’ve invested thousands of dollars, and worse, thousands of hours of my life into something that produced no return except for experience. That doesn’t have to happen.

There’s obviously a disconnect here

For some reason, lay people in any field are very disconnected from the fundamental principles that science has given us to cut through the bullshit.

Look at some of the most notorious industries with a large science-lay person gap: diet and fitness, sports, business, psychology.

People who read the research know what’s going on and don’t make stupid mistakes like buying their 45th diet book thinking it’ll provide some different “groundbreaking research” to help you not be a fat.

And now that i’ve made the mistake more than once I notice this everywhere.

Every time I hang out with inexperienced entrepreneurs like myself I notice that very, very few can answer this one foundational question: does anyone truly need or want what you do? what problem do you solve and how are you different?

On an almost daily basis I see young 20 somethings, parents, friends and family almost always get into the same couple of businesses and make the same couple mistakes:

“Yoga” anything (teacher/studio/sexual healer/etc.)

Martial arts teacher/studio

Life coach

Any kind of artist

Personal trainer

And they’re all for the wrong reasons. They start those businesses because they want to. They start with their own skills and passions and interests because, well, it sounds logical. It’s just “what you do” when you want to start a business, right?

And because they start with what they want, they neglect the iron law of the market .

Neglecting this basic pre-requisite for a thriving business causes most of these people to fail to ever create sustainable businesses that pay them enough. Period.

 For new entrepreneurs…

My one piece of advice (from experience, or rather, failure) would be this: don’t start with your passion.

Don’t compile lists of your strengths and your skills. Don’t compile your previous work experience. Don’t compile books of things you would love to do.

Those need to come second to figuring out what other people want.. and they definitely don’t want another karate studio. Please god, not another karate studio or life coach..


Photo: Barrypangilinan

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

ccdev August 17, 2012 at 4:54 am

Good advice and examples most times. the exception would be to put the karate/martial arts teachers as profit-based organizations. You see the odd exception when a dojo becomes very successful but most times people don’t get involved in starting a dojo to get rich, it’s a personalised hobby/lifestyle choice. And they don’t give a fuck what others may think “hey,we’re just gonna open this shit and start training” (rule #1. Badasses don’t give a fuck)


afheyne August 17, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Hi ccdev,

I’d have to disagree. Having studied for many years myself I have many buddies or acquaintances that started opening places thinking they could just go out and teach and make a good living doing something they enjoy.

Unfortunately we can forget about rich. Most of them don’t even make ends meet! That’s my point – forget rich – they can’t even break 30k/year. That’s an entry level salary that’ll leave you with barely enough gas and food after you pay your $500/mo apartment.

Now, my longtime teacher was the VERY rare exception — he was the only kung fu teacher I met (ever) that drove Porsches and Lotuses — but he was a smart businessman in addition to a stellar martial artist.

“It’s a personalized hobby/lifestyle choice” – exactly – NOT a job. But they THINK they’re creating a job and end up barely making ends meet until they’re forced to close and go back to an old job.

Badasses don’t give a fuck until they’re eating ramen every day.


ccdev August 18, 2012 at 6:30 am

“Badasses don’t give a fuck until they’re eating ramen every day” haha good one.

seriously though, my experience in an asian environment from most of the dojos & senseis that i know, $ is only a secondary concern, sometimes they have to ‘donate’ from their own pockets too for visiting shihans. a cultural difference perhaps? most senseis i have meet here have a day job, with exception of a few doing full time but retired already. But you are right, just because the person is a good “fill in the blanks” does not equal good commercialization opportunity.


Shanna Mann August 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm

What I find is that ‘common wisdom’ is a corruption of what was actually good advice, but the nuance was lost somewhere along the way. In this case, the sentiment was that if you love what you do in business you’ll work harder at it, and persevere through the inevitable setbacks more easily than if you just picked something that made the most money. But then people simplify that down to “just do what you love, and it’ll all work out,” it sends almost the opposite message.


afheyne August 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I agree Shanna, like you said – common wisdom I think is just bastardized (originally good) advice.

And like you said we should, by default, be going for jobs we enjoy not only for the happiness factor but because it’s very unlikely that a person will be successful without some degree of passion and enjoyment.


Joan Harrison April 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

I have just set up a personal development website and I do know my stuff around why people do the things they do. I recently watched a video on You Tube by one of the TOP personal development coaches who is paid mega bucks by telling people how to become successful. She was talking about the subconscious mind and was so way off the mark with her information. I was dismayed to think that thousands of people were watching and believing what she was telling them. The main problem I see is cutting through the rubbish that is out there and being brave enough to have an opinion – so well done on this great post! It certainly resonated with me.


Alexander Heyne April 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Hey Joan –

Scary huh :(

The cool part about the internet is that a lot of good people can come out and massively influence others. The bad part is that people with terrible information can also massively influence others.


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