I find using quotes and sayings to be very effective pedagogical devices. And at the end of the day, and actually at the beginning and middle as well, mentoring is an educational process. That’s the way MIT looks at it as the MIT Venture Mentoring Service reports directly to the Provost of MIT.
Quotes are more powerful if you know who said them and if that person has impact in the startup world. For example,
Perspective is worth 80 IQ Points. Alan Kay, renowned computer scientist.
That being said here are three quotes I’ve picked up that I use quite frequently despite not knowing the source.
More companies die of indigestion than starvation. I find this one to be effective with startups that seem to want to be all things to everyone. This ties in with my advice to find a niche, dominate it, then expand from there.
Don’t tell me what you are going to do, tell me what you have accomplished. For founders who tend to be too focused on their big disruptive vision this one helps them focus on what they have done recently and how that affects what they will be doing near term, not far off in the future. (I still remember my first day as Director of Information Services at MIT. My boss, Professor Jim Bruce, was taking me to meet his boss, the VP for Administration. His greeting? Hi, Steve. Tell me, what have you accomplished so far?
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. This one gets attributed to Einstein).
This one may get the most use, as I find that founders tend to complexify everything. Whether it’s their corporate mission or their investor pitch deck, it’s usually safe to say, make it simple as possible, but no simpler. This is congruent with Occam’s Razor, a principle many engineering and science grads are familiar with. I encourage my mentees to minimize the assumptions they make, as all assumptions are really hypotheses, which means they should be tested for validity and reliability.