Startup Advice from George Costanza: Do The Opposite

Written By: Dharmesh Shah July 2, 2008

The Seinfeld fans out there will clearly recognize the reference to "the opposite" episode.  Basically, George tries to change his life by going against his natural instincts and doing the exact opposite.  [For the fanatics out there, I think this is Episode #86, aired May 19, 1994.

Here are a couple of clips from the episode:

George : Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but ... I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat ... It's all been wrong.

Jerry : If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

George : Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do...something.

As it turns out, this "do the opposite" strategy works out for George.  Things start working out for him.  By going against his natural instincts, he ends up doing things "right".  He's noticed.  He comes off as being different. 

So, what does this all mean for startups?  Well, I've found that often "doing the opposite" (zigging when others are zagging) can actually work.  Conversely, if you take the tried and true path of others (like your competitors), in your best case scenario, you kind of wind up where most startups wind up -- in an unhappy place.  Why not try to be different?

A few examples to mull over:

A Startup Doing The Opposite

VC funding negotiation:  Tell the VC:  "We don't know what the pre-money valuation should be.  You have a better sense than we do about this.  We're not looking for the highest "price".  We just want a fair deal and a board member that is not a jerk.  You seem like you're smart and not a jerk.."

Recruiting early employees:  If you're just looking to make a lot of money, this is probably not the place.  Sure, we're going to give you some options but nobody knows what those are going to be worth (including the founders and the investors).  We all work our butts-off and make less money than we could likely do otherwise.  We all must have some sort of genetic flaw that makes us do this.  If you have that genetic flaw too, you'd probably enjoy it here. 

Early customer conversation:  Yeah, the software kind of sucks but we use it ourselves and it does do useful things.  Why am I charging you to be a beta tester?  Although your input is priceless, we think it just distorts the relationship for you to get it for free.  If you're a paying customer, we're going to kill ourselves to make you happy. 

The idea is to be honest, direct and surprise people by taking an approach that they're not used to seeing.  A lot of times this may fall flat -- but lots of things fall flat anyways.  Why not try it? 

By the way, each of the examples above are based on reality from my own startup adventure

So, next time you're in a situation go against your instincts to "spin" things and be super-sophisticated.  Just do the opposite!

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