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Why your startup should never release numbers

Posted 19 December 2011 by

Paul Hontz at the Startup Foundry wrote, “When a startup leaves out numbers I assume it’s because the numbers suck and you’re trying to sound bigger then what you really are. If you’ve just started out and the only people using it are your friends and family, tell us. There is no shame in that. People love rooting for the underdog.”

I think that’s terrible advice.

When a technology enables a new idea or problem-space, there are usually dozens of startups working on it. They’re all trying different variations of it to see what sticks with users. It’s like releasing a bunch of kids on an easter egg hunt.

Now let’s say one of the kids finds a pattern in where the easter eggs are hidden. If he tells the other kids about it, they’ll start finding easter eggs too. And that pudgy kid with poor eyesight who found the pattern to begin with– he just totally lost whatever advantage he had.

It doesn’t matter whether the numbers are good or bad. If they’re bad, then competitors will know what you’re doing isn’t necessarily working, and focus on other things. If they’re good, they’ll try to duplicate your approach.

There are probably cases where sharing numbers is okay. If you’re like Square or Instagram and are totally killing it and there’s no chance competition can catch up, great. Or if you want to do a pony show for investor / BD interest like Fab.com, also great. Just be strategic.

But early stage startups are cornered animals. There’s little upside in giving away information.

Stealth and speed

A startup has two things going for it: stealth and speed. My good friend Vivek has been hammering me with that philosophy for months now. Stealth and speed.

So sorry, Paul. No numbers.