The Program

TechStars Blog

23rd February 2011

Do More Faster Book Excerpt #10 of 10: The Plural of Anecdote is Not Data

We’ve been blown away by the success of our new book Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup. It’s already massively exceeded our expectations for sales and the reactions have been very positive. Amazing mentors produce amazing results, and this book is no different. Dozens of our mentors and past founders contributed to the book, and we think that makes it a very special resource for entrepreneurs.

We thought we’d blog a few chapters from the book so that you can start to get a feel for it. We’re blogging a chapter a week for ten weeks. Be sure to subscribe to the blog if you haven’t already done so.

There are seven themes in the book (Idea/Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fundraising, Legal/Structure, and Work/Life Balance).

This chapter is from the Execution theme. I’ve highlighted a few sentences, so you can discuss them inline. Feel free to add your own highlights!


Read this chapter (and others in this series) in the original layout using the online reader at BooksInBrowsers.com.


The Plural of Anecdote is not Data
by Brad Feld

Brad is a managing director at Foundry Group and one of the co-founders of TechStars.

A phrase that is often heard around TechStars is “the plural of anecdote is not data.” While the original attribution of this quote is murky (see http://bit.ly/anecdt) the meaning is powerful and applies importantly to both mentors and entrepreneurs.

Many of the mentors in TechStars are experienced entrepreneurs. They often have started multiple companies—some successful, some not—and have a wide range of experiences. Through this experience, they’ve developed many stories and built anecdotes from them. These anecdotes are endearing, funny, clever, powerful, and repeated often, but they need to be put in their proper place in the information hierarchy.

While there is much for entrepreneurs to learn from storytelling and anecdotes, they run the risk of generalizing anecdotes into truths. During TechStars, entrepreneurs often get conflicting stories and advice from mentors. Mentor A believes that you should go after a specific vertical market as your market entry strategy and then explains how this worked for him in his first company. Mentor B, in a separate conversation, explains how a specific vertical market approach failed her in her first company and was a key contributor to its demise. Instead, she suggests starting out with a broadly horizontal platform approach, being careful to start picking off specific vertical markets as the customers start to emerge in bulk from them. In each case, they tell nice anecdotes that support their perspective.

What should the entrepreneur do? We start by saying, “It’s only data,” meaning that the entrepreneur needs to synthesize the data—especially different perspectives—and form his own opinion about the correct course of action. If you take an additional step back from the problem, however, you realize that a single anecdote isn’t enough to generate usable data from.

One of our goals at TechStars is to surround first-time entrepreneurs with mentors who can flood them with stories, anecdotes, advice, and data. We view it as a huge advantage when there are enough of these, and they conflict, because they then force the entrepreneur to go deeper, think harder about what is going on, and apply it to his specific situation. If he only relied on one anecdote to form a point of view, he’d miss the variety of different circumstances that could affect him and his company.

It’s often said that the information hierarchy starts with data, builds to information, and eventually peaks with knowledge. Yet, in the entrepreneurial world, I’ve found that anecdotes come even before data, and it’s important to have a broad number of them before you start abstracting up to the data layer. Hence the phrase “The plural of anecdote is not data.”


Here’s the entire excerpt series.

That’s all 10 – We hope you’ve enjoyed the series!

Like what you’ve read? Go order the book already!