I meet with a lot of people to exchange ideas and advice. Lately I have noticed a very powerful trait that the most authentic founders, investors, and advisors exercise. I call it the "DGF Principle." Since I come from a military background, I really love acronyms. DGF stands for "Don't Give a F#$k" (aka Direct Given Feedback). Despite containing a curse word, this acronym actually connotes a very positive trait that I've noticed in the most authentic people I've come across in Silicon Valley. DGF People are not insecure and they are willing to provide direct and honest feedback to you.
People who demonstrate the DGF Principle are always mindful of your time. Out of respect for you and for the process of *becoming* an entrepreneur, they don't waste your time by giving you mixed signals or blowing sunshine up your ass. If they don't like your product, they will tell you why. If they are concerned about your market or product they will explain their rationale. If they are concerned about your team, they will communicate this to you. Sometimes their criticism might come across as being harsh, but I have found that so long as they are authentic and honest, then the feedback is constructive at worst and empowering at best. You always walk away knowing where you stand with DGF people, which frees up mental bandwidth to focus on other priorities instead of attempting to second guess them.
When I meet with fellow entrepreneurs I try my best to exercise the DGF Principle. This motivation stems from my belief that you should strive to live the Golden Rule and "treat others as you would want to be treated." Although it seems simple enough, sometimes it can be hard to exercise the DGF Principle because delivering honest feedback can often be a bit uncomfortable in the near-term. But in the long-term it is the most efficient and valuable way to exchange ideas and feedback if you're an entrepreneur, advisor, or investor.
In the past I wish more people would have just told me if they thought my product sucked or if they would NOT use it rather than sidestep the issue. Sometimes giving or receiving a 'No' can be a blessing in disguise, especially when it's wrapped in a thoughtful explanation, which provides clarity on the issue. That's why it's important to seek out authentic people to exchange ideas and advice — because they are most likely to exercise the DGF Principle.
Case in point, a few years ago when I was raising capital for a software company, I had introductions and meetings with notable investors. One investor, in particular liked our market, liked our team, and appreciated our ability to execute with product and customers. He dug in to get more information about the deal, made great introductions, provided honest feedback, and most of all — he was *fast*. He did not waste our time. When he ultimately passed on the deal, he thoughtfully explained his rationale and thanked us for considering him. To this day, I still have a great relationship with this DGF investor. In fact, I have referred him good deals and recommended him to other founders raising capital.
In contrast, another investor strung us along, sucked our brains for market intel, and wasted our time before passing. I would *never* refer deals or make founder introductions to this investor who wasted our time. In fact, I have advised founders to tread cautiously or avoid them altogether. This is just one example, but the DGF Principle applies to any situation where ideas and advice are exchanged. Exercising the DGF Principle really means that you are taking the *high ground* and valuing people on a long-term basis.
In my experience the people who demonstrate the DGF Principle are the cornerstones of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. They are intrinsically grounded and confident in their individualism and rather than give you the run around or mixed signals, they will actually let you know what they think. Often times these people are just more confident in their skins due to experience or because they have reached a certain level of success and they are not afraid to rock the boat. In limited situations, these people can be younger, but guided by a sense of authenticity that might take years (if ever) for some people to develop. My theory is that the DGF Principle might come naturally/intuitively to some people, but it is a trait/skill that can be developed over time if one makes it a priority.
Silicon Valley is a special place because of the cultural treasure trove of entrepreneurs, investors, and tech people that are willing to give you their time, extend their networks, and exercise a certain degree of empathy that is unique to the global entrepreneur community. I hope more entrepreneurs, investors, and members of the startup community adopt the DGF Principle because being authentic and honest is the best way to help others in the long-term even if it might not be the most comfortable way of handling things in the near-term.
*** Special thanks to Nader Ghaffari and Daniel R. Odio for providing feedback on this piece before publishing. ***