Most companies’ origin stories include misfires. Even Apple, one of the most iconic brands of all time, made major bellyflops throughout the years.
Yet startup life is hard enough. It shouldn’t have to include stumbling and tripping along the way. That’s where planning rears its head. As the old saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s completely true—just ask any founder who’s experienced an ‘I should have known better’ moment.
You can’t avoid all potential pitfalls, of course. Who could have predicted something like a global pandemic, for instance? True, many dreamers used Covid as a chance to pivot and come back stronger. But others were hard hit by lockdowns and changing consumer behaviors. Still, those who plowed forward, accepted the new landscape, and listened to successful entrepreneurs’ advice fared best.
You might be in the early stages of getting a business off the ground. Or maybe you’ve already built some momentum and have a small but loyal fan following. Either way, try not to get trapped by these major faux pas that have stunted other organizations’ growth.
Mistake 1: Assuming You’re on Your Own
The myths of the bootstrapping entrepreneur makes for a compelling yarn. However, you don’t have to feel like you’re wandering through the startup world alone. Plenty of leaders, institutions, and companies are interested in working with budding entrepreneurs. And many are offering innovative ways to help you prove your concept without forcing you to live out of your car or build up debt.
Houston-based startup studio Devland accepts applications from entrepreneurs across the nation, especially those who have been historically overlooked by VCs. Entrepreneurs who are accepted become short-term entrepreneurs-in-residence. They’re given $50,000 and three months to concentrate on research and proof of concept. Having this time to gather customer data enables them to test ideas without fear of imminent failure.
“Building companies that demonstrate enterprise value (MC + debt – cash) is the best path for new builders because they generate revenue with very little investment,” explains Devon Fanfair, Devland co-founder. ‘It allows for operators to focus on solving quantifiable problems and building momentum that is fed with every new iteration. Some startup builders get lost solving consumer pains that are harder to validate without scale. This can prove to be adversarial to growing confidence and routine behaviors that breed traction.”
Do your homework and find out what’s available to you in terms of support, capital, and partnerships. That way, you won’t have to feel like you’re forced to ‘go it along.’
Mistake 2: Thinking You Speak for All Customers
Plenty of companies began because of a founder’s unmet needs. Consider the case of Little Spruce Organics, a line of all-natural children’s clothing. The business grew out of a desire to find nature-inspired and organically made apparel for kids. Consequently, the founders looked at their products through the lens of: ‘Is this something we would want?’
Here’s the problem with sticking to this approach, though: It can alienate your eventual customer base. Even if you start an organization to fulfill a perceived gap, you can’t just go on gut instinct and caffeine. Data and numbers don’t lie. When shoppers stop buying the products or services you personally love, you have to be willing to let go. In other words, trust in the process of seeking validation.
Yes, it can be hard to see your company and its offerings objectively. However, you’re not doing your business any good if you’re clinging like mad to something that won’t sell. Eventually, you have to be willing to allow your ‘baby’ to grow up.
The bottom line here is to keep conducting market research. You’ll also want to revamp your entire customer experience from bottom to top. Look at your bestsellers and find out what makes them sticky. Seek to become more customer-centric all the time. Above all else, stay open to letting go of the notion that you have to need something in order to sell it. You don’t. You just have to believe in it, which will happen if you have data in hand.
Mistake 3: Hiring Buddies Only
It’s no secret that a lot of long-lasting companies have started by relatives, friends, or coworkers putting their heads together. That’s fine. Just avoid limiting yourself by hiring only people you know well, particularly as your business begins to expand.
What’s the problem with handing jobs to your buddies and neighbors? For one, they might not be the performers you need to take you to the next level. Yes, you trust them. But what if they lack the expertise, passion, or education required? A lot of skills can be learned on the job, it’s true. Others require know-how.
Another issue with keeping it all in the friends-and-family zone is that you’ll never have any work-life balance. It’s nearly impossible to separate your office and leisure time when everyone in your life is in your organization.
Still convinced that you would only feel comfortable recruiting people you know? You might inadvertently violate some hiring ethics. The last thing you want is to be slapped with a fine or incur a murky reputation. Besides, bringing in fresh perspectives is good for your company. McKinsey has studied the phenomenon of diversity in the workplace for years. Its findings support the idea that the more diverse your workforce, the greater your chance of profiting. That’s reason enough to request resumes from outside your sphere of influence.
Grab your Bandaids because you’re bound to get blisters as an entrepreneur. Nevertheless, you can avoid bigger headaches by designing a startup framework that limits risks and encourages rewards.
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