Six Mistakes to Avoid When Launching a Startup
Starting a business is, without question, one of the scariest, most difficult things you can do in this life. If we’re being honest, you’re at least half crazy for even considering it. Still, you’re here, getting ready to dive head first into the wild world of entrepreneurship because that crazy side of you knows how rewarding it would be to bring your vision to life.
If you’re willing to hustle, and I mean really hustle, to get to the good part, you might as well be smart about it and learn from the mistakes of the founders who came before you. At Six Things, we work with founders and founding teams who have fallen on their faces a few times before finding their rhythm.
1. Not doing your research.
Let’s start with a simple question: Are you starting a company the world needs?
Are you sure?
Are there other companies like yours out there? What distinguishes you from them? Why should your target customers and investors care - at all - about what you’re building?
You can bet that these are questions you will be asked a few zillion times in the first few years of entrepreneurship - by potential investors, potential customers and, of course, your parents - so you be sure to know the answers. It is absolutely mind-boggling how many founders will go full force on a concept they haven’t taken the time to Google. As you can imagine, there are few things more embarrassing than pitching a concept that you think is going to revolutionize an industry (nay, the world!) only to have them smugly ask if you’ve heard of a company that’s already doing the exact same thing. Do your research.
2. Not holding yourself accountable.
The sexiest part of entrepreneurship, other than that IPO money, is flexibility. As a founder, you’re in charge of….well….just about everything, your schedule, deliverables and goal setting included. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you the magic in your newfound, unfettered freedom but let’s take a moment to discuss the pitfall. No-one is going to hold you accountable to failing to keep up with your schedule, being late on deliverables or failing to achieve your goals unless you choose to hold yourself accountable.
Some of smartest ways to set the bar high when you’re your own boss include tracking your time (taking an honest look at what you’re actually doing with each day), writing down your to-do lists (having my uncrossed off tasks staring at me with disappointment always motivates me) and setting micro-goals (because “make a billion dollars” probably won’t get crossed off this quarter).
3. Starting a business you’re not actually passionate about.
When it comes to entrepreneurship, at least half of the job is faking it til you make it and googling questions you don’t know the answers to. If there’s one thing you can’t fake, though, it’s passion. Investors, clients and customers alike can smell an entrepreneur without passion a mile a way. If the only thing that excites you about your new venture is the size of the market and your projected revenue, find another venture. Or find a forward facing co-founder who actually gives a shit about what you’re building and who you’re building it for.
4. Defining your target audience as “everyone”.
We OBVIOUSLY understand the desire to have as big an audience as possible. You want to be rich, we get it. But here’s the thing, when you build for everyone, you build for no-one and when you market to everyone, you market to no-one. It’s absolutely essential to hone in on your target audience, so you can build for them, market to them and turn them into brand ambassadors.
Starting small with your audience is just that: the start. You can always expand, but do so with a solid footing at home base and a knowledge of what keeps your core customers happy. Remember, Walmart didn’t start targeting higher income shoppers (with their acquisitions of Bonobos, Moosejaw and Jet.com) until 2017, when they were confident that their 140 million regular customers weren’t going anywhere.
5. Going in data-blind.
Investing in your analytics is not alluring to a lot of founders. They’d rather spend money optimizing UX, setting up influencer marketing campaigns or leveling up their package design (we can help with all of that, by the way) than spend their hard raised money on pieces of the puzzle that their audience will never see. Nevertheless, the reality is that without data-driven iteration, even the best concepts will fail. Every audience facing move you make stands to give you countless data points. This data tells you what your audience likes and what they don’t care about, what they’re clicking on, what they’re ignoring and what they want to see more of. Your audience is trying to answer all of the questions that you and your execs are banging your heads against trying to answer for them. So save yourself some time and forehead bruises and let them tell you.
6. Trying to do it all yourself.
Here’s the thing. Not only do you not have time to do it all, unless you’ve invented the 25th hour in the day or you’ve some how trained your body to not need sleep (hint: you haven’t), you’re also not the best person for every job.
You’re just not.
Knowing your strengths will take you far, but knowing your weaknesses will take you farther - because it empowers you to ask for help, to forge meaningful partnerships and to delegate to people who are better equipped than you to tackle different aspects of your company. And every minute you don’t spend pulling your hair out trying to do it all yourself is an extra minute you can spend taking your business to the next level by crushing in ways that only you can.
Now go forth and takeover the world! Just be sure to do your research, hold yourself accountable, invest in something you’re passionate about, narrow your target audience, gather your data and get some help - you’re gonna need it.