What Startup Founders Too Frequently Get Wrong
With a world seemingly upside-down and changing overnight, this week in the Startup Studio felt like a week worth exploring how to avoid some too common mistakes.
- Discounting experience. With Facebook and Google suggesting most success stories are born out of college, it’s easy to overlook that the average age of a successful founder is 40, and neglecting that addition to a young team, disregarding the experience, network, and wealth that comes with age, is just stupid.
- We have to be a startup city / have an epicenter. If I only spend my time there, I’ll make it! This isn’t an acting career dependent on you being discovered by peers or getting trained by the local mentor. Most successful startup founders are born from one of two places: 1. Innovative companies 2. Free Thinking Universities (read: not too controlling of IP). Want to be a successful founder? Get a job at Microsoft or study at a school where you have free reign with the IP you develop.
- Drinking the cool-aid / going by the book. Bootstrap isn’t better. Lean isn’t a guarantee. Customers aren’t the best focus. The nature of startups and entrepreneurship is doing something that isn’t already being done (if you’re just building a business like something out there already, it’s not a startup). If you’re doing something distinct and unique, throw the book out the window.
- It was established decades ago that Marketing is the most important investment a startup makes. Not promotion! Not advertising! Marketing. Marketing is the work of the market. Startups fail because they run out of money, launch the wrong thing, misunderstand their customer, or disregard competition…. Addressing those priorities and challenges is called Marketing. If your marketing person isn’t doing that, fire them. If you expect your marketing person to just get you leads, you should be fired. If you’ve built anything without doing all that first, just go home. Marketing is what you do first to figure out what to do; including when and if you should promote your business. I can always tell when a startup is going to fail because they say something like, “we want to test Facebook ads.” you’re too late.
- Tech and Startup are not industries. If you’re saying you’re in Tech, or that you want to be where the startups are, you’re wasting your time and resources. Every company works in/with technology. Startup is just a stage. Surround yourself with peers working in the same industry as you; yes, even among competitors. Startups mostly fail. Your goal, as a community of industry-specific professionals, is to collaborate toward what works; learn from one another, move talent around, and drive efficiency of attention for investors and the media.
- MVP doesn’t mean prototype-proving-you-can. It doesn’t mean landing page testing that people might. VIABLE is the key word here. Build what could in and of itself succeed as a venture, as minimally as possible. It proves people want that, will pay for it, and enables you to iterate into your complete vision, without having to build it all from the get-go. Minimum Viable Product: Figure out the least capable version of what you want to be; build that perfectly and sell it for what it is — if no one wants that, features aren’t going to change that.
Help me flesh this out some more? One of the greatest opportunities (and challenges) is that first-time entrepreneurs often find their first attempt more of a learning experience than the start of a successful venture. We can change that.