7 Brutal Startup Mistakes That Can Kill Your Business


22 Aug 7 Brutal Startup Mistakes That Can Kill Your Business

And advise from experienced entrepreneurs, who used to be young start-up founders, on how to avoid them.


1. Dwelling on Things

“A lot of new founders tend to over-optimize every single decision, which makes it difficult to actually move forward with anything. One of the most important lessons my co-founders and I have learned is that sometimes the best course of action is to make a call and just move forward. As a young company, nothing is ever perfect, but if you believe in an idea or strategy, you just need to move forward and manage the logistics and risks as you go.” — Matt Salzberg, Founder and CEO, Blue Apron

2. Getting Distracted By Feedback

“A startup is not a newly democratic nation state: Not every decision needs to be made by the collective. While we love getting ideas from our team and have seen some stellar product development and user experience decisions generate from brainstorming and having an open office environment, we try not to let everything come to a vote. We hire smart and capable people to come up with an idea and execute it: Not to have to balance the opinions and feedback of everyone, all the time.” — Elizabeth Scherle, President & Co-Founder, Influenster

“You will have a ton of people constantly sharing their feedback and opinions of your business with you. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it and want to tweak things immediately. Keep in mind that people will give you feedback based off of their market knowledge and domain experience — it is your job to apply that knowledge to your company without losing sight of your vision.” —Allison Beal, Co-Founder & CEO, StyleSaint

3. Not Having the Right Co-Founder

“Starting a business is a lot like falling in love. At first, we tend to see the business and our partners at their best, full of promise, and can’t conceive that they will ever be anything but their best. But as in any relationship, eventually their flaws and their failings are clearly exposed. What I have learned is that we need to do a thorough SWOT analysis not only on the market opportunity, but also on our partners. Some faults we can accommodate, but sometimes our partners’ weaknesses in combination with our own constitute a deadly cocktail. A key aspect of our personal due diligence is then is assessing our partners, particularly learning how they react under stress.” — Whitney Johnson, Co-Founder, Rose Park Advisors

“Your early partners, co-founders, investors and hires are crucial to get right. While the ideal partner balances you or brings skills to the table you don’t have, the most important thing to look for is alignment of values. Do you fundamentally want similar things out of this endeavor? Are you willing to take more or less the same amount of risk? Are you comfortable with your prospective partner’s ethics and moral decision-making? I’ve seen the last one in particular cause a lot of heartbreak in early-stage companies.” — Kathryn Minshew, Founder/CEO, The Muse

4. Trying to Win Over Everyone

“Among the biggest mistakes I made when fundraising early on was trying to turn every nonbeliever into a diehard fan, working to convince everyone who pushed back that they were wrong about Greatist and about the space. What I quickly learned was that it was more productive to find the investors who already believed, who were already my fans, and capitalize on the potential for them to become my biggest champions. I think a lot of new entrepreneurs face situations like this, and the quicker that realization comes, the easier the fundraising process can be.” — Derek Flanzraich, Founder & CEO, Greatist

5. Not Listening to Current (or Future) Customers

“Every time I sit down with a customer, I learn something. And usually, it’s something that has a serious revenue-generating impact on my company. In Running Lean, Ash Maurya says that you know when you have spoken to enough customers when you can start to predict what they will say. I have done dozens of interviews with customers, and it’s incredible. There are certain phrases that everyone uses. That stuff is business gold (or platinum). Every time we have been unsure about a product or direction and we have taken the time to talk to users, we have always walked away with the insight we needed to move forward. But keeping up that practice up is hard! Sometimes it feels so much easier just to sit at your desk, banging your head against a wall, trying to figure things out on your own.” — Adda Birnir, Co-Founder, Skillcrush

“One of the common mistakes young startups make is developing a product without enough input. As much as you’re executing on your vision and keeping things under wraps until launch, engaging potential customers early — even when it’s just a twinkle in the eye—- can help put you on the right path. It also helps validate the demand for your product. Others can help provide feedback on your differentiation or competition. The fact of the matter is, as a startup, you’re extremely strapped for time and resources. So, it’s that much more important to try to get close to the target around product-market fit and iterate from there. At Kiwi Crate, we spent quite a bit of time working with parents and kids to develop our product. Even today, we have kids come into our offices at least once a week to help test what we’re doing. It’s been invaluable for us.” —Sandra Oh Lin, Founder/CEO, Kiwi Crate

“Young startups can fall so deeply in love with their idea, they aren’t open to tweeks in the business. If you never get product-market fit, you’ll never really have a company (or you’ll struggle the whole time).” — Nicole Glaros, Managing Director, Techstars

6. Jumping to Decisions

“Don’t hire someone till you have interviewed at least ten people for that position. Don’t fall in love with anything, and stay objective. Get to know potential co-founders quite well before bringing them on to the team. In all the times I’ve seen companies fall apart due to co-founder issues, it was in young founders who didn’t clearly specify roles and expectations and really didn’t get to know each other.” — Jay Levy, Co-Founder, Zelkova Ventures and Uproot Wines

7. Not Maintaining Relationships

“Be consistent in your outreach with mentors and other key connectors in your network. Set a schedule for yourself and stick with it, whether it’s weekly for your inner circle, quarterly for acquaintances, or somewhere in between. Every time you consider putting off one of those updates, think about the headache of starting off an email with, ‘It’s been too long since we’ve caught up!’ and the effort it takes to re-build that relationship.” — Ally Downey, Co-Founder,WeeSpring


BY LAUREN DRELL (Mashable.com)