10 Tips for Avoiding Fatal Startup Mistakes

Even among the most seasoned startup veterans, mistakes tend to happen.

Maybe they waited too long to launch their product, hired the wrong people, or perhaps they just didn’t adapt to the needs of their customers.

While mistakes aren’t necessarily a bad thing – as they often lead to experience gained and personal growth – there are some that can be easily avoided.

We spoke to a number of different startup founders to find out what the most common mistakes were that they made when launching their business ventures, and most importantly, what advice they can give to avoid making them in the first place.

Making startup mistakes
photo credit: Sybren Stuvel

1. Maintain Focus

“Starting a business can be very exciting and sometimes this excitement can lead to too many ideas and not enough focus. As entrepreneurs, we need to stay focused, something I have learned from personal experience. Starting too many similar companies at once, and not being able to focus on one has affected our growth in the past. Because of this, we are now totally committed to DesignMantic.com, and to making it a success”

Zaheer Dodhia, DesignMantic

“As a start-up founder, the grass always seems to be greener on the other side. In the beginning, we thought our technology could be used in every vertical, cars, jobs, etc. This lack of focus caused us to lose some traction and market share within the rental space. My advice, focus on one thing and become the best in the world at it.”

Dan Daugherty, Remotely

2. Move Beyond the Idea

“An idea is just that, an idea. Until it is a product, it is worth almost nothing and very few will pay to be part of it. Only through moving it from idea to a market reality (meaning sales and revenue) does the idea become valuable. Therefore, don’t be afraid that someone will steal it – people are already too invested in their own ideas and work.”

KG Charles-Harris, Quarrio

3. Expect Competition

“If you are the first one to move into a certain niche, it’s important to prepare for competition, even and especially when there is no direct competitor yet. If the market is attractive sooner or later someone WILL enter it. In our case we had one business create a SEO-optimized knock-off of our website. It took us quite a while to gain our rankings back.”

Robert Brandl, WebsiteToolTester

4. Do Your Research

“It is important to put enough time into research to find out if there is a niche for the product out there, to get a deep understanding of the target market and how to best market the product to the audience once it launches.”

Martin Brinkmann, Deez.io

5. Communicate Effectively

“Communication is a key area where mistakes can easily be made. This particularly includes team communication. Disagreement usually arises when project leads cannot communicate the roadmap properly to team members, or when team members don’t ask questions if something is unclear.”

Martin Brinkmann, Deez.io

6. Choose the Right Team

“Creating a startup is like fighting a many-headed hydra – there are so many aspects that have to be thought of and created, and no one person possesses all the skills or knowledge necessary. The only way to have a chance at success is to pull together a competent group of resilient people all executing toward the same goal. Competent, because incompetence will only cause more problems. Resilience, because there are so many problems in startups, and the extended timelines together with never-ending challenges is not for the faint of heart.”

KG Charles-Harris, Quarrio

7. Cultivate Your Base

“A mistake that I often see committed by companies applying to raise funding via the Startup Stock Exchange is failing to nurture a group of early adopters. Its important to determine who needs what you are building, and whether they really need it. Find a subset of that group, speak with them, and involve them in your startup. They will identify things that never occurred to you, and they will also become your most vocal proponents.”

Ian Haet, Startup Stock Exchange

8. Prioritize Marketing

“Do not underestimate the importance of marketing, even if you have a very good solution and a very cool product. If you do not care much about marketing, your product will most likely not reach your target customers.

In my first project, I failed to pay attention to SEO and my competitor took me down. In SocialEyes, I learned my lesson and we are therefore looking for a growth-hacker as a co-founder to help us with traction creation.”

Can Kağıtçıbaşı, Socialeyes

9. Honor Customer Feedback

“I would say that often, startups make the mistake of building a product which is too focused on the technology and what the team wants, as opposed to what the customer needs and the issues the product intends to solve.

There must be a fine balance between vision and iteration. One way to do this is to release your product and iterate it based on customers feedback, as opposed to refining it indefinitely before the launch, which bankrupts some startups. At Chekk, we have released our initial App for iPhone in private beta first, and we will release an official version in the AppStore which will be optimized based on customers feedback and their use in real life.”

Pascal Nizri, Chekk

10. Prepare for Success

“If a startup grows at a fast pace, they often experience difficulties scaling their IT-infrastructure to accommodate this expansion. There is nothing worse than having a booming following and not being able to meet this demand with the appropriate IT-setup.

Our recommendation: Prepare for continual change. Get familiar with tools that automatize responsive delivery to thousands of device configuration sets (aka various delivery contexts).

Focus on your return on investment when evaluating your website technology, and ensure your ability to boost performance and lower overhead costs.”

Jan Webering, Sevenval

11. Hire Some Help

Creativity can be a fatal flaw if you’re not careful. Since entrepreneurs have lots of ideas, we get distracted easily or make our company’s scope too large because we’re trying to do everything at once. The solution is to hire an operations person who can balance your creativity with an analytical approach. They’ll be able to help you invest in your best ideas and still successfully look to the business’ long term goals.