The more time we spend talking to startup founders and entrepreneurs, the more obvious the typical mistakes that many startups make at an early stage seem to become. Of course, every situation is different, and the stress that comes with starting your own company may work against sobriety and reason, but there may be something to learn from others who have been there, done that. We’ve made a list of the most common imaginings of startup founders that later turn out to have little to do with reality.
Buddies for Life
They say that the future of a startup largely hinges on the harmony between the founders. So if your co-founder also happens to be your childhood best friend, you’ve basically booked your ticket to unicorndom.
They’re loyal, they’re trustworthy, they’re the Robin to your Batman, and they know everything there is to know about business – lucky for you, because you’re just a tech geek with a dream. What could possibly go wrong? The thing is, research shows that around 65% of startups fail because of a falling-out between the co-founders, and the fact that you guys used to run around in bathing shorts together and spray the neighbor’s daughter with a garden hose when you were six doesn’t mean that your relationship is immune to conflict. On the contrary: if you’re shacking up with a close friend in an office environment, you need to pay special attention to keeping your relationship intact. And avoiding conflict because you think that whatever crap piles up between the two of you, you’ll always remain the closest of friends anyway, is the worst thing you can do for your startup as well as your friendship. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation, don’t take your bond for granted, and ask for professional help – executive coaching – if needed.
It doesn’t matter who invests in your startup, as long as they write you a big fat check. You’re not going to start playing picky-choosy when it comes to money, right?
Maybe it’s only your first round and you are still largely relying on charity (i.e. pocket money from your dad and that funny old uncle who you hate much less now that he’s willing to bet his cash on you), and you’re desperate for the first actual promise of financial support to finally come in, but you still need to consider who you’re accepting funding from. Based on what we learned from Emily Becher of Samsung NEXT Start at 4YFN, Barcelona’s international startup conference, you need to find someone who you can establish a long-term relationship with, someone who actually cares about you and your mission, and possibly someone who isn’t entangled with eight other startups, leaving them no time and attention for you. Don’t aim for as much money as you can possibly squeeze out of people. Aim for “smart money”, in Emily Becher’s words: quality contacts and investors who are willing to actually commit to you, instead of stuffing your pockets to make you finally leave them alone.
Dreams of Space
A few months of working from your sofa, and you’ll have the resources to move into your own office with a pool table and a tunnel slide.
After turning your home into an office and holding meetings in your tiny kitchen with your back pressed against the fridge, it’s easy to get tired of not having your own professional space. But, one of those cool tech startup offices that you see on Youtube may not be the right goal to aim for at this point, because, you know, priorities. Try practicing a bit of patience and start with joining a co-working space, or renting private spaces by the hour through an app like Sheltair. You’ll get your Xbox and your pinball machine, but right now, what matters is that you find an environment that’s cheap, allows you to really focus, and doesn’t interfere too much with your private life – so your girlfriend can relax and have her sofa back.
Actual live, human interaction is completely overrated. With the help of this magical network that connects minds and spirits all over the globe called the Internet, it really doesn’t matter how many different locations the members of your team are working from.
It’s true that remote work is becoming more and more doable, and it can be wonderfully convenient in many cases. But we all know the saying: keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and your core team the closest. That’s to say, try to keep your office the least virtual possible, especially in the beginning, because there are going to be emergencies where decisions will have to be made on the spot, with no time for Skype calls and time differences. Monitoring the atmosphere, the motivation and the state of collaboration in your team is also much easier if everyone is actually, bodily present. You may notice signs that you would miss during a short Skype call, and definitely wouldn’t pick up from a Slack message. If you’re having trouble keeping your team together, get an app like TeamEQ to help you get into their heads and manage your team like a pro.
Feeding the Market
If you think that you’ve got a great idea, you shouldn’t care that the market just doesn’t seem to want to embrace it. They’ll come around eventually, you just need to convince them that you know what they need.
Ask any startup founder who has significantly scaled their company or carried through a huge exit, the first piece of advice they’ll give you is to pivot whenever you need to. Getting too hung up on an idea is a surefire way to kill your own startup: the market is not a baby that you can put in a highchair and spoon-feed until they unwillingly swallow the bland broccoli that you are so sure is good for them. They will spit it out and it will all end up on your face and the wall behind you. So whatever your feelings towards that broccoli – or the project that you’re so keen on carrying through – take a step back, humble yourself and admit that the baby may be right after all. Now go and get the pureed butternut squash, and try to see if that’s what they want.
15 Minutes of Fame
It’s not impossible to get famous tech journalists to write about your startup, all you need to do is stalk them and be so relentless that they’ll eventually surrender to you.
One of the grand takeaways from 4YFN was something said by the notorious Mike Butcher of TechCrunch: “The phone number on my business card is not actually there for you to call.” The message behind that is that journalists don’t like to be constantly badgered, and it is definitely not the right way to get their attention. Robin Wauters of Tech.eu confirmed that one of the things journalists hate the most is if you approach them at an event and try to deliver a half-hour speech about your incredibly awesome startup right then and there. If you really want to succeed in reaching out to the media, there are basically two things that you can do. One, you follow the Apple model and just wait for journalists to come to you, because your product is so awesome that it will capture their attention for you. Two, you can approach the right medium (some topics may be more interesting for TechCrunch than the Financial Times, for example) at the right time (when you have something for them that relates to current news or actual events, for example), and surprise them with something. That’s when they will start listening to you.