When starting a new business, there are hundreds of pitfalls that a founder can fall into which can cause the startup to fail – trust me, I’ve fallen into a number of them myself over the years!
In this article, I’m going to run through the 7 most common startup mistakes that startup founders make and discuss how you can prevent yourself from falling into these traps.
If you’re looking for another entrepreneur’s thoughts on his business mistakes as a first-time entrepreneur, I’d recommend watching Patrick Bet-David’s honest video below.
1. Not Validating Your Idea
While it’s natural to feel passionate about your new business idea, diving straight into development without adequate market validation can be a waste of time, money and resources.
Unfortunately, in my experience, this is an incredibly common mistake that (especially first-time) entrepreneurs make.
Before investing in product development, it’s crucial to conduct market research and validate the demand for your potential product or service.
This involves talking to potential customers, analysing industry trends, and understanding the competitive landscape. By doing so, you can ensure that there is a viable market, with customers willing to spend money on your new product.
What’s more, this market validation can also provide valuable insights that can guide the product development process and inform future business decisions.
I’ve created a whole host of content around this on Solo Innovator, including:
- My complete guide to creating a great marketing plan
- The ultimate guide to validating your startup
- The Mom test, for a quick and easy way to validate your business plan
- The simple guide to developing an MVP
If you’re a first-time entrepreneur or you’re currently working on a project that you’ve not validated yet, I’d recommend you stop what you’re doing or you’ll end up like me on my first project.
My First Product Launch Failure
Back in early 2020 when I started my entrepreneurship journey, I became very passionate about creating an uptime monitoring and status page service for SaaS apps, called Status Hive.
As a full-time software engineer, I thought I knew what the market would want from an uptime monitoring application, as I’d worked with them for years. As a result, I started working away on my first project without talking to anyone for months.
When it eventually came time to launch my product, I really struggled. Not only had I not built up an audience to launch to (big mistake), but I also couldn’t find anyone who wanted to buy my product.
I spent months trying to market the product before I admitted defeat. I hadn’t managed to convert anyone to a paying customer, and the only people who ever responded to my marketing attempts told me that my solution didn’t meet all of their needs and that their company wouldn’t trust a smaller brand when there were so many big names out there anyway!
While that was a big disappointment and several months down the drain for me, it did serve as a big lesson. VALIDATE YOUR STARTUP BEFORE YOU WORK ON IT.
I’ve summarised this lesson as well as many others on my 40-point pre-launch checklist. If you’re currently starting your business, I’d really recommend you check it out there so you can avoid this startup mistake.
2. Underpricing Your Product
While underpricing your product may seem like a good idea, it can have serious consequences for your business.
Underpricing can suggest to your potential customers that your product is of low quality or value, meaning that users may turn to a competitor who provides more perceived value.
Additionally, using a lower price point can limit the number of marketing techniques that you can afford in order to bring in more customers, limiting your reach and future profits.
To find a good price for your product, you should use your market research to analyse data such as customer demand, competition, and production costs.
If you’re still struggling to decide on a good price after conducting some market research, the 2 strategies I’d recommend are:
- Cost-Plus: Where you add a markup (say 20%) to your production costs to cover expenses, marketing and profit margins.
- Value-Based: Where you identify the perceived value of your product to customers and price your services accordingly.
These 2 strategies have given me a good indication of where I should start with the prices for my services. I then adjust them as I gain more experience with my customers and learn how much they’re willing to pay.
3. Being Too Innovative
Another one of our startup mistakes to avoid is being too innovative.
Many startup founders believe that they need to come up with an entirely new and groundbreaking idea to create a successful business.
However, from my experience, this approach can be extremely risky, as it often involves significant time and monetary investment and uncertainty around whether the market will respond positively to this new idea.
Unless you’re planning on being the next Facebook or Tesla, with millions of dollars to burn researching, I’d recommend you revolutionise or upgrade an existing product.
By adding new features, improving the user experience, or providing better customer service for an existing product, entrepreneurs can create a competitive advantage and achieve significant growth in a relatively safer field.
By focusing on solving a particular problem or pain point in a unique way, you can create a compelling value proposition that resonates with customers.
4. Ignoring the Hard Tasks
Starting a business requires you to have a diverse skill set, and many founders find themselves juggling multiple roles and responsibilities in the early stages.
While it can be tempting to focus on the areas that you’re most comfortable working on, this can lead to critical aspects of your business being neglected and hindering the overall success of your company.
In my experience with Status Hive, detailed in mistake 1, I worked largely on the development of the application (as I was a professional software engineer), rather than tackling the marketing and validation side of the business, which was uncomfortable for me at the time.
As a result, the product wasn’t validated and my marketing approaches weren’t up to scratch which eventually let me down and led to that business attempt failing.
To help you make sure that you’re addressing each aspect of starting your business, and to ensure that you don’t neglect important areas like I did with Status Hive, I’ve created a 40-point checklist of everything you need to do to launch your startup. If you’re interested, I’d recommend you check it out here.
5. Not Marketing Your Product
Businesses that don’t market their products are missing out on valuable opportunities to attract new customers and increase revenue.
It’s not enough to simply provide a great product – businesses need to actively promote their products and sell to potential customers in order to get attention and make a profit. Failure to do so can result in reduced or no sales, a lack of growth, and losing market share to competitors who are investing in their marketing efforts.
Starting to market your product takes a considerable amount of time but is invaluable to your business. If you’re just getting started on marketing your product or are looking to improve your marketing pipeline, I’d recommend that you check out our guides on:
- How to Create an Efficient Marketing Plan
- 10 Unique Marketing Ideas
- How to Create an Effective High-Touch Sales Pipeline
- 9 Tips to Improve Your Sales Pipeline
6. Hiring Too Late
Building a successful business requires a significant amount of time, energy, and effort. It’s incredibly difficult for a single person to handle all aspects of their business alone for a considerable amount of time (I know as I’ve done it countless times).
Hiring employees is a good way to reduce the founder’s burden and ensure that the business is operating at its full potential. With the right people around them, the founder can focus on the critical aspects of the business while delegating the day-to-day tasks to competent employees.
7. Moving Too Slowly
Small startups have a significant advantage over their larger competitors as they are able to move more quickly and pivot more rapidly in response to changing market conditions. However, many founders fail to capitalise on this advantage, which can reduce their competitiveness in the market.
To maximise this advantage, founders need to be willing to take on risks and experiment with new ideas and features early.
This requires a willingness to listen to customers and respond to their needs quickly and effectively, which can be difficult in a fast-paced and constantly changing business environment.
Bonus Tip: Scaling Without A Solid Strategy
One of the most significant mistakes that startups often make when they’re just out of their infancy is scaling their operations without first establishing a well-defined growth strategy and allocating the necessary resources.
Improper management of growth can have detrimental effects on all aspects of the business, not just sales.Daniel Javor of Step By Step Business
Insufficient planning for rapid growth can result in an inability to fulfil orders and provide satisfactory customer service.
To avoid this, startups should create a comprehensive growth plan that includes low, expected, and high/rapid forecasts, along with corresponding strategies for managing each scenario.
Startup Failure Statistics
A comprehensive analysis of startup failures reveals several key statistics:
- Poor Product-Market Fit: Approximately 34% of startup failures can be attributed to a lack of alignment between the product or service offered and the target market’s needs and preferences.
- Inadequate Marketing Strategies: Around 22% of failed businesses did not implement effective marketing strategies to reach and engage their target audience, resulting in limited visibility and customer acquisition.
- Team and Human Resource Issues: Approximately 18% of startup failures stem from problems within the team, such as conflicts, inadequate skill sets, or leadership issues, which can hinder the company’s growth and performance.
- Cash Flow and Financial Challenges: Financial issues, including cash flow problems and mismanagement of funds, contribute to approximately 16% of startup failures. Insufficient capital and poor financial planning can lead to operational difficulties and eventual closure.
- Technology-related Problems: Approximately 6% of startup failures can be attributed to tech-related challenges. These include inadequate cybersecurity measures, outdated technology solutions, and technical glitches that hinder business operations and compromise data security.
- Suboptimal Operations: Around 2% of startup failures result from operational inefficiencies. Poor processes, lack of scalability, or ineffective resource allocation can hinder the company’s ability to deliver products or services efficiently.
- Legal Issues: Similarly, 2% of startup failures occur due to legal problems. These may include licensing issues, inappropriate entity structures, and the absence of well-defined partnership agreements, which can lead to conflicts and legal disputes among co-founders.
Startup Mistake Suggestions From Other Founders
When I was getting started as an entrepreneur, after my first failure (Status Hive), I decided to research some common startup mistakes that other founders had identified.
Some of the pages are quite old now, but I thought it’d be useful for me to share the links and my thoughts as we wrap up this article.
Paul Graham Startup Mistakes
Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator has publicly shared 18 of his entrepreneurial startup mistakes here.
I found his discussion particularly challenging as I was starting my own entrepreneurial journey, especially the following 2 points:
- Single Founder: As someone considering starting a business by myself, Paul Graham’s comments about how single founders likely didn’t have confidence in their ideas as they couldn’t get others on board shook me. As a result, I made a pledge to myself that I would always discuss and validate my ideas before I worked on them.
- A Half-Hearted Effort: This point really struck me as I wanted to start my business as a side project, which was exactly the opposite of what Paul Graham was talking about. This gave me 2 key ideas that I think have served me well as an entrepreneur:
- If you start a project, see it through until it properly fails, or until it becomes a massive success
- Don’t attempt to solve a problem too big. The smaller the problem, the easier it is to create a business for it
Leonard Kim Startup Mistakes
Leonard Kim’s list of avoidable startup mistakes also inspired me a lot when I was getting started as an entrepreneur.
The main point that captured my attention was his last point:
Having delusions on how amazing your idea is. No business is that amazing. No idea will “change the world”. Only hard work and strong execution will.Leonard Kim – Source
Reading this off the back of my failure with Status Hive, it really hammered home the need to validate my ideas before I started to work on them.
No matter how great I think my idea is, or how much I think there’s a market, without actual conversations with clients (and preferably money being placed down to confirm their interest), you can’t trust that your idea will be worth your time, let alone revolutionary.
- Validate your business idea through market research and customer feedback.
- Set appropriate pricing for your product or service based on market demand and production costs.
- Consider improving existing products rather than trying to create something entirely new.
- Address all aspects of your business, including uncomfortable tasks like marketing and validation.
- Invest in marketing to attract customers and drive business growth.
- Hire employees when necessary to alleviate the founder’s workload.
- Embrace agility and respond quickly to market changes to stay competitive.
- Plan your business growth carefully and allocate resources strategically.
- Learn from experienced entrepreneurs like Paul Graham and Leonard Kim.
- Avoid delusions about your idea’s greatness and commit to hard work and execution.
- Be aware of common reasons for startup failures, including poor product-market fit, inadequate marketing, and financial challenges.
Now that you’ve made sure that your business isn’t falling into one of these 7 business mistakes, check out our post on how to get your first 100 customers, or read our guide on how and where to launch your new product to get the most traction.