The struggle is real. In business, this mantra rings true more loudly with startup founders than perhaps anyone other than the last remaining Blockbuster. It’s said that 9 out of 10 startups fail. Every startup is different, as are their respective paths to failure or success, but some mistakes are more common than others. We spoke with 12 different WorkAbility members & influencers to get their takes on the most common startup mistakes that they’ve witnessed or experienced themselves, and how other entrepreneurs can avoid the same pitfalls.
We’ll be presenting these five bullet points in a weekly blog series, with one per week. These are common startup mistakes, so don’t worry, committing one isn’t necessarily a death sentence for your startup. But still, wise to avoid them ya know?
Startup Mistake: Not paying attention to the market
Do your research and be flexible.
Chris Martinez, CTO at CleverFunnel Digital says “Always validate your idea before you start building.” So what does that mean exactly? Well, one of the very first questions you should ask yourself when considering starting up is “Is there a need for this product/service?” For example, let’s say you want to train your yellow lab to drive so you can stop spending so much money on Ubers when you’ve had one too many, so you’ve been thinking about starting a driving school for dogs. Might make sense for you, but is there a market for it? Chris offers a a tool to avoid this startup mistake: A guide to validating or invalidating a product idea.
All too often, entrepreneurs become so infatuated with their idea that they don’t take the time to find out if most people actually need or at least want it. Kathy Wells, Founder & CEO of Serenity App, Inc., illustrates this point:
“Entrepreneurs tend to think that our idea will solve the world’s problems and we don’t always spend enough time validating that the market actually HAS this problem and WANTS a solution to it, let alone OUR solution to it. The best advice I’ve ever been given is to sell it before you build it. That doesn’t mean actually taking money – it means getting out into your market and talking about the idea. Get feedback. Find out if people would pay for a solution.”
This advice should be applied to literally every industry, including cannabis. But in certain industries such as this, you have to go beyond the question of “Is there a need?” to specific questions like “Is it legal?” Bec Koop, CEO & Co-Founder of Irie Weddings & Events explains:
“If you are going to get into the cannabis space, make sure you do ALL of your research in advance to make sure that your business model is simply compliant. Just because you think it is “a good idea” doesn’t mean it is 100% legal. Speak with a lawyer before investing a ton of time and energy into it!”
This could also apply to your “driving school for dogs” idea. Let’s say you’re such a great salesperson that you actually convince people that they do need to put their dogs behind the wheel. Sign me up! But is it legal for dogs to be driving? Determining if your product or service is viable is a critical first step for any aspiring entrepreneur. This goes hand in hand with knowing who your customer is. Lizelle van Vuuren, Founder & CEO of Women Who Startup and Lizelle & Co. says:
“Figure out what you’re solving and for who, exactly. This is called finding product-market-fit (PMF). It’s hard at first, so you need to engage with people and prove out your assumptions, and fast but efficiently. Do this as scrappy as you can, and I would also stress that you try to charge for it right away. We call going from idea to validation the MVP (minimal viable product) process, where we’re trying to find the right customer, solve their problem, and speak to them well. Not doing this early and effectively leaves you guessing and that is very costly. Experiment, ‘build, measure, and learn’, as they say, and figure out who your customer is. Or you will run out of money and energy faster than you can blink.”
Lastly, be flexible. Trends change, as do people, their needs, and their tastes, so you and your product should be able to adapt. Luke Rothschild, Director of Advertising at CleverFunnel, was kind enough to take time out of his incredibly busy day to address this.
“The biggest mistake(s) entrepreneurs make is assuming they know everything about their customers and not being flexible on product/marketing”. Lizelle expands on this: “Validation can only happen in the market. So, start testing your idea as soon as possible and tweak things as you learn. Do not build this whole product strictly on assumption and then launch it and expect customers to just magically show up.”
To recap on Startup Mistakes part 1:
- Make sure your product is viable, which includes there being a need for it and that it’s legal.
- Identify who your customer is. This is basically an extension of the above.
- Be flexible on design, marketing, and every other facet of your product.