In my past 14 year journey as an online entrepreneur, I went through mistakes that I can’t help to notice that others also tend to make when they just started. I had mentored some startups and dozens of teams in hackathons and from my standpoint, most of them always tend to fall into a similar mindset (including me) when they started. Here’re my takes on what makes us our own worst enemies when it comes to starting up our first online business.
Mistake – Afraid of Sharing Ideas
Yes, I still meet people who build sky-high fortress around their ideas thinking the next person they are telling will copy it. Fair enough, don’t tell me instead. They are missing out on the valuable feedback and advice people could offer for free that could help better shape their ideas. Oh and by the way, typically angel investors don’t sign NDA (non-disclosure agreement), so they are most probably losing out on the cash too.
Mistake – Believing You Don’t Have Any Competitors
While you are taking a shower, you have a Eureka moment where a brilliant idea pops in your head. You quickly work on the idea thinking no one else has done it. You get so mesmerized by it, you starting to think how you will be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Ma. Hold your horses my new entrepreneur friend. Better check with Mr. Google and see if anyone is doing it. There just might be a website or app already working on what you’re thinking. But it’s ok if you’re not the first one that thought about that idea. Read below…
Mistake – Always Wanting to be The First
A scenario of starting up is that a bunch of startup wannabes meet up and throw ideas among themselves and when someone thought of something but that something has been done by someone, the idea is immediately dropped. Well, a big FYI to all – iPhone and Android were not the first mobile phones, Facebook was not the first social network (Six Degrees was), Google, not the first search engine (see Archie), ..the list goes on. But these companies are the best in their markets. So, stop worrying about being the first, but worry about being the best (caveat: sometimes there are startups that were the first and the best).
Mistake – Choosing the Wrong Partner or Co-Founder
Let me guess. Your partner is most probably your good-old friend that you feel comfortable hanging out with. Sometimes, friends cannot be partners, just like how sometimes friends can’t be lovers. When I started, I had two other co-founders, but I was the only one able to work full time in the business while the other two could only commit on weekends. So, I ended up doing 95% of everything. Later on, they dropped out from the company citing commitment issues. Choose a partner that shares the common commitment and goal with you. Best of all, find someone that complements you. Someone that sees in a different light – you are optimistic and he’s pessimistic, you’re strong and she’s soft, extrovert and introvert, salesman and coder. You know the good cop, bad cop thing. There work you know.
Mistake – Focusing on Quantity and Not Quality
Going for breadth rather than depth is a very typical scene I’ve seen in many online businesses. There are lots of products or product roadmaps that have 101 features but none of them work as perfect as it should or they never got into the release version. They just couldn’t build all the features. Instead, focus on the key ingredients and make sure your users love them much. Then, release other features that add more value to your product. Otherwise, there’s no point having the rest if you can’t keep your customers coming back for more.
Mistake – Trying to Do Everything Yourself
You fear to delegate because you just couldn’t trust anyone else with the tasks. Here’s a reality check, everyone only has 24 hours per day, you’re no different. There’s no way you could do everything by yourself and expect your online business to grow. Learn to let go by picking the right person to do the job. Start by setting objectives for them to achieve, get their feedback and monitor their progress. Yes, you may need to “shoulder-surf” (looking at what they’re doing on their screens) at them once in a while to ensure they are on the right track. If you’re happy with their progress, offer more freedom to them by only measuring the results.
Mistake – Forget to Get Feedback
Always trying to foresee what the market or customers want is never going to cut it, unless you have the foresight of Steve Jobs. You need to understand what customers expect from your product and how to deliver it the best way possible. Build your product, get your friends and family (those in your target market, of course) to test it and get feedback. See how they use it, hear their comments and complaints. I love the complaints the most because only complaints can make your product better, not the compliments. Iterate and improve your product based on their responses.
Mistake – Giving Up Too Easily
Generally, it doesn’t cost you a fortune to start an online business compared to a shop. You just a domain name, a web hosting account and online software, which could be free, thanks to open source. Total that up would probably cost you $100 or less. So, you and your team start trying with your sweat and tears to make it work. 6 months down the line, after burning $6,000 or so, you’re not seeing much traction or revenue. Then, you decide to throw in the towel. After all, 6k isn’t such a big loss. Food for thought – AirBnb took three launches to get noticed. Give it more time, try different ways to get customers. A classic example would be how AirBnb rode on Craiglist to grow. I rode on the virality of Facebook App platform when I launched my fantasy FIFA World Cup football (soccer) game in 2010 and hit 2,000 to 4,000 users daily, without any marketing.
Mistake – Not Thinking Global Enough
Unless you’re in U.S or China, which has a huge local market size, you’re better off going beyond the borders of your country. I’m sure Booking.com didn’t think of just accommodating tourists with cheap hotels in the Netherlands when they started. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good and almost a must to start in your own territory but don’t stop there, go further. Besides, isn’t that the beauty of an online business – to let you go global with a click/tap away?
Mistake – Lack of Effort
Talk is dirt cheap in the entrepreneurship world. Walk is what matters most of the time. If you think starting a business is like throwing a seed and expect a tree to grow by itself, you should better be back at your day-to-day job. I was not the first person that ventured into the business world, my two other friends were earlier than me. But I was the last man standing after 3 years while the other two went back to work for someone. The first friend was more of a talker than a doer while the other was seemed to be neither. Running a business takes a lot of effort, especially if you want it to grow. Thomas Edison has always been right, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
20 More Common Mistakes
If you’re looking for more usual suspects that made the list of mistakes by new entrepreneurs, here are 20 more. Remember to take heed of these mistakes when you’re starting up. And for top 20 reasons why startups fail, check out this infographic. If you have more typical downfalls of new entrepreneur to share, please leave your comment below.