10 Simple Things Most Startup Founders F@#k-up Royally

  1. Confusing the differences between being passion driven and being an ego maniacal douche bag

Passion burning in your gut is key and shameless self-promotion at every opportunity is always required. However, there is a fine line when you cross into the “ego maniacal douche bag” zone.   Here are a few pointers to keeping your ego in check.

  • Be humble and admit when you are wrong
  • Give others credit when credit is due
  • Don’t insult people
  • Don’t brag
  • You don’t have to know everything, (if you do – you don’t have to give answers to everything)
  1. Not fully understanding the problem you are solving 

Do your homework and make sure you fully understand the problem from all perspectives.   Do the legwork; meet with potential (or current customers) that meet all of your identified personas. Make sure you are not viewing the problem with a myopic lens, again, the best way to avoid this is make sure you and your team get out of your vacuum-closed circles and reach out to get an unbiased understanding of the problem directly from those affected by it.   The solution can be as innovative and disruptive as your crazy mind can envision, but unless the solution solves a core problem or pain point for your market, you will fail.

  1. Not being able to fire a-holes (or waiting too long)

The older and more experienced you get the more you realize that ‘culture killers’ and cancers on your team will do more long term damage than you can imagine. The conversation always goes something like this: “but Barry is a top performer, I realize thatthree people quit because of him and we had to separate him from other teams, but we would fail without him.” If you find yourself making excuses for Barry, you know the right answer and what you have to do. Do it, and do it now.

  1. Thinking that just adding more features solves the problem of having a shitty product

“If we just add geo-spatial reverse osmosis parallel particle recognition blah blah blah then our product will get more traction.”Bullcrap, your product is not getting traction because either your market doesn’t know about it or it sucks. Adding more features is not going to fix that.   Again, do your legwork, understand the problem you’re solving and focus on the pieces that are necessary and required at first. Once you nail that down, you can focus on additional features.

  1. Spending more time hiring than maintaining the team you already have

Losing ‘valuable’ team members is very costly. Many startups spend more time and money entertaining and doing whatever they can to attract new talent than they do making sure the existing team members they are doing well.  Don’t neglect your current team; build the mindset of the importance of “hiring and maintaining” into your culture from the beginning.

  1. Not being “replaceable” or worse, thinking you aren’t

You’re building a business, not a hobby; if your only protection and security is making sure you can’t be replaced, you are doomed to fail. If it’s all about your ego, you need to re-read #1 above. It’s tough for startup founders when you are doing every job in the beginning to start letting go and delegating key tasks, to succeed you are going to need to do it. Focus on making yourself replaceable instead of the opposite.

  1. Not listening or providing real support to your customers

Fortunately, this isn’t as much of a problem as it used to be a decade ago.   Customer service is very costly; startups tend to wait until there is problem before making it a priority. There are so many free and inexpensive tools and services in the market to help you here, so there is no excuse not to make this is a priority. If you don’t agree, your customers will determine the fate of your business for you.   Don’t ever forget that your customer’s pay your salary (or one day they will, if you are successful).

  1. Listening too much to your customers

This is a tough one to define; it’s a balancing game. On one hand, you want to make sure you are solving the problems you identified your customers have. On the other hand, you will be stuck in feature development hell if you try to address every customer request.   Henry Ford is quoted often for saying, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ It’s your job to understand the difference between what your customers are saying and what they are asking for.

  1. Being greedy with stock options

Let’s face it. You’re building a startup; the bet on you failing is a safer Vegas wager. To succeed you need to surround yourself with people brighter, smarter, and more passionate than you. Joining a startup is a big risk to all involved, so reward your team well and they will be loyal, passionate, engaged and help make your business a success.

  1. Being held hostage by your development team

Thanks to the democratization of software development, this becomes less of an issue everyday.The power of the development has slightly shifted, but still many founders struggle with succumbing to the wills, opinions, and demands of their development team members. The conversation goes like this: “if we don’t do X, Pat Programmer will leave” or “Pat Programmer doesn’t understand why the customers or anybody would want X and won’t do it”. Don’t be held hostage and forced to make decisions you have good reason to not agree with – make it clear in your culture that all voices are heard and be transparent about how decisions are made. Most importantly, stick to your guns.

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