Not all entrepreneurs found companies--we can't all be Steve Jobs, and not everyone should aim to be. Many leaders make their marks inside existing companies and institutions; still others use their entrepreneurial skills and ambitions to improve existing products or market them. That doesn't make them less influential or significant. In many cases, these MVPs can have a much greater impact on the people around them and their organization's goals than the man at the top.
The media and our current tech culture tend to glorify startup entrepreneurs, so don't feel discouraged if you're eyeing the shift from team leader to startup frontman and hitting obstacles.
But anyone can grow an idea into a business by learning from their mistakes I should know--I've made plenty and witnessed even more with my company, which lends advice to, more than 100 startup mavens trying to do the same thing.
Here are the three most common pratfalls my clients (and I myself) have fallen victim to, and how to avoid them. Not all are fatal to startups--many can be simply annoying or expensive lessons. But as someone who's learned them the hard way, let me set you a few steps ahead of the game.
Rushing. Most entrepreneurs believe, as part of their DNA, that delay is death. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward to stay alive. But to paraphrase the groundbreaking strategists behind Bill Clinton's 1992 winning presidential campaign: Speed kills. Getting a good or great idea to market fast--lightning fast--is seen by many to be part of the mission itself. But to paraphrase another great advisor--Ferris Bueller--your businesses' growth can move pretty fast. And if you don't stop to look around, you might miss a lot of valuable lessons.
While it is true that waiting to get a product to market can have real consequences, many entrepreneurs rush too much--not investing enough time and resources in building a business, marketing, distribution or even an income plan. Some are so eager to get in front of investors or customers, their product doesn't even work. Or in extreme cases, exist.
My advice? Slow down. There's value to knowing what you're doing: what your product is, what you want, where your product fits into the market and how it's going to prosper. Don't make the mistake of getting the dream meeting with your ideal investor or partner and not having done your homework.
Being an expert in everything. There's no doubt that startup entrepreneurs are smart and pressured by time and money, both of which move quickly. (Case in point, pitfall one, above.)
Furthermore, as the face and the head of the company, entrepreneurs often feel pressured to be the one and only brain behind it, too. That often means eschewing help from outside experts and advisors.
Here's the harsh reality: as smart as we are, no entrepreneur can be the smartest person in the room on every topic. Experts are experts in their fields for a reason--they know what they are doing.
It may be difficult decision to spend the money to bring in people to help with a new idea or new company. But it can also be a mistake to wing it--bad early investments, publicity or hiring choices can cost you far more than spending the early money or equity to shortcut those mistakes.
"When my business was just starting out, I micromanaged a lot," says Vladimir Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc. "I had faith in my own expertise, so I naturally tried to do as much as possible myself. That's just not feasible in the long run; a successful entrepreneur has to trust their team and delegate responsibilities to people who can take ownership of their respective areas."
Lack of focus. Few would question that entrepreneurs can be among the most driven and motivated characters anyone can meet. But there is a big difference between drive and focus. Focus is about channeling that energy and drive into the one thing that makes a difference. In two words--avoiding distraction.
Nearly every entrepreneur I know has a deep, internal passion for success, which they chase tirelessly--occasionally at a very high cost. But most entrepreneurs are also juggling many more responsibilities and projects than a CEO at the head of an established company. There's work you could always be doing every hour of every day. What matters is finding what's most important, where to delegate, and how best to use your energy and skills to achieve your long-term goals.
"When I started FactoryFix, I tried to remain heavily involved with my first company, Compass Automation," said FactoryFix CoFounder and CEO, Patrick O'Rahilly,
Eventually, O'Rahily said he realized he "couldn't do it anymore. Having a startup is beyond a full time job and if you are not spending all of your energy focused on how to sell and keep customers happy, you're toast."
Starting a business is a burden and challenge few people will understand if they have not done it. That means, of course, it's doubly challenging to try to start two. Or start one of your own and be an advisor to three others. Entrepreneurs who are able to shut down or ignore distractions--especially tempting new business opportunities--will see the payoff of their time and energy investments threefold if they do work with focus and purpose.