I decided to start SalesFolk when I was 23.

Doing economic development work in places like post-revolutionary Egypt had given me more work and life experiences than most 23-year-olds, but that was nothing compared with everything I was about to learn in the next five years.

Like many startup founders, many of my most valuable lessons came from making countless mistakes.

If you're like me, you'll probably have to make these mistakes yourself before you truly learn them, but at least I can warn you about them if you're thinking about starting your own company.

1. Trying to do everything at once

Time is a founder's biggest enemy. There are a thousand things you could do that would be really cool, but you only have so many hours in a day. Likewise, there's only so much money in the bank. A founder's hardest and most important job is learning to prioritize effectively, so get used to saying no a lot.

2. Feeling unconfident because you don't have enough experience

It's normal for new founders to feel overwhelmed. Starting any business is hard work, and it can seem pretty daunting if you're doing it for the first time. When I first started SalesFolk, I had some confidence issues because I felt like there was more that I didn't know how to do than I could do.

Luckily, I had a few amazing friends who were veteran CEOs who helped me believe in myself. One of them told me that no one knows how to do any of these things when they start, but that's how you learn. The other told me that there was no one right way to do "these things" (manage a sales team, build a product, etc.), and that everyone was constantly trying to figure that out and do a better job.

3. Trying to be good at everything

I still think it's helpful to have general knowledge of a variety of areas of your business (sales, marketing, product), but you can't do everything yourself. Delegation is one of the most important skills a founder must develop, or else you burn out and your company will never scale.

4. Not letting people fail

Trusting people to do things correctly is really hard. Sometimes, your people will fail you.  But as scary as that is and as much as that sucks, you have to let it happen. This is how they learn, and if they don't, you'll learn that maybe they can't keep working for you. Other times, you'll realize that there were other things you needed to fix or improve in your business--like process or communication.

5. Thinking things will stay good

Many first-time founders, especially ones who have SaaS companies, often make the mistake that things will continue as they are. It's common to assume that your traction will stay on the same chart; that your recurring revenue will never go down and keep increasing. But lots of things can happen. Your market can change; new competitors can enter the market; investors might stop giving you money; you can hire bad people who hurt your company, etc. It's important not to get complacent: Just because you've hit a certain level of success, don't assume that it will continue forever. You have to constantly keep working and thinking to maintain what you've achieved.

There are countless other mistakes that new founders make, but these are particularly treacherous, so you should be on the lookout for them. Are there other startup mistakes that you've made before and learned from? Please share them in the comments!

 

Published on: May 15, 2018