Entrepreneurship, at its best, is synonymous with learning. Don't let the overnight success stories fool you. The more common story looks like this: test a product, fail, retest, and improve. Mistakes are a crucial part of this process.
Of course, not all mistakes are productive. Throughout my years in the start-up community, I've witnessed entrepreneurs make some of the same counterproductive mistakes again and again. And hey, I've made my share of them too.
Here are nine of the most common--and easiest to avoid:
1. Trusting your gut, rather than getting validation for your idea.
Your business idea may seem like a profitable game-changer, but without validation you may be setting yourself up for failure. Before you invest any time or money into your idea, spend time testing it. Consult with experts from the start-up community and get your product idea in front of potential customers so that you can learn--and adapt--based on their feedback.
2. Not getting your business to market fast enough.
Far too many business ideas fail due to a slow launch, which needs to be both stealthy and strategic to be successful. Don't spend ages building out your idea and features. Instead, build out your most valuable product, release it, and see how people react to it. In the end, it's important not to overbuild, because features alone don't make start-ups successful.
3. Not knowing when to pivot.
Through your early validation efforts, you're likely to gain feedback that you didn't anticipate. Rather than throwing in the towel or ignoring what you've learned altogether, this should inspire you to change your business model to prevent failure. Many successful business ventures have come through calculating a new route.
For example, Instagram began as location-based social network Burbn. Uploading and sharing photos was just a feature--but the feature users latched onto most. So Burbn was reborn as Instagram... and, well, you know the rest of the story.
4. You take too much advice... or none at all.
Intelligent input can make or break your business. Ignoring it or not soliciting it means you're flying blind--and your odds of success are low. On the other hand, too much feedback has its own dangers. Develop relationships with a few experienced entrepreneurs who've both built and sold businesses within your industry.
As a rule of thumb, choose advisors for specific parts of your business, not the overall business. For example, if you have a heavy focus on marketing through social media, get an advisor who knows how to acquire users through social media. This advisor may not know much about your actual business, but he or she will be more knowledgeable in areas you might not be.
5. No marketing, no problem.
Far too many entrepreneurs think their outstanding idea will sell itself--and they couldn't be further from the truth. Establishing a strong online marketing effort is something pretty much every company must do now.
At Ciplex, we've made mistakes, but we've always insisted on growing without outside funding. We did this by establishing a consistent lead flow through online marketing--mostly through search engine optimization--to make sure we're more easily found. Then we built a great product and focused on making sure our happy clients referred us to their friends. Without that, we wouldn't be in business.
6. Putting the customer last.
It doesn't matter how amazing you think your product, service, or concept is; if it's not on par with what your customers want, they're not going to buy and you're never going to make a profit. You already know you need customer feedback before your launch. But don't forget about continuing to talk to customers after launch.
7. Making the wrong decision on fundraising.
Without money, your business can't launch--it's a simple equation. What's less simple is figuring out how much you need and where to find it. Whether you chose to bootstrap, crowdfund, or raise venture capital, it's important to nail down your funding strategy and see it through. For more on figuring out what's best for your business, check out my previous post on where to start looking for funding.
8. Making networking low priority.
Ultimately, your success hinges on who you know. If you're not out there talking to potential customers and industry experts, you're bound to be missing out on countless opportunities. Put networking on your to-do list. Grow your visibility as an entrepreneur and thought leader both online and in person. But don't make these five mistakes.
9. Hiring the wrong people.
Brilliant ideas don't make you successful; the people you hire to bring those brilliant ideas to life make you successful. That's why hiring is such a monumental task--and one that needs to done with great care. Consider seeking out others who have different soft skills than you do. You need someone who can play devil's advocate and help you find balance.
What do you think? What is the biggest mistake you made as an entrepreneur?