As a startup owner, chances are that you have little time to yourself. You're constantly running from task to task trying to do everything you can to keep your head above water and get your startup off the ground. But it's during busy times like these that crucial mistakes--some that could be highly detrimental to the fate of your business--are most often made.
In business and in life, there are certain dos and don'ts. Here are four common (and costly) don'ts I often see first-time entrepreneurs make and how to avoid them:
1. Don't deny your weaknesses. If you don't have the right team behind you, you're not likely to succeed--mainly due to a lack of balance and key expertise. And you certainly can't go it alone. It's vital that you seek out talented teammates who can shore up your weaknesses. Address critical operational needs by bringing on people who have expertise in the areas where you don't (or aren't as strong).
A veteran advisor or mentor (or several of them with different strengths and areas of expertise) can help you circumvent these challenges, source key candidates, and take preventive measures to avoid making critical (and sometimes fatal) mistakes.
2. Don't underestimate resource requirements and timelines. If you don't allow the proper lead time to market or fail to understand the resources required, one of two things will likely happen: You'll fail to secure enough working capital to survive, or if you're lucky enough to secure the investment capital but mis-time the market, you'll still go under and lose your investors' money.
Instead, take the time to understand how much funding is really required for your business, what personnel are critical, and how much the best people cost. Be realistic about how much lead time you'll need to meet milestones as well as how long it will take to build a sales pipeline of initial clients, form partnerships, get deals done, and develop a respectable customer base with market traction.
3. Don't overlook how your product fits into the marketplace. It's imperative that you understand market timing, receptivity, and competition within your product's marketplace. Seek out key strategic advisors and mentors to help guide and direct your team on mapping out required resources; key financial, product, partner, and go-to-market strategies; and relevant operational details to position your brand for success.
4. Don't put intellectual property protection on the back burner. If you don't protect intellectual property early on, you're at risk of being lapped in the market by others who are bigger, are more nimble, are better capitalized, and, more importantly, may file similar patents that cut you off before you even start.
Patents, copyrights, and other necessary legal protections should be at the top of your priority list--no matter how complicated or mundane they may seem. Hire sound legal counsel to steer you in the right direction, and follow their guidance. This will not only help protect your intellectual property and ensure your company is properly structured, but also increase your valuation, help you secure investors and key partners, and demonstrate that you're serious and know what you're doing.
You may have noticed that these tips all have one underlying thread tying them together: They involve building a great team of experts and following sound, strategic advice.
To find these experts, look toward your local startup community; many feature networks of entrepreneurs who will gladly lend their know-how to help you survive and thrive. Participate in local hack-a-thons or Startup Weekend. Seek out your local economic development offices to learn about support programs in your area. Accelerators and incubators are also good options for receiving valuable guidance and mentorship. Referrals are gold in sourcing the best people.
Above all, don't be afraid to ask others you respect where they feel your business is weak and how to shore up the foundation when it is. Too often, people shy away from asking for real feedback because it requires admitting that others may know more than them. Seasoned advisors will be able to see areas of weakness or warning signs, and this is worth listening to.