When it comes to describing his company's journey over the past six years, Eric Migicovsky doesn't mince words:

"There have been a lot of moments where we were close to death," the chief executive of Pebble said last night during an event hosted by Jolt, a startup accelerator. "I had to loan the company my last $5,000 one time to make payroll."

Today, Pebble is approaching nearly 100 employees. Last year, it sold more than 400,000 smartwatches. And it made history two years ago after it created the most successful crowdfunding campaign in history, garnering $10.2 million from nearly 69,000 backers. How? By making "a ton of mistakes," he said. "An inordinate amount of mistakes."

"But... we haven't sunk the company."

Here's what he recommends avoiding as you scale your own business:

Piling On Too Many Features
An investor once told Migicovsky that every product should be able to do three things really well.

The advice stuck.

In this case, the Pebble could display notifications from services like email or activity-tracking apps, control music and download customizable apps. "Those were the things that really resonated with people," said Migicovsky.

Complicating Your Message
In the beginning, Pebble's team didn't know how to explain what a smartwatch was. The product (which now retails for $150 to $249) still sounded futuristic and preceded any market awareness of the Samsung Gear, Motorola Moto 360 or Apple Watch.

The first time Migicovsky's Palo Alto-based start-up felt like a real business was when he could clearly describe the Pebble's function with three easy-to-understand statements through its Kickstarter marketing campaign:

"Pebble is a watch. It's a smartwatch--it shows you more than time. Then we added one twist to that; we said it's customizable. That was something I don't think anyone had done with watches before," Migicovsky said to Salim Teja, an advisor to Jolt who moderated the discussion.

Shipping Too Quickly
Migicovsky's first smartwatch was plagued with problems during the shipping process--half of them broke. But he only manufactured between 10 and 20 at a time, quickly taking in consumer feedback while improving subsequent versions.

Years later, after securing the funds to mass manufacture the Pebble, some customers expressed frustration over production delays. Yet Migicovsky avoided the kind of bugs that afflicted his first model and ultimately secured a wider base of consumers.

"Everything counts--from when you make the product to when it lands in your customer's hands," he said.

Missing the Obvious
Offering fancy features or services are fine, assuming customers want or are wowed by them. Skipping the basics, though, could prove disastrous.

Papa Migicovsky gave his son some crucial advice during the early days of Pebble's development--around the time it was called the inPulse: "Hey guys, I just bought a smartwatch--I'd like for it to show time."

That's right: Migicovsky's first device displayed text messages but not the time of day. It seems like an obvious oversight, now. But what might your product or service be missing?

Published on: Sep 19, 2014