What are the most common mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make, and how can they be avoided? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Laura Behrens Wu, Founder & CEO of Shippo, on Quora:

Some of my many mistakes I learned the hard way.

When you are just getting started:

  • You are going to get a lot of advice from different people. Many times that advice will be conflicting. You know your business best and you can't take every person's opinion into account.
  • Underpromise, overdeliver.
  • Build something that's a painkiller, not a vitamin. Advice from Sasha Orloff.
  • No need to overthink what you are going to build. The most important aspect is to get started working on something and to listen to customer feedback.
  • Talk to your customers as early as possible and listen to them.
  • Release MVPs fast and iterate.
  • Focus on a single metric if you are looking to fundraise (seed round), no need to optimize for all metrics in the first round. One metric that is "killing it" is enough, for us that was shipping volume.
  • Make founder friends, they can relate and you can learn from each other.

When you are scaling:

  • There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, there are playbooks for things. You can gain experience by working with people who have done it before and made their mistakes. Don't be scared to work with people a lot more experienced than you, they are key to building and scaling a company. Hire people who are smarter than you.
  • Your role will change from a doer to a manager. That is really hard for most founders. To empower other people to be able to do their jobs, you'll need to let go and trust them.
  • Trust your team members. Everyone comes in with a "trust battery" that's fully charged and it can go down and up again depending on how people perform. But don't hire people and make them prove themselves. Advice from Tobi Lütke.
  • Your job is mostly hiring people.
  • "Culture" is not a fluffy word. My co-founder thinks culture > strategy. Culture helps people make decisions when there is no one watching over their shoulders. Verbalize and formalize your values as early as possible.
  • Investors work for you. They are your team members that you can't fire. Choose to work with investors that you have vetted and then don't be scared to ask them for help.
  • Learn how to communicate. That is the most important skill of a manager. I can recommend a book, Nonviolent Communication.
  • People can't read your mind, you can't expect everyone to think like you because you as the founder have a unique context that no one else has. You need to learn how to articulate your expectations very clearly. People can't do a good job unless they know what you expect.
  • Founders job: keep money in the bank, hire and fire, set your mission and vision. Manage by exception for everything else.
  • Structures and processes are important for scaling.
  • HR is important!!! Hire HR early.
  • Get help as a founder. I love working with my executive coach. Expectations are incredibly high, you don't have to figure this out all by yourself.
  • Be authentic. You don't have to try to be Steve Jobs.
  • As a founder, you need to create optionality for your business.
  • You are basically a sales person. You are always selling the company and yourself to customers, investors, candidates etc.

For yourself as a person:

  • You need to take a break every now and then. Taking care of yourself = taking care of the business.
  • You need some hobbies outside of work that can help your relax, make time for those. For me it is running, reading, hiking, friends.
  • Your self-worth isn't equal to your company worth. You need to be able to abstract that. Otherwise, you will feel bad whenever the company isn't doing well.
  • Don't forget to invest in your family and friends. Solidify a hierarchy of priorities, and then make sure that you have reasonable time allocated for them. Your calendar (time budget) reflects your priorities.

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Published on: Aug 27, 2018