What are the biggest mistakes first-time founders 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.
Not doing research. First-time founders (in fact, most founders, first-time or repeat) are susceptible to a level of hubris around the problem they're solving that leads them to design products primarily for themselves. Founders tend to be audacious--otherwise they wouldn't be doing something as foolhardy as starting a company--and it's easy for that audacity to roll over into a sense that you know better than anyone else how to solve the problem you're tackling.
However! Potential customers will always be able to tell you something you didn't know about what you're building. Talk to them. Look at the market. What are you doing that's different or better than what's already out there, and does it work for the people whom you want to use it? The blind spots that result from not asking these questions can be lethal to a product's success. It's possible to conduct inexpensive, lightweight, rapid market research, customer research, and user testing, and I frankly wouldn't work for a company that doesn't develop this practice early on. (Erika Hall's Just Enough Research is an excellent primer on doing, well, just enough research.)
Trying to hire problems away. A fine line that I'm learning to walk is knowing when to pay for expertise and disciplinary specificity and when to just do things myself. Adaptability, very strong "soft skills," and an insatiable curiosity will take you far as a founder--if you're adept at learning, the Internet can help you figure out how to do almost anything. And you're likely to have a visceral understanding of the product and the business that's difficult to replicate in a new hire.
That said, at some point, you need to scale yourself, and sometimes the answer is to pay someone who already has the expertise you need. I deeply value disciplinary expertise and want to be part of an industry that recognizes its importance and compensates people for it. But as a founder, the just-hire-someone instinct is one I now look carefully at whenever it kicks in
Choosing the wrong cofounder. Yikes, this one is tough. Cofounding a company with someone is like marrying them--you benefit more than most from all of their strengths, and their weaknesses become outsized points of contention.
Two things to look for: 1) communication style and 2) comfort making and then executing on hard decisions. To keep things moving, you'll likely need to communicate with your cofounder every single day (I'm on the phone with Berlin, where Spot's cofounders are, constantly). If your communication styles are at odds with one another, it adds another layer of stress to the regular stresses of getting a company up and running. Same with hard decisions: founding a company is just making an endless series of decisions, and they won't all be pleasant ones. The ability to make hard calls and then enact them with firmness and grace is an underestimated requirement of building a successful product and team.
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