In my previous post, I discussed making fun an everyday part of your work experience. In this installment, I’m recapping the tips and advice that can help startup founders succeed by avoiding mistakes.
By now we can all agree, running a startup is a big and unique challenge. No two experiences are exactly the same, and yet there are enough common pitfalls that we can gather lessons from other startups that have gone through the lifecycle previously. While there’s wisdom to be gained from experience, and even blunders, some mistakes can be so big and costly that it’s best to avoid the firsthand experience. Over the course of this series, I’ve laid out the key steps to take; decisions to make, and the biggest missteps to be avoided.
A successful startup requires threading the proverbial needle and hitting certain benchmarks, and while it’s difficult to pull off, it’s not impossible if you know what to do and what not to. The early stages require the right perspective and the smartest decisions to avoid crippling mistakes. You have to create a product that not only satisfies what you want but what consumers want and need. You have to assemble the right team of employees and contractors and set the tone for you and your company with your vision, drive and determination. To make sure that you’re keeping yourself on track, you need to find the mentors who will give you the right advice and can help open the right doors for you.
Your ultimate success requires caution as much as boldness. One of the first and most important things you can do is to give your business a proper foundation by establishing a business entity, even when it seems that your company is little more than an idea. All of your business dealings, from working with employees to suppliers to partners, should be spelled out and formalized with written contracts to avoid future disputes that could potentially put your company in a bind. And your intellectual property should be protected both with patents and trademarks and copyrights as well as the physical security and compartmentalization that will help keep any trade secrets safe.
No business has ever succeeded without solid, long-term planning, and thought must be given to your goals and how you mean to achieve them early on. A roadmap for your products and your company can help to spot potential pitfalls and establishes actionable items and deadlines for you and your team to work towards. You also need to lay the groundwork for establishing your reputation in your particular market. Writing and speaking on your particular topic burnishes your credentials as an expert in your field. In addition, creating blogs and videos both on the pressing issues of your industry and on what your company does to address those issues builds a reputation with your audience. And these strategic relationships with smart, like-minded individuals allows you to open doors and form partnerships that can be mutually beneficial.
Discretion is the better part of valor, and sometimes the best decisions are the decisions that you don’t make. A slow and cautious approach to growing your business in the early stages can be frustrating, but it’s prudent. Make smart and well-considered decisions rather than rushing and placing your company in untenable or unsustainable situations. Likewise, accepting the first fundraising offer might be tempting for cash-strapped startups, but a bad offer or the wrong investor relationship are mistakes that can’t be undone. Given how often we see big errors like these being made, it’s worth stepping back and questioning the conventional wisdom we so often hear and figuring out what the right path for our own companies is, regardless of consensus.
Most importantly, we have to step back and maintain perspective when possible. Making fun a part of your everyday work life and taking the time to have the occasional break to recharge your batteries is necessary in order to stay sane in the otherwise relentless grind of the startup world. Maintaining the relationships with our family and friends can be a challenge under the strain of getting your company off the ground, but we should never forget the things that are truly important to us or our reasons for doing what we do. Real work-life balance can be next to impossible for a startup CEO, but we shouldn’t sacrifice our lives entirely for the business.
Thanks to all who’ve read this series. Be sure to check back soon for more articles on intellectual property and startup culture. And interested startups who would like to be interviewed, please reach out to me @maryjuetten. #onwards.