Influential and iconic venture capitalist and entrepreneurial though leader Paul Graham, known for his epic essays on entrepreneurship, recently penned an interesting one listing the 18 mistakes that kill startups.
While I wholeheartedly agree that there are many fundamental mistakes that can derail (or even kill) a startup’s chances for success, not all 18 of these are true “startup” mistakes. Mistakes like “Poor Investor Management” assumes that your venture is far enough along that you have investors who need managing. Like all advice – these 18 cannot be taken at face value. Mr. (Dr., actually) Graham cites “Obstinacy” as a top-5 mistake –
when many of the greatest entrepreneurial success stories were due to the founder never taking “no” for an answer, or sticking to their ideals when others urged them to be more flexible.
But, as always, the devil is in the details. Reading Paul Graham’s essay will give some valuable insights as to why he came to these conclusions, and how you can avoid some of these landmines.
(infographic and summary from our friends at fundersandfounders.com)
- Single Founder – as a single founder you have almost zero chance of getting funding from Paul Graham. Why? It’s not a coincidence, he says, that founders who succeeded did so as a team of at least two.
- Bad Location – you can change everything about a house but its location. Likewise, if your startup is in a bad location, you can’t change the nature of that location. It’s easier to move the startup. Where to? Silicon Valley.
- Marginal Niche – by choosing an obscure niche a startup may paint themselves in a corner. If you are afraid of competition, this is not the way to avoid it.
- Derivative Idea – there are only so many Twitters for pet owners one can come up with. The bottom line is that the Google of tomorrow will not be like Google.
- Obstinacy – or inability to adapt kills startups who would have survived had they not been too stubborn to see what their users were telling them.
- Hiring Bad Programmers – knowing a good programmer from a bad one often takes being a good one yourself, or having a trusted one on your team. Exceptional programmers are always in short supply. So the odds are stacked up against hiring good ones.
- Choosing the Wrong Platform – how fast you can scale will determine whether your startup lives or dies once you get traction. On the wrong platform scalability will be the bottleneck. And users often don’t wait for you to figure it out.
- Slowness in Launching – before you actually launch you are in the dark about whether your startup should even exist. The longer you delay the launch the more you delay getting the answer. If you are afraid to know what the answer is, you might want to ask yourself why.
- Launching Too Early – launch too early, though, and you may be completely unprepared to handle your growth, or worse yet to present a usable product.
- Having No Specific User in Mind – somewhere someone will for sure be interested in your product, you just don’t know who yet? Sounds like those people may not exist. Be sure to check.
- Raising Too Little Money – you get what you spend on. With too little money you may not be able to flesh out your product in to its full potential.
- Spending Too Much – spending too much before you grew enough to have the numbers to raise the next round, and you are out of cash, which often spells the end.
- Raising Too Much Money – raising too much will likely make you feel like a huge success even before you made anything useful. At the end of the day it’s users, not investors, you want to impress the most.
- Poor Investor Management – if the choice is between making investors happy or making your users happy, always choose the users. If the user is happy your investors will make money eventually.
- Sacrificing Users to (Supposed) Profit – you can always make money later. This however, cannot be said about making users happy. You need to make something they want now.
- Not Wanting to Get Your Hands Dirty – you can’t solve all your problems with coding. Businesses are built on relationships. Go out and meet those people.
- Fights Between Founders – founder conflict is too common. Founders being ambitious people are almost bound to disagree.
- A Half-Hearted Effort – a lack of determination to see the startup through to the end is not rare. If you feel like you have other options in life than building your startup, you will probably mentally hang on to them.