As many as 80% of SMEs and techpreneurs, fail within five years of setting out across Nigeria. A good number of these failures is usually due to the not-so great, anti-business habits of startup CEOs and founders.
Being a startup founder is hard enough, but making common mistakes can often lead to total disaster. Here are some common things to look out for:
1. Stop drinking your own kool-aid.
If you are not brutally honest with yourself, you can’t make informed decisions that will truly improve your company. You will hide behind excuses and spin stories to yourself explaining away why you have to keep doing the rest of the things on the list. You can’t believe all the stories you tell. You need a healthy dose of skepticism (not the same as self-doubt or lack of self-belief) to make real forward progress.
2. Stop being so busy all the time.
Does an early stage startup founder really need to spend time evaluating every HR alternative instead of focusing on customers and product? Some people think that being the CEO means being involved with everything. But what they are really doing is getting in the way and usually just slowing down progress. Surround yourself with smart people and delegate delegate delegate. There are only a few things you should not delegate in the early stages of a business like customer engagements, raising capital and finding product-market fit.
3. Stop working yourself to death.–
As the founder, you often feel like the world is on your shoulders and you have to be working 100 hour weeks to set an example for your employees. Startups are a marathon, not a race. The average successful exit takes 7-10 years. If you don’t take time for yourself and take care of yourself, nobody else will. Relax, take breaks, take walks, take days off, get massages, pamper yourself. You can’t take care of others if you do not take care of yourself first.
4. Stop half-assing it.
On the other hand, I have tried countless times to build a startup idea as side projects, and it doesn’t work. I am not saying that it is impossible to start a startup on the side. I am saying that to make a real play at doing something investable, you are going to have to make the leap and do it full time sooner than you will feel comfortable doing so. It always works this way. Nobody will invest in you if this is not what you do all the time, no matter how good the idea is.
5. Stop hiding behind fake traction.–
Founders often highlight what looks good and hide what looks bad. This is fake traction. Like: “All of my users love my product!” Sounds great, but if you only have 12 users, your sample size is two orders of magnitude too small. If you find 1000 people who can’t stop talking about your product, you are on to something big. Or another is “I have 300 people on my waiting list to buy my product!” Awesome, how many of them are willing to pay you for it up front? None? Haven’t even asked yet?
6. Stop counting your eggs before they hatch.
An investor who expressed interest in investing but hasn’t called back in a few weeks isn’t money in the bank. Close close close. Convertible notes aren’t perfect, but at least you can do a rolling close cheaply. A potential customer who says he may pay if your product did such-and-such is not money in the bank. Close close close. What will he pay for today?
7. Stop trying to get around paying lawyers.
You are running a complicated legal entity that may take funding from individuals and VCs, and could eventually IPO or be acquired. This is not a mom-and-pop business, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer are not good enough. Do it right. Don’t even try to out-smart yourself here. Expensive in the short term? Yes. Worth it in the long term? ALWAYS. Your future self will hate you if you try to save too much money here.
8. Stop trying to serve two kinds of customers.
You can’t do two things great. You don’t have the time, money, or resources to figure out the product-market fit for more than one product doing one thing. It is always so enticing to try to follow new opportunities that come up, but don’t fool yourself. You can’t be great executing two go-to-market strategies at once. The split focus will mean you will be at best mediocre, but probably terrible at both. If you really think the new opportunity is better, pivot the company and go all in.
9. Stop believing that your product is your company.
Your company is the value you provide to your customers, not your product. Often your customers couldn’t care less if what happens behind the scenes was done by the best Scala code in the universe or a thousand monkeys… as long as it works reliably and timely. Your customer value and your team is your company, not your product. Focus on making your team happy and your customers happy and all else will follow.
10. Stop avoiding your customers.
How long has it been since you last talked with a customer? On the phone or in person? Not to sell them stuff. Not to offer support. To listen. To build your relationship with them. To ask questions. Please don’t tell me it has been more than a week or two. A founder, and especially a CEO, has no excuse not to be in continuous communication with customers. Don’t have customers yet? Call your prospects.
Any one of the ten habits listed above can transform your business from a profit making venture to a statistic. As a CEO, it is important to look inwards with brutal honest in order to identify these negative traits and do away with them.
Are there additional habits or tips that you experienced or learnt and think it’s worth sharing? Drop a comment below and we’ll include it in the article and share on our social medi pages!