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The tech scene is awash with failures, some more pervasive than others. Try hard as you might, there are some startup failures that you’re just not going to be able to avoid. But I’d argue that that’s not a bad thing! Successful products are built on a graveyard of failures and learned lessons.
Not Relying On/Over-Gathering Data
There’s definitely a sweet spot to be found when it comes to data. Every great product person will tell you that you need to use the data to tell your story and validate your ideas. But often, especially in a competitive market, time is of the essence.
If you hyper-focus on needing as much data as possible before you build anything, you can get caught up in a loop of gathering, gathering, gathering. Eventually you’re going to need to take the leap and actually ship something!
Saying that, there’s no need to be gung-ho. Startup founders are people of vision, and too many times those startups failed before they flew because that vision was all the teams had to go on. We can be so driven by our need to fix the problems we’re passionate about, that we won’t even stop to consider that the problem….might not exist. Or that our solutions might not be the right ones.
Unless you’re a very well seasoned product professional, finding that balance between taking in data and taking a leap of faith will be a case of trial and error. It won’t necessarily be a venture-ending imbalance, and it’s all a natural part of a startup finding its feet.
Not Hiring The Right People
This works in two ways: creating the wrong roles and/or hiring the wrong people for those roles.
As you’re building your team for the very first time, it’s hard to know what you’re going to need. How many engineers, how many designers, how many product managers…should you invest in a data analyst, when is a good time to hire a business ops manager? So many questions to be answered!
You’re going to make mistakes with your team members, for sure. Maybe you’ll try to relieve pressure on your devs by hiring another engineer, when what you really need is a product manager to better organize and prioritize the work.
Even when you’ve eventually locked down which roles you need, the next battle is finding the right people to fill them. Maybe you’ll be tempted to hire from the circles you’re familiar with (eg, people who went to similar colleges to you/come from the same socioeconomic background) or perhaps you’ll have a list of strict criteria in terms of experience.
What any great product person will tell you is that the best people to hire aren’t the ones who come fully equipped with all of the skills you need. Hard skills can be learned on the job. You need people with the right attitude, the right vision, and the right curiosity.
But you’re running a startup, not kindergarten. Hiring people just because you like them, without seeing enough experience or knowledge on their resume, is just as disastrous as hiring the genius with the bad attitude.
If someone is just falling short of the hard skills they need, but they show the right mindset and the right capabilities to learn, they’re probably a safe choice to bring on board Hiring the amazing engineer with all the qualifications and skills you could ever want, but who appears apathetic at best about your mission, is not the right way to go.
Again, it’s all about finding the balance. Startups are a mixed bag of characters. Some people join on day 1 and stay there for decades, others are in and out within the week. You never really know who is going to work out in the role until they’re in it, but after a time you’ll get better at sensing who is right for your business.
Always Looking Forward, Never Looking Back
We hear all the time about how the best technology companies are ‘forward thinking’, and that’s absolutely true. You need to see the future in order to build it!
But if you don’t take a moment to pause and look back at what you’ve done, it’s hard to identify room for improvement, near-misses, and missed opportunities. It’s a good idea to perform retrospectives/post mortems, as it’ll help you to perfect your development process. You might discover a pivot that needed to be made earlier than it was, or a mistake that cost you time and money.
As a new startup, it can feel like all you have is the future ahead of you. When you’re just starting out, you feel so close to the starting line and so far from the finish line that looking forward feels like your only option. But even after your first design sprint, you have something worth looking back on.
Copying the Competition
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your competitors. But a common mistake across Silicon Valley is building a product or launching a feature that mimics what your main competitor is doing. (Naming no names, but I’m sure we can all think of several examples!)
This is a mistake for several reasons, but mostly because being first to market is a huge advantage. Seeing our competitors build something that we haven’t thought of yet can easily send even the best startup founder into a panic.
Circling back to finding the right team, having a good product manager who cares more about your customers than your competition is vital to avoid this mistake. They’ll do the research and find out whether the copycat feature is actually a good idea or not, and they’ll figure out the best solution.
So when you feel tempted to follow in your competition’s footsteps (which will happen) don’t forget to go back to your own users, and your own data, and find out if that’s really what’s best.
Having a Weak/Undefined Business Model
You might have built the perfect product that solves the problem or fills the need beautifully. But without the right business model, you’re looking at a slow, and painful, downward spiral to the bottom.
Let’s say you’re an engineer who has built a product, but you’ve never had any formal business training. You might think that launching a product is as simple as putting an app on the app store and BOOM, you’re in business! That might work fine for a while, but in order to grow at scale you’ll need a more sophisticated business model.
Many companies have turned into success stories, because their engineer-first founders realized that they needed to defer to those with business acumen. Your product might be your baby, but that doesn’t mean you know the best way to monetize and market it.
Getting feedback from other industry professionals or mentors on your business model is a critical step towards turning your first startup into a success. Also (and I’ll admit to being biased here!) investing early on in hiring good product managers to translate business needs to devs and tech needs to executives with greatly help in bridging these gaps.
Not Spending Time With Your Customers
The best companies are customer obsessed, which means the people running them need to be customer obsessed as well. Startups, especially in the early stages, can easily get bogged down with the ins-and-outs of development. As a founder, you can get caught up in trying to secure your next million in funding, keeping up investor interest, finding the most efficient new software development tools, and maintaining your company culture.
You know who isn’t involved in any of that? Your customers.
Product development is a complicated process, and you can almost completely forget about the people you’re building for if you’re not careful. And it’s bound to happen at some point, even if it’s just for a day. You’ll catch yourself doing something and think “hang on, this doesn’t actually serve my customers at all.”
You need to be in the trenches with your customers, in order to empathize with them and ultimately build a product that solves their problems. Leaving them behind is the worst mistake you can make.
Thinking That Failure Is Bad
Nobody enjoys failure, it feels uncomfortable and oftentimes embarrassing. But everyone in the tech industry knows that it’s all part of the process, and that some of the best successes in tech history were preceded by failure.
So when you, inevitably, make a wrong turn, the best thing to do is learn as much as you can from it, and keep moving in the right direction.
At Product School, we understand the importance of building the right product team from the ground up. Because having the right, properly trained teams is a cornerstone for success.
If this topic interests you, you can find out more right here, or book a call with our team.
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