5 Mistakes that Will Kill Your Startup

April 24, 2015

9:00 am

Going from yet another startup to an internationally renowned business is a rocky road. While the entrepreneurs are often considered optimists (as who else pours their heart, soul, and cash into something that has 50% chances to sink in the next 5 years); optimism and endless energy are not the only ingredients of success. You need a clear road map that will not only show you the right path, but also warn about the possible hazards on your road to riches.

Here are 5 common mistakes startups face on the initial stages you can avoid if you follow the hard-earned wisdom of other entrepreneurs.

1. Choosing the wrong niche

Yes, you don’t want to be smashed by competitors in the early days, however, choosing an obscure niche will not let you succeed either. You are not avoiding competition; you are backing out of it and painting yourself into a corner.
To avoid that ask yourself a simple question – does your marketplace solves a real problem? Hint: the answer should be yes. Another trick, if you unconsciously feel afraid of grand ideas start thinking about it without involving yourself. What would be great a company for someone else to launch?

2. Choosing a bad brand name

Naming your startup is a lot like laying the cornerstone of the building. Once it’s done, it’s nearly impossible to be switched without destroying the whole superstructure above.
Your name should be short, sweet, and look good as a url, meaning no hyphens or two words bluntly stuck together in a new odd combination. Also, check in advance if you can secure the same usernames on all main social media channels via Knowem.

If you plan to target international markets, make sure your name sounds coherent in different languages and doesn’t mean anything offensive. “When we first launched Tripping.com in Germany, we initially called our users ‘Trippers,’ which unfortunately translates to ‘gonorrhea’ in German!” – says Jen O’Neal, founder of Tripping.com.

3. Hoping for overnight online success

Getting online exposure these days is pretty hard, especially when you are a new company with zero connections and influence. While it may look extremely tempting to outsource your online marketing campaign to shady companies promising first-page rankings for cheap, don’t.

“When we just started we did some basic PR and guerrilla marketing. It was really hard to get online visibility with other video converters aggressive strategies. However, when a new Google update rolled out in the late October, their rankings  fell drastically. While our daily views doubled overnight and continue to grow exponentially up to now,” says Tati Adams, Marketing Manager of 2conv.com, a free YouTube to mp3 converter now attracting over 8 million people daily.

Crafting a winning PR campaign, working with online influencers, pitching journalists, and investing in creative content marketing campaigns will eat up a significant piece of your budget, yet at the same time, they bring long lasting results. One successful guest post on a niche blog can drive you new users and sales for months after it’s been posted.

4. Choosing the wrong investor

Once your company gains some traction, you may realize your initial funds are dwindling.  The obvious decision: start looking for investors. Yet, don’t forget one simple rule: All money is not equal.

While a certain angel investor may seem like a perfect candidate, because he already invested in a similar company, it’s not necessarily true. “Our prospect already invested in a cookie company that was a co-packer of ours, so we believed he’d be a good strategic investor. However, he was concerned about the day-to-day operations and not willing to let us, the co-founders, make mistakes. We mistook common interests for common vision.” – says Freya Estreller, co-founder of CoolHaus – a successful gourmet frozen treat maker.

5. Hiring bad programmers

Business folks like you and me are amazing in generating ideas, creating business plans, researching markets and more; but we typically lack knowledge about all-things-coding. We can’t tell what makes a good programmer really good. We often don’t even give a shot to the best ones as those often don’t want a job of implementing the vision of some business folk.

Yet, talented programs are the backbone of your start up. “No matter how compelling your PR campaign is, if the user can not use your final product or service, because it doesn’t function as it should, you will be one of those one-day startups that commit suicide soon after they are launched. This is a simple rule that often gets overlooked,” – adds Tati Adams from 2conv.com.

How to find a good programmer? Stop looking on their resume accolades like Microsoft Certified Developer and learn to ask the right questions instead like describe your experience with different programming languages. Stop following your checklist and interviewing only those candidates who have 2 years of C++ and one year of Java, pay more attention to folks who know worked mostly in an older language, but recently added a new language to his certifications. That means two important things – willing to learn and years of experience provided a profound foundation in different programming areas.

Another great strategy, ask a friend working in the industry to be your expert at the last round of interview or hire an independent consultant working in the IT field to screen your final candidates.

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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She's slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien

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