How you can avoid the biggest startup mistake I’ve madeDec 17, 2022
The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. – Theodore Roosevelt
We all make mistakes. The richest, most powerful business leaders in the world make plenty of them. They’re a part of every startup journey, and most certainly part of our individual journeys as well.
But, just as making a (or more than one) startup mistake is a natural part of growth, avoiding unnecessary mistakes is just as critical. Making smart decisions and considering important data and input can tremendously impact the growth trajectory of your startup.
I hope you can learn from my biggest startup mistake
Yes, we all have made mistakes – including Yours Truly. In this post, I’d like to share a bit about that mistake and the lessons I learned. I hope that by doing so, it will help you think a bit differently and hopefully avoid a similar mistake during your startup’s growth.
Without further ado, let me get to that massive mistake. One that I actually made several times before finally learning the lesson and being able to learn and grow from it:
Taking a one dimensional approach.
In other words, focusing on one area instead of balancing multiple priorities and moving them all forward.
Let’s dig deeper.
During the first few years of a startup especially, there are simply so many buckets that need your time and attention. And at this point, you may not have a large staff (or any staff) to help alleviate some of the to-dos and burdens.
As a result of that massive influx of responsibilities and fires needing your attention, it can be extremely tempting to focus on one key area until it’s mastered or resolved, then move onto the next.
I definitely saw it that way. Rather than seeming to spread myself too thin, I would focus on just one “lever” at a time.
Except, once I got to building out the company (companies, since it took a few tries for me to realize my mistake), it became glaringly obvious that I neglected to prioritize and balance all of the levers effectively.
True, breakthrough growth requires firing on all cylinders
The thing is, I didn’t know that this was a mistake at first because the startups did grow. And for sure, if you’re giving 100% to each lever at a time, chances are you’ll see growth too.
But, it’ll be incremental growth. Say, 5 to 10%. It’s tempting to stay the course when you’re growing, but 5 to 10% growth isn’t going to get you where you need — or want — to be.
Balancing and prioritizing every facet of your startup appropriately and with a sound strategy will mean the difference between that 5 to 10% incremental growth and breakthrough growth of 50% <<< That’s what will take your startup to the next level.
It’s important to remember that there are reasons you were driven toward focusing on one area at a time in the first place. Everything has to work together to move your startup forward.
I have validated this through my own work, with recent clients, by speaking with guests on my podcast and through industry research.
This isn’t a fad. It’s not a hack. It can be awfully tempting to cling to those hacks in attempt to supercharge your growth. But the reality is that actual, sustainable growth takes hard work and sound strategy.
Breakthrough growth is real and attainable. But focusing on one lever at a time or clinging to hacks isn’t going to get you there. The difference between success or failure almost always comes down to execution.
Turning a startup mistake into an opportunity
As I mentioned above, your startup can still grow by making this mistake. In my experience (and for my clients and others I’ve interviewed or researched), the startups continued to grow.
But you won’t reach the level of breakthrough growth needed to effectively scale and get to the next level.
And in the literal sense, you will lose time and waste investments. Here’s an example: if you invest in lead generation activities to drive qualified prospects but you don’t have the team or processes in place to facilitate the new customers, you are creating negative customer experience, slower sales cycles and lost revenue.
See how these core areas are intertwined?
By learning from my mistake here (and a mistake that countless others have made and still make), you can reduce your time to scale considerably (Remember: 5% growth versus 50%!).
Now, in my experience, we were able to recognize and “fix” this mistake – thankfully. In one case, we ended up shifting resources and allocating budget much differently once we understood that the two key drivers for scale were new business (lead generation and conversion) and reducing churn (customer success and onboarding). These became our priorities.
This same lesson is one that recurs often during my interviews for Hardwired for Growth. Specifically, my interviews with IntelligenceBank, iZooto and Precision all share this perspective and are worth a listen as you dig into and work to prevent or fix this mistake in your own startup.
Understand what really needs your attention
When I talk about balancing and prioritization all the “levers,” I’m talking about these four areas:
- Company. What you do, who you serve, what problems you’re solving, your message, etcetera.
- Customer. What challenges are they facing, how will you make their lives easier, what do they like/dislike about your solution or your competitors, etcetera.
- Operations. What are the processes and procedures that help your business run?
- People. What are the characteristics, skills, background, etcetera of people who will thrive on your team and help your business grow?
When I was making this mistake in my career, I had the opportunity to lead all the go-to-market functions of these startups. Finally, I realized how critical it was that in order to scale, everything had to work in sync, rather than in silos.
Put all four of these cores in a matrix and look at how changes in one area will impact the others. Really understand how they are all working together to help your startup succeed. When you change your mindset and especially have the visual, it’s hard to look at your startup one dimensionally anymore.
This all makes sense — now what?
It is critical that you take a structured and methodical approach. Start here:
- Have an objective. Define what you are trying to achieve. Then you can build a strategy and tactical plan to achieve those results.
- Create uniform and consistent messaging. Ensure that your messaging and CX are consistent on- and offline.
- Invest in key processes to support the increase in business.
- Commit to your people. Make sure your team knows what is expected, even if they are doing multiple jobs/functions. Setting clear and attainable expectations is critical!
Taking these steps will help you get on the right path. But if you are looking for a more hands on, strategic approach, I can help with that too (just shoot me a message and we can talk more about your startup and its goals). And in the meantime, be sure to check out those episodes of Hardwired for Growth that I mentioned above >> those episodes and so many more are chock full of mistakes, lessons and insights to help you grow your startup.