10 sins of the founders

The author has been advising startups for years. With his experience, he compiled these 10 sins of founders that often prevent success

Regardless of the approach, an entrepreneur's initial idea is invariably wrong.

Since the initial attempt is bound to fail, the bold ones have the right idea to quickly launch products without wasting time on over-analyzing. They throw curses at the wall and see if it sticks.

Chemistry ultimately determines the success or failure of a startup. Do the founder and executive team possess equal parts chutzpah and humility? If so, the team is likely agile enough to dispassionately acknowledge failure, pivot, and move forward without losing trust. Teams lacking this alchemy will cling tenaciously to a losing proposition or scream and give up.

I help teams achieve their goals without getting discouraged. I am not a businessman, but I advise many. I advise many young founders who started with a “Shoot, Aim, Set” approach to tweak their products for people who are willing to pay. A CEO recently told me: «I see you as my Eric Schmidt«, flattering us both. Needless to say, he saw himself as the enigmatic Sergey/Larry and I saw me as the boring but constant adult who ruins the fun. I give the businessmen enough rope to jump off the ledge and I'm there to pull them back.

I have observed these 10 Sins of Founders that often prevent success:

There is nothing inherently wrong with platforms. In fact, platforms are great because they enable multi-constituent income streams. But in the words of a venture capitalist I spoke to recently, “you have to earn the right to build a platform.” He meant that before attempting to build a multi-constituent platform, you need to first nail down the needs of at least one group of potential customers.

Even technically minded founders fall into the app trap, believing that an attractive user interface is the key to success. Often this is not the case. As an example: A team of data scientists creates a predictive algorithm based on machine learning that replaces a long-running heuristic solution. They shouldn't waste time building it into an application. Instead, they should write a GraphQL interface for their APIs and sell prediction as a service.

Buyer beware, unless the pre-existing mousetrap is truly ineffective. Let's say a founder has a brilliant idea to add structure to video calls. This doesn't mean the team should waste time recreating all the plumbing that Zoom has already perfected. For one thing, it's unlikely that a startup will ever match Zoom's speed and strength. Second, rock-solid performance is simply what's at stake now that everyone is used to Zoom. It is better to integrate with Zoom than to rebuild it.

I know, I know, we're all tired of hearing about Eric Ries' Lean Startup concept of failing fast because it rarely happens. Rather, failure is slow, agonizing, and difficult to recognize. A team that is in a death spiral should not hang its head and try to stay afloat. You better gather your wits and find a new path to survival.

Products typically take longer to build than anticipated, and financial forecasts often fall short. Founders who insist on making pitchbooks with fanciful product roadmaps and magical financial estimates do so at their own risk.

A founder recently told me, “I value diversity in the voices I don't know.” He was half joking. Even though entrepreneurs are the smartest people in the room, they often have the least common sense. We all know the risks of following the Pied Piper.

I'm not referring to the occasional necessary zigzags. Founders who do a 180-degree turn at the first whiff of any new idea distract themselves and drive their team to despair.

Being an asshole is not a requirement to be an entrepreneur, but it is not a disqualifier either. Successful founders think differently than others and may not be well liked, nor should they care.

Show me a team of data scientists building a front-end for their product and I bet they're not versed in Jim Collins' hedgehog concept. Successful entrepreneurs find the intersection between what they like and what customers will buy.

Technically savvy early customers are willing to endure complicated user experiences, bugs, and workarounds if they find value in the product. Late customers are less forgiving of this type of shenanigans. The first customers do not validate the business plan or the suitability of the product to the market.

Business would be simpler and more widespread if there was a recipe for success.

Founders must test the waters, sometimes even flirting with the aforementioned sins, such as adding a degree of arrogance, a dash of magical thinking, and a dose of attention deficit disorder.

Introspective founders recognize their deficiencies and create management teams to fill them.

Moon thinking, combined with disciplined management, does not guarantee success, but it does provide a good starting point.