Lots of startups fail. It happens due to numerous mistakes popping up here and there. Even successful entrepreneurs have no insurance against it.
I have vast experience in building startups and making them successful. The number has grown to more than 20 products in the last 5 years. Also, being a co-founder of Mustard, I have plenty of examples of real-life mistakes that make your life harder. Still, these mistakes won’t necessarily end your product story.
That’s why I decided to share my experience of fuckups while building the startup that raised 2M dollars pre-seed — to prepare other founders beforehand and help them to avoid common mistakes. I’m not aiming at covering all the possible errors, of course, there are more things to keep in mind, think about, and solve.
1. Don’t focus on an all-in-one solution.
I’ve seen so many founders who were so deeply in love with their product idea that they were always creating new features, adding them without talking to end-users, testing, etc. They were worried that users won’t use the product if there weren’t different payment methods, analytics, dashboards, you name it.
From their perspective, the product should be ideal. No, it shouldn’t be. Focus on the value your product brings/which problem it solves — develop MVP/Feature MVP — test it — make conclusions.
Something that can blow your mind — nowadays “MVP” word and meaning are upgraded: MVP is a landing page + no-code/low code solution that takes 1 month or less to launch. And what was called MVP before is currently considered a ready-to-scale product, which still should take 2-3 months max to build.
The market has changed the speed and rules which I believe is great and it’s pushing founders to better results at the end of the day.
2. Be open to feedback.
Negative feedback is amazing feedback (if it’s constructive, of course). It’s great to deeply believe in your idea, but it has nothing to do with the willingness to listen to people, their feedback, and their questions. At the end of the day, it can help your product and save thousands of $, months of work, and lost opportunities.
3. Analyze the market and your competitors on a constant basis.
Nowadays everything changes so fast, that it’s essential to keep your eye on the market/competitors and be flexible. And one of the questions you should ask yourself — why has no one built it before?
Is there a problem you’re trying to solve? If you’re not sure, talk to your target audience to check your assumptions. Or create the landing page and run the test. It will save you months of work and thousands of $ (again, yes).
4. Analyze the problem and why it’s actually a problem.
Again, fall in love with the problem, not with the solution. Understand the problem your product is solving deeply (who is your target audience, what they do, why it makes them unhappy/takes a lot of time/etc.)
5. Plan your product launch and budget marketing expenses.
I’ve been in these romantic shoes — we're gonna launch on the App Store, Product Hunt and it’s gonna be all good. What if it’s not? How are people going to know about your product? Where is your target audience? How will you reach out to them? Find these answers before launch and plan in advance.
6. Work on risk management
What if you don’t get the traction you need for the next round? Who must be on your team and who you can hire later when you raise funds? How are you planning finances before the next round? What if you/your team don’t meet the deadlines? Think about these questions from time to time on the way since nowadays a lot of things can change in just 1 month.
7. Be conscious when you hire people at early stages.
Keep your team small at the beginning. Yes, it’s gonna be a lot of hassle for you, but who told you that it’s going to be an easy and well-structured boring experience? Dive deep before delegating.
8. Define main metrics on launch
Launching is testing if your idea works. Basically, we can call it a hypothesis. Think about the metrics that will help you to understand if it’s working and if your product delivers value. Numbers always help to figure out what’s happening.
9. Use integrations and 3rd party services.
Building everything from scratch increases your scope of MVP. No-code is also a great solution at this stage.
10. Practice your public speaking skills.
When you pitch to your investors, it’s also important for you to be convincing, easy to understand, and a great orator. You have just 1 chance to impress them, remember it.
Practice a lot, tell your idea to your friends, co-workers, and other founders, and practice in front of a mirror. You should be great at presenting your idea even without any pitch deck in just 30-45 seconds.
11. Think about retention.
That’s where I failed as a Product Manager and Co-founder😅 I thought that users would return to the product we were building by default (because it’s cool!). And reality showed me how wrong I was.
It costs roughly 5-20 times more to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one. Think about why people are gonna come back to your product, even at the MVP stage. And if they do not — what are you going to do?
While building a new product it’s unavoidable to stumble upon some mistakes. The main point here is to be able to predict them, avoid them, or even change the course of your product journey when necessary.
Hopefully, among the tips I shared, you found something useful for your product journey. If you have other highlights based on your experience — share them in the comments! As wise people say, “we should learn from the mistakes of others.”
Written by Lyubov Dementyuk.
Managing Director at Paralect Venture Studio
Co-Founder at Mustard
Mentor at Founders Institute