Top Mistakes I See First-Time Founders Make

December 18, 2013

Over the last 4 years, I’ve spent a handful of hours each month mentoring first-time founders on what it takes to build a software company. I’ve mentored 5 founders in that time, and I’m starting to see a few patterns emerge in the ways they approach the challenge.

Analysis paralysis

If you’ve had five conversations about your idea to start marketing your product to stay-at-home moms, and you haven’t started surveying, emailing, or calling any stay-at-home moms yet for feedback, you’re doing it wrong.

Ship. Your. Experiment.

Overconfidence

Saying you “landed a huge Enterprise account” when what you really mean is “I conviced a friend that works at a regional insurance office to be a free beta tester” is lame.

Your team should totally celebrate big milestones, like reaching $5,000, $10,000 or $50,000 a month in revenue. However, hiding failure in hyperbole sends the signal that you’d rather look successful than evaluate what’s keeping you from being successful.

Secrecy

If you don’t want to share your idea or what you’re building with anyone, that’s your perogitive. There are plenty of successful companies that do that. Like Apple, for instance.

But that’s the key: they are successful companies. They’ve done it before, and they can probably do it again. As a first-time founder, you’re going to need feedback about your ideas and your execution. Working in a vacuum is a good way to ensure failure.

Sidenote: When you ask someone to sign an NDA to hear and give feedback on your idea, you’re unintentionally communicating that you already know your idea is good. If you didn’t think it was good, you wouldn’t be paranoid about protecting it. If you want honest feedback, ditch the NDA.

Hiring

There are tons of smart college students out there that will work for less than you’d pay a seasoned engineer. But unless you’ve got a seasoned engineer on your team already that can help that college student level up, here’s the formula you’re creating:

  First-time Founder + College Students = Company's Chance of Success

I’d rather bet on a company structured like this:

  Seasoned Founder + Seasoned Engineers = Company's Chance of Success

Sprinkle some experience somewhere into that formula if you’re interested in increasing your team’s chance of success.

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