Best ways to kill your startup

Avoiding these mistakes will make your startup journey much easier.

I’ll be honest: I never thought starting a startup would be so hard.

To give you a bit of context: I tried to start a startup, but failed. Starting a startup means anxiety, fear of failure and a roller coaster with many NOs and some YESses. I can tell you: it’s not pretty.

To prepare for success, I read a lot about what you should do to build the next great thing. Then I blindly chased success.

The result?

  • I cut out most activities that didn’t relate to my startup.
  • I chased projects that didn’t lead to progress.

Even worse:

  • I could have spent this time with my girlfriend, with family and friends, or doing more of what I love.

When I wrote my previous blog, I realised something compelling:

The tips and tricks from others weren’t relevant for the game I was playing.

Huh? What game?

Let me explain

According to a famous study by Dr. Simon Ramo, tennis basically has two games. First, you have a game played by the pros. Second, you have the game played by people like me — the other 99% of us — the amateurs.

In the first game, 80% of the points are “won” by hitting the ball so that the other player can’t return it. This is the “winner’s game.”

In the second game, 80% of points are “lost” by double faults, hitting the ball into the net, or another mistake. This is the “loser’s game.” The one who wins, tries to be consistently not stupid.

When starting out, you aren’t playing the winner’s game. You’re playing the loser’s game.

I was basically like the little girl below. Would you tell her to hit aces, or to try to keep the ball from hitting the net?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The success of your startup depends on its survival of the early stages. The survival of your early stages depends on not making too many mistakes.

With an overview of mistakes to avoid, you can pursue survival by negating. It will help you put a spotlight on the errors and roadblocks. It will help you to focus on how not to do it.

Before going into these mistakes, I want to mention this:

The biggest mistake is not developing a service or product that customers want.

Your primary goal is to make something users actually want. I set out to identify the mistakes that keep founders from doing exactly that. I wish I’d had such a list before starting out.

With input from over 50 entrepreneurs, these are the ones you should avoid.


1. Starting on your own

As I wrote before, the most deadly mistake I made was starting on my own. Startup life becomes much easier if you start with good people. Making something customers actually want will fix itself if you have good people. Spending as little money as possible will fix itself if you have good people.

The startup life is a roller coaster. You get turned down a lot, put in way too many hours, and often lack perspective. The anxiety can get to you. But if you’re with good people, you can support each other and push further. As Paul Graham already said:

The low points in a startup are so low that few could bear them alone. When you have multiple founders, each thinks “I can’t let my friends down.” This is one of the most powerful forces in human nature, and it’s missing when there’s just one founder.

2. No alignment between co-founders

One of the benefits of not being on your own is having others to support you. But when you’re not aligned, how will you support each other?

Stephanie Shyu from AdmitSee (an edtech startup featured on Forbes’ 10 edtech companies to know) says this was her biggest mistake. Co-founding a startup is like marriage. If the foundation of marriage isn’t built on same values or goals, hard times will become even harder hard.

Alignment is crucial if you want to be able to deal with the challenges of starting up. With similar motivations and goals, you can steer the venture in the right direction.


3. Bad hiring practices

Even nowadays, the thing that makes or breaks your business is people. Hiring too many people will kill your startup. Not hiring enough will kill your startup. Hiring too fast and firing too slow will all kill your startup. A list of mistakes:


4. Choosing a market you don’t know

Spencer Shulem raised $1M at the age of 19 for his startup WeDO, a free planning app. Their mistake was to pursue a demographic they didn’t understand well. Deeply understanding your customer comes first. Improving the product and marketing it follows. When they started targeting a demographic they knew, the product got a lot better.

The single biggest reason startups fail is lack of market for their product. Generally, the makers of the product simply aren’t part of the demographic. The best products often begin by focusing on a small number of users. The product is only scaled later on.


5. Copying others blindly

Never — NEVER — assume anything in your startup. Don’t copy what your competitor is doing. Try it, but don’t double down on it before you tested it yourself.

A startup is basically an experiments-machine. You start with a list of assumptions. You test those with experiments, and move on from there. Sure you can assume that Google Ads will work for you, but experiment with it.


6. Not focusing on your finances

CB insights published a research showing that 1 in 3 startups fail because it simply doesn’t have cash left. Primarily increasing your overhead will likely kill your business. This overhead can be due to three things. Are you hiring too many people? Are you leasing office space before product-market fit? Or are you taking on too much inventory?


Conclusion

There are a lot more mistakes that you can and will make. Starting with these will hugely increase your odds of survival. It’s easier to remember what you shouldn’t do versus what you should do.

When you’re just starting, it’s easier to try to not make a mistake, than it is to hit an ace. It’s way easier to try to not hit a double fault than it is to hit a passing shot.

You should be very clear about where you want to go, and then keep this in mind always. You will get there with the highest degree of confidence by avoiding these mistakes. This way, you’re prepared for failure, and ready for success.

Call to Action

If your startup isn’t going the way you want it to, ask yourself:

What steps can I take to avoid the mistakes mentioned above?

Two last things…

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