Building a business is hard. Don’t make it harder for yourself by making these avoidable mistakes. Take it from Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s first Chief Evangelist, serial entrepreneur, and VC investor. He’s written 13 books on entrepreneurship, startups and business. Below is an extraction of his 10 tips from a talk at Silicon Valley’s Startup Grind.
1. Projecting based on the 1 percent
How hard could it be to get a little piece of the pie? Guy open by talking about the entrepreneurs who project a huge market and figure that the conservative estimate is to capture 1%. Getting that first 1%, say one million, is no small number. Do you even have traction with your product? Also, no investor wants to hear you only have ambitions for 1% of the market. If your product is worth investing in, it should take significant market share.
Use a realistic projection funnel. Based on your traction and sales, do a more realistic prediction. Do a market feasibility test before prototyping. When you prototype, continually get feedback from your target customers and grow your customer base as you are refining your product. By the time you pitch, you will have real numbers to base your calculations on.
2. Scaling too soon
After raising money, entrepreneurs often put their capital into the wrong resources; they get multiple offices and hire in anticipation of sales to come. As Guy puts it, you have people in Bangalore waiting to provide great customer service to non-existent customers. Because re-hiring later when sales catch up seems inefficient, one isn’t willing to let go of that expanded team. However, your product will never ship on time and your sales will likely never meet your projections.
Don’t hire until you’ve shipped product. Don’t hire in anticipation of growth. Also, the most stable thing to do is to grow a company based on sales revenue and pivot based on market demands. For example, the team of programmers who loved coding began by making Pandaform, but then evolved into a web and mobile development agency that builds products in-house and for clients.
If you have a strategic partnership that translates to opening your sales spreadsheet every day, keep it. Most partnerships are just a patch for a company’s shortcomings. Partnerships entail e-mails, meetings, plans and distractions from selling a product and generating real revenue.
Only sales matter. Guy summarises sales as keeping your investors happy. A startup’s ultimate survival test is to make revenue. Make revenue and you have happy investors, employees, and (a bit more) peace of mind.
4. Treating pitches as silver bullets.
A good pitch may help you win a business plan contest and give a good impression. However, a prototype with real traction is the best way to convince an investor. Guy references bootstrapping to get your startup off the ground. He urges founder to use Rackspace and Amazon Web Services for hosting and social media for free marketing.
Prototypes are worth a thousand pitch decks. Build a basic prototype and make sales to demonstrate the product you are pitching has potential.
5. Slide overkill.
Despite all the great examples of pitch decks out there, you’ll always have the entrepreneurs who can’t help thinking they’re the exception. They’ll give you 60 slides with 8 pt font. It never works.
Go with the tried-and-true rule: 10-20-30. 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font
How can your business model in 10 slides and 20 minutes? Think of the limitation as a challenge to crystallise your idea. If your product is unique enough, it should be easy to convey in one sentence. Also, your slides are not your notes. If pitch shows enough concrete numbers, an investor will follow-up. Check out some of the most successful startup pitch decks online.
6. Making life serial.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life went step by step: prototype, raise money, hire awesome people, get sales, hack hockey stick growth, then have a spectacular exit.
Life doesn’t wait for step one to finish before starting the next. Realistically, an entrepreneur needs to be building that prototype, fundraising, recruiting top talent,making sales, and figuring out business strategy. The chicken and egg feeling will never go away. If you are growing, your next opportunity will always be that uncomfortable stretch.
7. Recognise that 51% is an illusion of control.
The moment you’ve taken outside money, you’ve lost control. Walked out of your last fundraising round with 51% of company ownership? As a founder, you are accountable to all your stakeholders. Your investors may not be that involved in running your business, but they can get 100% involved in voting with their feet. You need your investors behind you, and they get behind you when they think they will get $50 per $1 that they invested in you.
8. Using patents for protection.
Guy puts it succinctly: patents are for your parents. You’ll make them happy, and if you’re lucky, maybe the company acquiring you in the future will like it. That’s a big maybe.
Realistically patents do not bring you sales and if a larger company produces something similar, are you going to sue them? Are you really going to spend all your investor money on litigation? Your investors probably wouldn’t want to take on Microsoft or Apple.
Market share is the best self-defence. Get over yourself. For every product that you come up with, someone else in the world has probably developed something similar. One of Oursky’s favourite in-house products is Filesq, which is similar to many other prototyping and wireframing tools out there. Companies like InVision got market share. We didn’t. They didn’t steal our idea; most product managers and UX professionals wanted the same thing. Life moves on.
9. Thinking VCs add value (and trying to make friends).
Your investors are busy people. VCs and angels alike are looking at a dozen portfolio companies and maybe even running their own business on the side. Of course, they want you to succeed and will pick up the phone to connect you to the right person, but they won’t do much more.
Earn attention by performing. VCs think you may be a good investment and after closing the round, they’ll hover to see how you do. Your investors are much more likely to engage if they see you’re gaining traction and growing sales. Guy suggests you expect 2-3 hours from your investor. They’re not there as a buffer for your screw-ups. Guy summed it up as a Tindr world.
10. Hiring yourself.
He just gets it. From the moment you sit down for coffee, you two can go on and on for hours. You both have the same vision, concerns, working style and, of course, sense of humour. He fits the company culture. He’s hired. By the time you’re on your 10th team member, you’ve got a hundred blind spots and one big HR problem.
Fill the gaps with complementary people. Hire someone who is different from you and brings in a complementary perspective. Bringing in men, women, people of colour, people with experience, people with inexperience depending on where you are. You need a team that can make, sell, and collect your product. A systematic way to do so is to map out all the different hats you (and your early team members) are wearing. Figure out where each of you are weakest and where the company has the greatest need. Start scouting for someone to fill that gap, even before you’re ready to hire.
You can check out Guy Kawasaki’s talks on Youtube. Let us know what your best biggest learnings were as a founder!
Featured photo credit: Drew Bennett via flickr.com
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