We tend to think of the journey of successful start-up as a smooth sailing ship. The entrepreneurs are smart, resourceful, have the best ideas and a good team, what could go wrong? A lot!
Trouble comes to every start-up. Factors such as a bad judgment call, lack of planning or being distracted by the noise and attention — every leader has to face a storm.
Save yourself a lot of headache by learning from the mistakes these 9 start-ups learnt the hard way, early on.
1. Right Level Of Leadership
While starting a company, you tend to hire a lot of interns and entry-level people to run the company to save on money. This is the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make. Initially, we too, hired a lot of front line employees without building the leadership team. This turned out to be a huge gap and impacted not only the decision making, but also the productivity of the employees, who were in serious need of guidance and mentorship.
Entrepreneurs should manage the pace of growth in a way they are able to build the right level of leadership to guide the company in the right direction, before it gets to a point of no return. Grow the team only at a pace where you have enough structures in place to ensure that everybody in the team is able to attain their potential.
It is crucial to ensure that the team behind a start-up is always functioning as a well-oiled engine.
— Shesh Rao Paplikar, Co-founder, BHIVE Workspace
2. Loyal Customers
There isn’t a foolproof plan to have a successful start-up from day one. In the initial days, it is easy to be enamored with the idea of ‘your’ business. Looking at the broader goal one might miss out on some crucial aspects of the business. Granted, being a new start-up, we make good choices as well as a few bad ones, but then learning from our mistakes should be the immediate step. While starting up we need to be cautious of steps that can derail us from our path to success.
Being a start-up, most of our energy goes into a) improving the product experience for customers, and b) getting new customers on board. And in the initial days, we made a mistake of not involving our best customers for both. We realized over time, that your loyal customers are always ready to take out time and put in efforts to help you improve. Additionally, they are your biggest brand ambassadors and the strongest bridge to the potential customers.
We have made involving them a regular practice now over the past quarters. Our best customers get access to early features, and are constantly giving us feedback to improve. Additionally, we are observing that referrals and recommendations from them have become our biggest channel of acquisition. We are seeing that on an average, loyal customers are now providing us with 10 times more worth than before. And all of this has happened, because we decided to reach out to them, a practice I would urge every start up to follow.
— SachinJaiswal, Cofounder, Niki.ai
3. Give Your Customers The Best Value For What They Pay
Well, there’s surely been a bunch of mistakes we’ve made along the way and learnt quickly, from them!
But if I had to pick our greatest mistake, I’d say it was something we did when we had just about started out. This was during our first year of operations, when we had opened up our hub #1 (we’re at 13 now) in Mohan estate, Delhi. This was a renovated basement space which had the capacity to seat about 100 members.
We were severely bootstrapped at that stage and this drove us to think various 'jugaads’ to save cost. It was our first summer in Delhi, and everyone knows they can be killer. We had not planned ahead and our ‘batcave’ wasn’t equipped with AC’s. So, when the peak of summer rolled around, we decided it would be a great idea to cool the hub with water coolers.
Cheap and effective right? Wrong. They served the purpose for only a short while till it started getting humid. Even at this stage, instead of bringing in ACs, we tried our jugaads on removing the humidity, which didn’t work. Needless to say, this inconvenienced our members and disrupted operations to such an extent that fitting out AC’s was done poste-haste and the episode was quickly brushed under the rug. Until now!
Lesson learnt: Don’t. They can tell and it’ll hurt your brand value. You can’t give a sub-par product because you are bootstrapped.
Give your customers the best value for what they pay. Giving them a sub-par product because you are bootstrapped is not an option.
— Pranay Gupta, Co-founder, 91springboard
4. Filter Out Information You Receive
For me, one for the biggest mistakes was getting distracted by noise.
As an entrepreneur, you will have to filter out the information you receive from tens of sources. This can include positives like media fame, overly celebrating team members, large customer wins and fundraising, which can put you in a temporary high.
On the other hand, this can include negatives like media gossips, interest from competitor’s investors, frivolous lawsuits and tons of meeting requests from every tom, dick and harry, who are trying to make money out of you.
As you scale, the spectrum of this noise increases multi-fold and eats up a lot of your productive bandwidth. Only your own filtering skills, methods or tools can help you stay focused yet flexible enough not to miss out on anything important.
— DhruvilSanghvi, Co-founder, LogiNext
5. Establish A Set Of Values
I think a mistake LBB made was not setting a strong team & hiring culture early on. LBB misfired on some of the early hires we made, because we weren't sure of who we wanted or what kinds of teams were the best to build our company.
Since then, we’ve learned to establish a tone for the values of our organization and only seek those who resonate with these values on our team. Although it lengthens the hiring process at times, it ensures that we have a good fit; and both employee and company learn and succeed with each other.
— DhruvMathur, Co-founder, Little Black Book
6. Believe In Your Ideas
One of the biggest learning from my mistakes during the entrepreneurial journey has been to never underestimate your own potential. Believe in your idea and your capabilities. Move fast. And in case you fail, fail fast and fail cheap. Never work towards making the perfect product. Launch a beta, test waters, get feedback. Move towards your goal.
— SaireeChahal, Founder, Sheroes
7. Put Your Customer Before The Product
The biggest mistake we did at Zarget was to commit ourselves to a feature which we believed was the next big thing. We were simultaneously working on two features — one required less technical effort while the other one took center-stage at our production camp. We spent time and manpower on perfecting and was sure about it being a hit.
On launch, the market reaction took us by surprise! The feature we nurtured didn’t create the impact we expected while the other feature went on to become our customer’s favourite. At times, it is not about the technical brilliance of a product but how a simple solution can connect with your customers on a personal level. This insight took a back seat amidst our deliberations about the product.
We learnt it the hard way — “Always put your customer before the product!”
— Arvind Parthibam, Founder, Zarget
8. Choose A Robust Payment Solution
It goes without saying that one faces many hurdles while running a start-up. Apart from the technological challenges, there are organizational and business challenges that one has to tread. Since we focused a lot on hiring the right talent initially, thankfully we did not face a lot of organizational and technical challenges.
However, we did face a business problem once we started making inroads into the market — choosing a robust payment solution. Vidooly being a SaaS company deals with customers who use its tools and dashboards through a pay as you go model which has to be recurring. That’s why, in the initial stages when we did not have the right recurring payment system in place, we faced quite a few issues in holding on to our customers. This was just an oversight for us and we rectified it after trying out some of the best online payment solutions available. I feel when someone is building a global SaaS product, it has to be taken care of in day one.
— SubratKar, Co-founder, Vidooly
9. Set ESOP Plans For Employees
The biggest mistake we made starting up was to not have an ESOP pool for future talent — something we corrected later. I think it is table stakes to have a large and attractive ESOP pool for present and future employees so you can attract the right kind of talent
— Vinod Muthukrishnan, Co-founder, Cloudcherry