The core of every startup is an idea. Whether it’s the result of a long-term commitment or divine providence, idea gets you going before anything else.
“Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.” – Inception
However, ideas that meet no execution and remain precious in your own mind are nothing but castles in the air. All the startup strategies emphasize execution as the only real path to success, but how exactly do you execute? I believe there are no universal guidelines but there are thousands of examples of what not to do that we can learn from.
Maybe due to the amount of bullshit around us, we’ve become wired to identifying what sucks and by doing that we often dismiss the opportunities. But once you do find it, you will expose your idea to the harshest test of realization. So, let’s take a look at some of the red-flagish signs of a startup heading the wrong way.
The Purpose Is Vague
If you can’t formulate the purpose of your startup in one sentence or describe your vision in one tweet, you are likely to be suffering from the “building-for-self” syndrome, where the impulsive desire to make something you’d love to use is enough to justify the investments.
This won’t satisfy people you will require. You can inspire them with your enthusiasm, but in order for them to contribute to the project when times get rough, everyone involved has to be sold on one goal. Even the loosest anti-establishment startups have a reason they exist for, something worth fighting for.
“Make something people want” includes making a company that people want to work for.” –Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad.
So if you think it’s about gathering a team of folks you like to do things you can, you will end up not doing anything. Same applies to the money part. Cash can’t be an objective for one reason: people don’t enjoy giving out their money. But they will willingly spend exorbitant amounts on what they believe in. The only way to make them believe is to believe yourself.
Sometimes the reason why you do it carries more value than what you do and how you do it. This enables companies reintroduce new products as the old ones get outdated. The purpose doesn’t need to change over time, in fact, it gains more value as it ages.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if you don’t persuasively believe in it’s purpose.
The Product Helps Noone
Having a purpose of the product helps keep the startup true to its objectives. But in order to sustain viability, the product has to be worthy. People tend to stick for fads and bubbles only for so long. However, things that help solve users’ problems become trusted brands and cultural phenomena.
This is one of the most underrated challenges startups face early on. Startup owners often justify their decisions by the illusion of being part of the public, when in fact, they are biased in favor of their product.
“What the product does Vs. what the product does for me. There’s a big difference.”
–Laura Klein, author of UX for Lean Startups
This is where we can learn a lot from academia. Scholars often dedicate their lives to theories that turn out to be obsolete. By the time truth is unveiled, a lot of people knit with these theories, resulting in a painful disillusionment.
That’s the least you want as a business startup owner. In most cases, the following steps help avoid the pitfall of irrelevance:
- Test your guesswork, explore and discover the problems you are trying to solve.
- Study your audience, its needs, and the direction it is heading towards.
- Pivot your product before it gets materialized.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if nobody else is excited about it.
The “Feature Creep” Is A Feature
What’s so cool about your own startup? You can create its architecture, find leverage points, remember to stay relevant, add sexy stuff to it, fly it like a pilot, not a passenger. But is this all really healthy business-wise? As it turns out, barely.
“Among idealists and visionaries, there is no shortage of good intent, but there’s often a shortage of discipline”
–Scott Belsky, founder of Behance.
Trying to cater to every user, please every investor, conform to any technical restraint means watering down the initial structure. I’ve written about the so-called feature creep recently, basically, it means equipping your startup with more and more functionality up to the point where it loses its face and becomes a pileup of features with weird relations.
We at Shakuro have been on the bad side of a feature creep far too many times as a team responsible for the execution of tech startups. For this very reason, we value focus just as much as we do the purpose. Often times this means directly disputing team members, investors, and customers but it will save you time and energy when it comes to the actual grind.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if you let it wobble and acquire features by itself.
The Design Is An Accessory
An unfortunate but quite popular trend among many startups is the wrong interpretation of MVP where the owners look to present the technical and business value of the project to its fullest while neglecting the emotional part. The part that is often neglected is ironically, the one that is appreciated and credited the most – the design.
There are good reasons for it due to the complete misunderstanding of what design is these days. If you are building a house, you’d want to have your walls and roof done before you move on to decorating. This does not apply to digital startups. Attracting people with a digital product with no design is like selling the house with no interior decor. You certainly can do it, but is this what you want your brand to be associated with?
“To the user, the interface is the product.”
–Aza Raskin, co-founder of Massive Health
We approach MVP more as a demonstration of the entire array of capabilities in a brief way, rather than a complete display of one aspect and no sight of another.
Putting out functionality without a proper visual part simply doesn’t make sense: the users won’t give you a chance to grab their attention unless you show them something cool.
At the same time, you can lure more users in with beautiful UI and delightful UX design, and then make them want your product than you can sell your solution to their problems that won’t look like one.
We encourage our every client to commit to design not as an accessory, but an integral part of the project development process. There are things that only design can address but more importantly, design today is the language that you have to speak in order to be relevant.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if you don’t believe design is significant AF.
There Is No Urgency
Having a startup often means putting your life savings into it. This automatically makes you want to play it safe and make a good preparation before you launch. However, tech startups are susceptible to a bunch of unstable factors like cultural hype, fluctuations, seasonal craze, and what not. If you stash your idea for just a little longer than you should, you might lose before you step in.
“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
–Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn
What about too early? Not good either. There’s a reason why Apple never launch their pivotal products earlier than the competition. This is where the product is the key. It almost feels incomplete until Apple make their statement. But it’s a long way till that, to say the least.
Ultimately, the product only begins its way after the launch. So the better balance you find between the performance you are offering and the perfect time frame for the launch, the more valuable feedback you will receive. The kind of response that does not bash the product for issues but appreciates its innovation, or does not label it as “beat-up” but takes advantage of its production.
You Think The Project Sells Before The Product Does
A friend of mine found a company 11 years ago with a simple and clear goal – sell it to a major competition. He hasn’t done it and I don’t think he ever will. Not that his business doesn’t work, but because his perspective changed drastically. You may establish a business out of lucrative intentions only, but after a while, you coalesce with your startup which makes it harder to bid farewell to.
This means my friend wasted X amount of time putting his effort into the objective that was not meant to happen. He could have invested that energy in product development instead. He could have hired better employees instead. He could have ironically, attracted those investors faster.
“People don’t buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”
Investors won’t buy your idea. But they will buy your workshop. A self-sustainable healthy business, with aspirations going beyond getting funded, taken-over, or acquired, lists better than screamingly on-the-market ones. The more pleased customers and product users you acquire, the better are the chances to succeed in moving on to your next startup.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if you are dreaming of pitching your startup the day MVP is out.
You Are Not Ready To Have Your Dreams Crushed
The harsh reality of the startup world is you never know . The magic of the viral phenomenon keeps us on our toes. You can judge based on the experience, or research, or assumptions, or pure belief slash gut feeling but the industry of digital and tech products will always pack a punch for you.
“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”
–Drew Houston, co-founder of Dropbox
The ability to take a blow, recuperate, and come back when it’s appropriate, is the sign of a seasoned entrepreneur. Don’t rush to self-reproach if the results you are getting are frustrating. It does not necessarily mean the product is bad. A lot of times it just needs more publicity, better marketing, or more talented people selling it.
Throw your startup idea out of the window if you don’t plan on having a Plan B or C, or D.
There is no recipe for a successful startup, otherwise, we’d all be flourishing. What there is though, is a treacherous path of ups and downs with no guarantee of success whatsoever. At the same time, virtually everyone is dreaming of their own business. This pursuit of the ultimate freedom is what makes technology so exciting. The more people succeed in enlightening the world with their ideas, the better place we can hope for our children.
Let’s beware of false ideas and spend time on what really matters.
Originally published in The Startup publication on Medium.