My 3 Big Start Up Mistakes
This is the story of how I kind of wasted 9 months, but kind of didn't, and what you should learn from my general uselessness to be better than I am at business. It might seem a bit perverse to write an article detailing my mistakes, but I'm not embarrassed by them (although they do make me cringe a bit in retrospect). It's a bit painful to look back on what you've done and admit to yourself that you should have done things slightly differently, but frankly, mistakes are an integral part of the start-up experience. A startup founder who doesn't make mistakes consistently is hard to find - the point is that they move on quickly, imaginatively and without wallowing for too long in them.
1. I tried to be a techie
I knew I couldn't learn to code in a year, but I thought I could use a software that was '70% of the way there' of what I needed it to be, and hire in talent to complete the rest using my business grant. What I have learned is that developers are keen to please, say 'yes we can do that!' and the reality can be different. As my Dad always says 'with IT, everything takes twice as long as scheduled and costs three times as much as planned!' - He is RIGHT.
I wanted to stay away from a SAAS solution for my marketplace because I was worried about the lack of customisation, but when I found a halfway house solution whereas SAAS framework could be built on using code, I realised that managing tech projects with limited literacy of computers was more work and stress than it was worth. I was learning on my feet, the developers knew it, and could take advantage if they wanted to - leaving me in the vulnerable position of trusting remote devs worldwide to quote me fair, reasonable prices for work that I didn't realistically know would take 1 hour or 10.
2. I became distracted by bringing in capital
This was a mistake that I can't entirely class as negative. The first few months of the Trendlistr I was selling online as I had done for the past few years to bring in money. This wasn't entirely necessary as my Founderships deal from the University included some stipend money to help us cover food and rent costs. But, as those of you who sell online will know, the thrill of seeing money coming in is hard to give up when you're used to it. Before selling online gave me a bit of 'fun money' every month, now I could consider it 'real' business activity that evidenced demand for my items.
The problem was that between selling across multiple platforms, my 100% focus for Trendlistr wavered and my days were spent largely packing items, dispatching them and listing them. I am still trying to work myself out of this trap today, and try and portion out full mornings or afternoons dedicated to this. I think there's a lot to be said for having 'unbusy headspace'... and if you're someone like me who gets easily distracted and excited by different ideas all the time, and sticking to a single task is difficult for you, this is even more meaningful.
3. I listened to the 'Just Put It Out There' motto.
This was a mistake because of the nature of my product. A marketplace needs a really strong trusted bond between the seller, buyer and platform. Because complex payment flows are involved, the smallest glitch can really put off either party from using the platform. Sure, you should always be collecting feedback for your product, but at the same time, if you put a product out there that is so unfinished it turns off your core audience from the offset, you will end up damaging your brand name more than anything else.
I should have been more patient, and not started contacting influencers, potential sellers etc. until the product was totally refined. It would have taken more time, and meant things moved forward more slowly, but they also would have started off on a more sure footing.
Those are my three main mistakes. I could sit around and sulk about them, but things are far too exciting at the moment to do that. Whilst I do advocate the odd wallow, you can't make money lying in bed and crying (or at least, you can't until your website is actually up and running... ;) ) Let me know if you've experienced any similar problems below, I would love to hear about what you would have done differently in your businesses!