Learning from your own mistakes is a necessary skill in the business world. An arguably even more valuable skill is to
learn from the mistakes of others. Consider these common mistakes made by entrepreneurs of all levels of experience so you don't fall into any of the traps yourself.
1) Some Projects Never Get Started In The First Place
The first point is almost moot, because it's the simplest yet very common reason for startup failure. The founders just talk, dream, draw blueprints, schemes, and diagrams, blow lots of hot air, but never actually sit down to do hard work. It sounds laughable but is dishearteningly common and actually sad. I have never been in the shoes of such people, but I have seen it time and time again.
It is perhaps not fair to make a judgment on whether these letdowns are caused by psychological barriers, insecurities, fear, simple unaccountability, or something else. One thing is certain: whomever does not
fall into this category must be extremely vigilant to avoid them, because the furthest such projects ever get is empty chatter. It will cause serious entrepreneurs wasted time, effort, and perhaps most importantly wasted opportunity they could have persued elsewhere; sadly, everyone loses.
2) Founders Are Terrible Leaders
Some people are meant to lead people, some cattle, and some neither. When leading or working within a team of people, few common leadership mistakes can seriously damage a fragile startup. If leadership is disrespectful or disregardful of partners or employees, over time it can lead to resentment and division in what must be a tightly knit group of people. As damaging as lack of respect and a lack of a people factor can be, an equally bad founder trait is indecisiveness, stubbornness, and poor decision-making when decisions are ultimately made.
Indecisiveness can unfocus a company and cause it to lag, while stubbornness is typically a way to alienate others and show lack of respect towards their intelligence. If the decisions made by the founders are generally poor, it can cause a startup to die fast because in that fast-paced and unforgiving environment, second chances can be difficult to come by.
3) Cumbersome, Complex Product that Never Comes Out of Development
All markets are competitive and difficult. If they are not competitive, they are rarely worthwhile and are not without their own traps and difficulties. Discussion of different markets is a topic for a book rather than a paragraph, and the reason the topic is brought up, is to show why some people tend to think that to be a new player in a competitive market requires some extra great, cool, new complex technology. Much has been said (or ink spilled if I want to get poetic) about "Lean Startups" and "Minimum Viable Products" so I will not get into that.
A more pertinent point is that often the founding team disregards the common knowledge of startup-building and comes up with a grandiose idea for some great omnipotent technology which is sure to be the next Google. This often causes startups to die because it takes too much time to create, costs too much money to build, or takes too long before anything reasonable can be brought to market and shown to customers, at which point the project is light-years behind modern startup schedule.
4) Poor Sense of Proof of Concept
Some founders see the proof of concept as some holy grail to which they have to get to in order for all their dreams to come true. The proof of concept (POC) is fully part of startup theory, and no one is typically looked down upon for building one. In the greater scheme of things, it is good to embark on building a POC. Problems do arise in cases where the founders don't have too much of a plan beyond the POC and have just enough money in the bank to work on the startup a few months after the POC release, or are hoping that the POC will bring enough money to pay rent either by bringing investment, or customer revenue from sales of the product.
A typical scenario is that the POC does take quite a bit of effort and the founders are typically proud of what they have made. Unfortunately, the POC is by definition a very early stage product and when it is shown to others, enthusiastic reactions are rare and are commonly lukewarm. If that was planned for as it should be, it is ok. If the founders did not have too much of a plan otherwise, it often cripples the project.
5) Founders Look for Funding but Get None
Funding is a sexy topic in the startup world. The realm of angels and venture capitalists is exclusive and coveted because investors are the top of the startup food chain. For a number of reasons, perhaps they should not be, but they are. So until things change, investors will always have a constant supply of seasoned and green entrepreneurs clamoring at their doors. Over a VC career, an investor likely receives over 100,000 proposals, attends few thousand pitches, and invests in approximately 100. And the 100 or so investments are made up of people they either already know, have worked with before, or people who have run successful companies in the past; so even the 100 is a hyped up number with which to do calculations if you want to understand the chances of getting funded. That should say something to people who want to get funding. It is unlikely.
Applying for investment takes considerable effort on the entrepreneur's part which she could have spent working on building up her actual company. So if there isn't much of a solid plan beyond getting investment, it often spells doom for the company, as very few get funded and most have to focus on a solid company model that can support the founding team and grow. If the proper company model is not in place and all hopes rest on investment, the results are often unfortunate.