Among many things the first-time entrepreneurs should not waste their time on are the following things that we have compiled in this article.
Public speaking and presentation skills
At least in the tech startup community, most presentations by senior executives are appallingly awful.
Even if the subject matter is fascinating, they can find countless ways to ruin it and make it bland and unappealing such that the audience spends much of the time checking email on their iPhones.
This shouldn’t be surprising at all.
Compared to senior executives at large companies, startup founders generally have far less experience in making public presentations, meager resources to support them (e.g., no graphic designers to produce slick graphics for PowerPoint decks), and zero formal training.
But it’s really, really important, especially if you’re planning to go around pitching for funding from angels or VCs (which is probably the case for 90% of startups).
Arguably, once you’ve perfected the content of your pitch, the single most effective thing you can do to maximize the chance of being funded is to work on your presentation skills.
It’s the intangible quality that accounts for charisma, leaving people thinking “Wow, that guy is impressive.” I think of Steve Jobs “reality distortion field.” A related article that we wrote is Lessons to Learn from Steve Jobs for your Startup,
The good news is that this is a learned skill (although some people are born naturals). I was fortunate to work for a pretty enlightened company that sent several of its senior execs to Speakeasy training.
It was three grueling, humbling days, and cost the company real money, but it was also one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
If anything is true, your average entrepreneur’s blood boils at a higher temperature than most.
There is often a huge impetus to continue to move forward, faster and faster and faster.
It takes time and experience to learn just how long is enough time to wait before deeming one course of action dead and another one viable.
Learning to avoid every shiny, opportunistic little object that comes your way is something you’ll keep with you for a long time.
Reality about money
The capital needed to sustain the business while it is finding its way to positive cash flow. Many naive wannabes have asked how they can become me.
My first response is always to have at least six months’ cash on hand that you are willing to lose, then explain why: It takes that long to book an order, complete the work, send an invoice, and receive a check.
Reality about promises
The promises of potential clients to become paying clients, often made to encourage the wannabe and to be ‘nice’.
In fact, in my experience such promises, even after 40 years in business, are meaningless. It’s a giant step from good intentions to cash.
Reality about brand
The talents that are different/better and entice paying, appreciative clients.
If you haven’t found your brand, sharpen your keyboard, grit your teeth, and find it. It’s one way to avoid the mediocrity of being just another supplier.
Agree with Chris McCoy on this point. Not focus so much as focusing on a particular problem of the business (though that too), but more about focusing the objectives of the business.
Too often there’s this fantasy of potential, almost as though the potential has already been realized and it’s an afterthought.
If you have visions of reaching 20 verticals in 20 countries, you have to focus on getting a decent level of traction in 1 vertical in 1 country.
Too often founders will say, “But, all this potential!”
You have to conceive it and then almost ignore it; like a road trip, you kinda know where you’re going, but you still have to put eyeballs to the road so you don’t run off track. It’s a hard balance between being strategic and tactical.
Knowing the true cost of something
Generally speaking, the appreciation and understanding for what something really costs is often lacking. If I do this, how does that impact ops, technology, etc.?
The real cost of a decision is often not felt, so promises are made that teams can’t absorb.
The end result is a process that remains broken and the ability for the business to scale is ultimately compromised.
To continue my road trip analogy, sometimes founders will focus on driving and forget where they’re going and who/what it takes to get there.
“We just have to get out there and do it!” Absolutely.
The just-do-it attitude is great, but there is a cost (see #2) if you do so in a completely ad-hoc manner and never fully realize or institute a process for doing it again.
Sales process is usually the most lacking and least appreciated initially. I’m not talking heavy process, a multitude of documents, etc.; rather, I’m just talking about an articulation of how things should be and the ability to adapt and change if they’re not.
I often hear people frustrated, “They’re not producing!”
By what standard? Following what general process? If you don’t know the variables, you have no way to set expectations and have no process to repeat.
I think this ends up smacking most first-time founders in the face rather quickly. A great idea doesn’t mean that great talent simply swarm to you.
Attracting and keeping the talent you need to realize the goals of the business is tough, and often times founders will burn through people before they realize this.
If I had to account for what I think is most destructive, this would be it.