In the last decade or so since I’ve started mentoring, I’ve met a very large range of startup entrepreneurs, from the extremely impressive to the… well, less impressive.
Today I want to share some of the common traits I’ve noticed in entrepreneurs that fail so that you can avoid them. But first it’s worth pointing out that while habits and behaviours are vitally important, research by Prof. David Storey from University of Sussex shows that a startup can do the “right” things and still fail, or do the “wrong” things and succeed. It’s one of those ironies in life.
I’ll quickly add though that his research shows that 60% of new firms cease to trade in 5 years, and that a firm (i.e. startup) is three times more likely to contract than expand. Basically, the odds are against you anyway, so you might as well adopt as many success habits as you can, and ditch the ones that are holding you back.
So, here are the seven biggest failure habits of startup entrepreneurs:
1) Poor execution of creative ideas:
I’ve observed that some startup entrepreneurs think that entrepreneurship is about being creative. This is only partially correct. Yes being creative is relevant, but by far a more important trait is being able to follow through on your ideas. Ideas are cheap – correct, disciplined implementation is invaluable. This is what separates the men from the boys, as it were. It saddens and frustrates me when I see startup entrepreneurs have brilliant ideas, but are so bad in implementing them.
To give you an example of disciplined implementation, we once ran an Instagram campaign at the DreamBody Centre (DBC) where we are offering 23-days free for anyone showing the number 23 on their IG account, and using the hashtag #DBC23. Sounds simple and straight forward right?
The idea may have been simple, but we held a two hour session of key Team Members involved to plan implementation. We mind mapped the whole process, identified where things could go wrong, discussed possible impact on current members, and decided on when and how Team Members need to be trained. We also identified the project leader and a measurement process for the campaign.
In contrast I’ve seen entrepreneurs come up with much more complex ideas, yet not have an execution process in place at all. The idea never gets implemented correctly and the employees and customers involved just get very frustrated.
2) Lack of follow up after meetings:
If there is one thing that really frustrates me is when someone has action points and does not note them down before the end of the meeting. If a Falakonian (Falak Team Member) does that they’ll get an earful from me.
The worse thing you can do is depend on your memory! Always write your action points down, and then review them to follow up. It sounds so simple, but so few people seem to be able to get it right!
There are a ton of excellent project and time management apps out there to help you organise your time and tasks – use them! I have been using OmniFocus for several years now.
3) Running meetings without clear agendas:
I have somewhere between 15 to 25 meetings a week. They can be as short as five minutes, or as long as two hours. All daily and weekly routine meetings have pre-set agendas that are followed precisely. Non routine meetings still have a defined purpose, with very little time wasted. If someone in the meeting looks bored are have little added value, I excuse them.
Want to be a more productive entrepreneur? Get more disciplined with your meetings! Also, make sure they start on time and finish on time as well.
4) Not being an early riser:
Pretty much all successful people throughout history have been early risers (entrepreneurs or otherwise). This is one of those extremely simple yet profound success secrets. Sadly, not enough people take it seriously enough.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, Square CEO Jack Dorsey, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley, and many others are all up by 5 am. I have no doubt that their companies’ successes are very much linked to their CEOs success habits.
Yes, there are a minority of highly successful people that wake up late, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Want more success? Join the 5 am club!
5) No thirst for learning:
Airbnb founder Brian Chesky is described as being “really, really, really curious!” He has such a powerful thirst for learning that he goes to the expert to learn directly from him or her. He made learning visits to Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bob Iger (Disney), Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com), and Warren Buffet (Berkshire-Hathaway), among others. I have to admit I envy the access he has.
Airbnb is valued at over $20 billion. Again, I believe his thirst for learning and the company’s success are no coincidences. Of course there are many other factors involved, like the fact that Airbnb is a unique and disruptive platform that is upending several industries – but it still takes a unique person to be able to run it properly (which takes us right back to the first point about execution.)
Want more success? Then read more, attend more courses and workshops and find successful people and ask them a million questions!
6. Putting product before market:
I’ve often been asked my opinion by students who aspire to be entrepreneurs about their product or idea. My reply is that the question is wrong. You shouldn’t think about what would make a good product or service, instead you should survey the landscape and identify unmet or poorly met demand. Once you’ve identified that then you can figure out a product or service to meet that demand.
7. Lack of focus:
The poster child of extreme focus of course is the late Steve Jobs. According to Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer:
‘He would stand in front of a whiteboard […] and ask, “What are the 10 things we should be doing next?” People would fight to get their suggestions on the list. Jobs would write them down—and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb. After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of 10. Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.’
Sadly, there seems to be an epidemic of lack of focus with startup ideas jumping from one idea to the next. I once sat with a startup entrepreneur who was involved in greeting cards, kites, honey and one or two other things. I was flabbergasted! I berated him and demanded he focus on one thing. I even offered to invest with him if he focused on one thing and presented me a business plan for it. Sadly he could not.
Personally, I’m on a strict no-new-business diet. Not because of lack of ideas, but because I know my hands are so full that I wouldn’t give the new venture the attention it deserves, especially with the high standards I have. I wish more startup entrepreneurs had the same attitude.
The seven points above could be whittled down to just one…
Basically, they all come down to lack of discipline. In my view, if you don’t have a much higher than average level of discipline you can’t make it as an entrepreneur. No amount of creativity can compensate for lack of discipline.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and talk soon.
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