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The 11 biggest mistakes people make when they run a startup for the first time

Tech Insider logo Tech Insider 11/3/2015 Eugene Kim

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Startups are hard. And if you’re a rookie founder, things could fall apart easily.

So how do you make sure you don’t make dumb mistakes as a first-timer?

One way is to learn from the past and see what mistakes other people have made.

We’ve combed through Quora to find out the most common mistakes first-time entrepreneurs make.

Here are the 11 most common ones.

Stop drinking your own kool-aid.

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"If you are not brutally honest with yourself, you can’t make informed decisions that will truly improve your company. You will hide behind excuses and spin stories to yourself explaining away why you have to keep doing the rest of the things on the list. You can’t believe all the stories you tell. You need a healthy dose of skepticism (not the same as self-doubt or lack of self-belief) to make real forward progress."

— Lucas Carlson, CIO at CenturyLink

Getting into the entrepreneurial world for the wrong reasons.

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You can jump into entrepreneurship hopefully because it's your calling. But, if you are one of those that get into this game because of wrong reasons (e.g.: Questionable reasons to become an entrepreneur #1 - My friend did it, so can I ) then sooner than later, you will be in trouble."

— Rajesh Setty, co-founder of multiple startups in US and India

Not keeping an eye on the bank balance.

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"This happens more often than you might think. You can run out of money even if you have revenues and profits. Watch out."

— Murli Ravi, Co-Founder, Unicorn VC and self-taught (but lapsed) coder

Lock down your intellectual property.

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"It's critical for a new business to lock down their IP, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights. If the competition files a patent over the top of another business, which is likely to happen eventually, the new business could end up owing fees or even not being allowed to sell their product, which no new business can afford."

— Jeff Nelson, Invented Chromebook, Entrepreneur since 93

Micromanaging for too long.

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"I think the biggest mistake successful first-time entrepreneurs in SaaS make these days is they micromanage too long...Let it go. Let your VPs do their job, as well as they can.  Let them make their mistakes.  Help them, but let it go and trust them to do their job."

— Jason M. Lemkin, Co-Founder/CEO, EchoSign, NanoGram Devices

Poor hiring decisions.

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The team is the most important piece of the startup puzzle and one wrong hire can lead to its downfall.  Hire for skill, intelligence and tenacity first...It is easy to fall into the trap of hiring people who are "good-enough" when a startup is trying to ramp quickly, but it can be deadly. If you do make a mistake, fire fast."

— Evan Reas, Co-Founder of Hawthorne Labs

Not focusing on sales enough.

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"We are first and foremost a technology and product-driven company. If I ever had an extra minute in the day, I always gravitated towards doing product 'stuff.' As a result, we spent a lot of time on product tinkering in the beginning instead of 'getting out of the office' and selling CB Insights. My slowness in getting us selling has had bottom line impacts, in that we should have made a lot more money earlier than we did."

— Anand Sanwal, CB Insights, co-founder

Failing to realize the importance of cash flow, not just profit.

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"You need to maintain a moving 10-13 weekly cashflow forecast to survive. Stay liquid with your cash and beware of tying it up because "cashflow is more important than your mother."

— Peter Baskerville, Started, owned and managed over 30 small businesses

No customer engagement.

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"Your customers should love your product. If not then you have a real problem. You need to find out why. The only way you can do that is by really listening and responding to their needs. Make sure that you are connecting with your customers on a daily basis."

— Brian de Haaff, Co-founder and CEO of Aha!

Never trust your reports who tell you everything is fine.

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"Nothing is ever fine.  Things are always breaking.  Things are always going wrong. (We say:  "rejoice, things are breaking.  We're growing!").  Breaking isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Frustrating yes, but not bad.  It usually means you're growing."

— Greg Tapper, 2-time "Inc. 5000" winner, Silicon Valley CEO

Building too much.

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"Everybody's first vision of their product is always the Maserati of their product and usually they have no idea how to get there and what it takes to get there. I always encourage first-timers to build the MVP (Minimum viable product). Building too much can be disastrous in many ways. One - it takes too long. Two - it costs too much and usually first-time entrepreneurs have neither the money nor the team to build such a thing. Three - they usually build the wrong thing. It doesn't quite solve any need and it takes a few tries to get it right."

— Pek Pongpaet, Creator of TIME Magazine Best 50 Websites of 2013.

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