December 22, 2021

5 founder impulses to resist in the new year

Avoiding bad habits is just as important as creating good ones when you’re early-stage


Zack Steven

When you're launching a startup, especially for the first time, it's tempting to invest time and money in all of the things that look like doing business, but actually aren't. When you're reading stories of overnight success and seeing posts of other people's vanity metrics, it’s easy to forget that you don’t have a business until you have a customer. That’s where your focus should be—your customer.

The biggest mistake I see founders making time and again is mistaking procrastination for preparation. In an early-stage company, resources are precious, especially your time. Focusing on the trappings of a business (plans, pitches, an office, swag, etc.) rather than traction wastes that precious time. I know because I have more business cards and domains from failed ventures than I care to admit.

If you've launched a startup already or 2022 is the year you're going to do it, congrats! But keep these common early-stage impulses in check:

1. Keeping secrets

It's understandable to want to protect your idea and to be concerned that someone is going to steal it. The reality is, people won't steal your idea in the early days. They'll wait until you have some traction and then steal it. However, if they do, they'll lack the vision to know where the product is going. Future vision is your superpower. Someone may be able to copy what you have done, but they won't be able to copy what you haven't built yet.

Instead of being hush hush, get comfortable sharing your ideas because critique makes them stronger. Don't fall into the trap of keeping your thoughts to yourself out of fear that your ideas will be stolen. That nobody will actually want what you’re building should be your primary fear.

2. Reading startup blogs ;)

It's fine to take inspiration from other people's journeys, but remember the saying, "comparison is the thief of joy." The best way to learn is by doing. The time you spend reading other people's stories is time you could be spending writing your own. It will be a grind. Don't allow what you read to convince you that overnight success is the norm.

If you must look outward, there is a growing trend of founders using social media to #buildinpublic. The hashtag gives us a glimpse into the nitty gritty of how others are actually doing it. In addition to following along, why not start sharing your own story, challenges, and wins of whatever size? Remember, feedback helps startups grow.

3. Buying the artifacts of business

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a logo, website, business cards, or swag. They are all things that make a company seem real, but I repeat: you don't really have a company until you have a customer. Do what you need to do to give people the confidence to buy, but don't go overboard with the appearance of a company at the expense of delivering value. Chances are many things about your business (your name, your logo, the tagline, where it’s based) will evolve, so don’t lock yourself and your brand in too soon.

In our experience, talking to potential customers is a great starting point for winning customers. Start listening to what they say and validating your assumptions. See what they’re excited about. See what would stop them from purchasing. See if you can solve their problems manually without any fancy technology first. Often times, a single-page website with a well-crafted story and contact form is all a company needs. What people are really buying at this point is the belief that you can deliver. If need be, you can create the first version of a logo inexpensively using tools like Canva or 99designs.

4. Overdoing plans and pitches

For my first startup, I wrote a 30 page by-the-book business plan that included lots of research on the market, the competition, the business model, and detailed multi-year financial projections. I even printed copies in 3-ring binders! It was robust and it looked solid, but it cost me precious time and took focus away from connecting with actual customers. The same can be said for pitch decks and pitch competitions. It’s important to communicate your value proposition, but at a certain point you just have to get out and sell.

As an easier alternative, take a look at the free EZ-Flow Business Plan template from Venture Superfly to help you right-size your approach. Time-box your efforts at crafting your plan and your deck. Set up meetings to share it with people as a forcing function to get it done. See it as a work in progress that is informed by what you learn, rather than something set in stone at the outset. No matter how much time you put into forecasting, you’ll be wrong, so don’t overdo it.

5. Waiting for the perfect circumstances

What all of the above culminates in is avoiding the real work of building your startup by chasing perfection. Here’s the thing: there’s no point where you’ll have gained enough of a headstart or prior information to guarantee success. You can have perfected your pitch and your website and still find that demand for what you’re offering is tepid. You simply can’t buy your way to creating a company, be it through money, trappings, secrecy, studying up, or planning.

Startup success comes from building something people want, and that comes from getting out and talking to people, building something, and learning as you go. In his book The Minimalist Entrepreneur, Sahil Lavignia writes "You don't learn then start. You start then learn." I couldn’t agree more.

So what are you waiting for? Get started already! If you need help, surround yourself with people who are also doing and failing and learning, in business, art, music, or any creative endeavor. Join some online communities where you can begin to find your creative tribe. They’ll help reinforce that the startup process isn’t perfect and that failures are inevitable. Getting started without all the pieces is an uncomfortable feeling, but it’s better than never giving it a go.

If you want to talk about where you are on the startup journey and how it’s going, bad habits and all, please reach out.

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Zack Steven, CEO of Cloudburst, is a curious optimist, Dad, entrepreneur, and angel investor. He has a degree in Studio Art and is a fan of good design, big ideas, and strong communities.