March 21, 2017

68 SaaS Startup Mistakes - DON'T do these things



This is a great list from CBinsights.com, one of my favorite and highly recommended newsletters following the startup world, and they are all about data.  Disclaimer from CBinsights.com: This will be useless for wantrepreneurs, people who believe VC is required to build a biz, folks who can’t grind, or folks selling $9.95/month SaaS products (and many others).

I've chimed in with a few comments of my own (MM: ...........)

#1 DON’T take advice from non-customers. “Only take advice from those who have to live with the consequences.”  (MM: also see #68)

#2 DON’T tolerate high-performing assholes. They might provide short-term benefit but are cancerous to culture long-term (MM: a bigger problem is tolerating low-performing nice people.)

#3 DON’T fall in love with pedigree. There are plenty of smart folks who aren’t Google or Stanford alums.

#4 DON’T half-ass onboarding of new teammates. Teammates make decisions to stay quickly. First impressions matter. (MM: this is a horrible mistake made by most startups. You can not expect success from a hire and ignore policy.)

#5 DON’T believe you have to raise VC. This narrative is great for VCs but is BS. Revenue is the best funding. (MM: Bootstrap for as long as humanly possible. Sales Solves All Problems. Bootstrap is another word for 'Revenue Fund'.)

#6 DON’T be pressured into raising VC. Just because a competitor did doesn’t mean anything. (MM: see #5)

#7 DON’T let them call you a lifestyle business. You can revenue-fund a giant (Mailchimp, Atlassian). (MM: the only people who really matter are customers and employees.)

#8 DON’T waste money on PR to get customers. Especially early, do it on your own. Know what PR is good for.

#9 DON’T chase press in sexy but irrelevant media. It’s easier to go after niche media which is less sexy and more useful. (MM: 'Vanity Metrics' are a waste of time.)

#10 DON’T believe your own hype. People are saying your co is amazing. Enjoy & forget. Stay paranoid. (MM: "Only the paranoid survive." Bill Gates.)

#11 DON’T get fixated on losses. If you’re doing it right, you’ll probably lose a lot. It sucks but try to forget. (MM: I'm not so sure about this one. I hate losses. You should too.)

#12 DON’T think you know your end market from day one. Be promiscuous in the early days. Sometimes, customers show up you didn’t expect. (MM: look for the pivot!)

#13 DON’T be promiscuous about your market forever. At some point, you have enough data. Pick a market and attack it. (MM: Focus! Execute!)

#14 DON’T hire smart people and “figure it out later.” People do better with clear goals and priorities especially early on. (MM: Each hire must produce income enough to pay their costs. If not, you made the wrong hire or the right hire at the wrong time.)

#15 DON’T hire under pressure. Every time we’ve rushed a hiring decision, we’ve regretted it. (MM: hiring is one of the most important decisions you make.  It's the strongest signal of the culture you want to build.)

#16 DON’T fire slow. Easier said than done, TBH, but culture is driven by people you hire and fire. (MM: You've heard it so many times: Hire slow, fire fast. Most startups get it backwards. If you haven't fired anyone in a while, you're either the God of Good Hiring, or you're not doing your job.)

#17 DON’T inflate people’s titles. When your startup scales, the inflated title holders get demoted. Not good. (MM: I always inflate titles when there are only a few on the team, but they know they are inflated titles, and are advised that they will either grow quickly into the job, or they will soon report to the new VP of Administration, or whatever. Don't call someone a partner unless they really are!)

#18 DON’T be afraid to hire expert advisors. We did too much non-core stuff on our own in the beginning. Made mistakes. (MM: get experts part time on project basis. Check UpWork.com)

#19 DON’T be afraid to fire expert advisors. Sometimes, people/firms coast by on reputation. If you find this, run. (MM: see #16.)

#20 DON’T do what Slack, Dropbox, Evernote do. Everyone is super smart until they’re not. Do what is good for your biz. (MM: do your thing, your way. Test. Pivot. Learn.)

#21 DON’T believe the easy hype BS. You can’t growth hack your way to $100M in revenue.

#22 DON’T believe being out-funded matters. Money buys you time. It doesn’t buy you the ability to execute. (MM: Mo' money, mo' problems, especially when it's somebody else's money.)

#23 DON’T only celebrate big wins or sales wins. Highlight big and small milestones and recognize folks behind them.

#24 DON’T sell to startups. No money. High churn. They die. The definition of SaaS hell. (MM: unless they pay cash up front, maybe, but the LTV is questionable.)

#25 DON’T be the lowest priced product in the market. This path generally sucks. Trust me. (MM: I like low price to enter a market, and then raise prices to reflect real value.)

#26 DON’T get cute with pricing It’s confusing and nobody is buying your important, awesome product cuz of this. (MM: the idea is to make it easy to buy, to remove the risk of buying, but if they can't understand your pricing and value proposition, you're hosed.)

#27 DON’T be afraid to ask if your product idea sucks. Customers will tell you if it’s something they’d pay for. They want you to win. (MM: not a fan of this negative way of getting product feedback. Prefer to ask how it could be improved. If they don't buy, it sucks, or else you're talking to the wrong prospect.)

#28 DON’T respond to trolls. Obvious but don’t. (TBH, I still do this to F with them from time-to-time) (MM: Focus. Put your energies where they will create a profit.)

#29 DON’T worry about perfecting your tech too early. Revenues > technical debt. This will change as you scale. (MM: There is no Perfect. Get in the market asap. Learn fast. "If you're not embarrassed by your first product, you've waited too long." Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn.)

#30 DON’T be boring. So much software marketing is boring. Have a voice. Be interesting. (MM: Please!)

#31 DON’T chase startup fads. Badges, AI. Big Data. Does it help customers?

#32 DON’T think biz dev / CS will learn through osmosis. Not investing in training as you scale will hurt you. (MM: continuous training is one of the biggest mistakes of startups.)

#33 DON’T wait to hire customer success. Even if churn is low, hire CS folks to ensure customers love you. (MM: right here you have the secret to success in business: happy customers. It's ridiculous to keep adding new customers if they aren't going to be deliriously happy. Measure NPS.)

#34 DON’T believe in the one hire messiah. If you’ve got a mess, someone may fix it. But don’t bank on it.

#35 DON’T half-ass reference checks. Whether it’s a new teammate, investor or important advisor, vet them hard.

#36 DON’T meet with VCs unless you’re ready to raise. If you meet them, even casually, it’s a pitch.

#37 DON’T price based on competition If you’re indistinguishable from competition, that’s a problem.   

#38 DON’T think channel partnerships will save you. It’s hard to get someone else to do the selling for you. (MM: amen!)

#39 DON’T dominate conversations w/ customers. The more customers talk during conversations, the better. (MM: asking questions is the smartest way to sell.)

#40 DON’T try to delegate product management too early. In the beginning, the product managers are the founders and engineers.

#41 DON’T forget to ask for the sale. A quick yes is amazing. And a quick no is also pretty good. Don’t get strung along.

#42 DON’T listen to people with no money who want to “integrate.”  99% of time, these people are colossal wastes of time. Show me the money. (MM: upvote!)

#43 DON’T fear non-scalable work. Elegant solutions are often not worth the effort. Love the grind.

#44 DON’T worry about competition. Focus on the customer night and day. (Hint: Read Jeff Bezos on this topic)

#45 DON’T give a shit about Hacker News. God – we wasted so much time trying to get on the HN front page.

#46 DON’T try to innovate in HR. Focus your innovation efforts on your product. (MM: there's that word again: Focus.)

#47 DON’T give perks you can’t give forever. If the market turns downward, and the perk wouldn’t survive, don’t give it.

#48 DON’T hire salespeople till you can sell it yourself. If you’re the founder and can’t sell the shit out of it, nobody else will. (MM: when you can Do it, then Document it, and Delegate it. Create a repeatable, scalable sales process and you will rule the world.)

#49 DON’T think all leads are created equal. Double down on best ones. Some will never buy. Forget them.

#50 DON’T try to please everyone. You’ll build a crappy product that doesn’t get anyone fired up.

#51 DON’T worry about your personal brand. Unless it helps recruit teammates or customers, why bother?

#52 DON’T try to act like a “salesperson.” There is not one way to sell. Do what’s comfortable.

#53 DON’T ignore sales advice. There is a lot of wisdom out there. Use it.

#54 DON’T do ‘demos.’ Have conversations. You’re not a tool with buttons and features. Position yourself as more. (MM: demo less, ask more questions.)

#55 DON’T be lazy after your first conversation. People are busy and aren’t fixated on you. You have to keep them interested. (MM: follow through is essential. Why start if you aren't going to follow through?)

#56 DON’T buy whole grape / piece of watermelon thing Focus on the narrative that works for you. Not one foisted upon you. (MM: I had no idea what this means! So I looked it up. It's kind of like the old "Do you want to be King, or do you want to be Rich?" Bottom line: It's your business, make it do what you want, no some VC.)

#57 DON’T believe the media/VC survivorship bias. 79% of exits are < $200M. Google and Facebook are freaks.

#58 DON’T always look for new channels. It’s better to be killer at a few channels than suck at many.

#59 DON’T pointlessly network. If you’re emailing to pick people’s brains, swap notes, etc, stop it. Now. (MM: yes, you are wasting other people's time, but also your own. Have you no shame? If you have a specific question, go for it. Focus.)

#60 DON’T be a ‘conference ho.’ See #59. Don’t mistake activity for progress.

#61 DON’T hesitate to ”flood the zone.”  Once you find something works, milk the hell out of it.

#62 DON’T deceive yourself on the size of your market. Build a product and price with your market in mind.

#63 DON’T fetishize failure. Failure blows. Don’t make it ok and say it was a learning experience. (MM: if you're going to say it was a 'learning experience' you should have proven that already by subsequent success.)

#64 DON’T worry about your name and logo too much. Cuz you will never do worse than us. CB Insights began as ChubbyBrain. 

#65 DON’T expect clients to tell you what product to build. First, it is not their job. Second, their feedback will often be incremental. 

#66 DON’T do feature demos. Nobody really cares. They want to know why it makes their lives better. (MM: if you're still reading, you should have learned this already.)

#67 DON’T ever forget WIIFM. Nobody gives a shit about your product. They care about What’s In It For Me? (MM: WIIFM=What's In It For Me? This is basic Sales 101. Value Proposition.)

#68 DON’T blindly follow this advice. There is no playbook. Anyone who tells you there is one is stupid and/or a charlatan.  (MM: even Buddha said to not believe him, or anyone. Believe in yourself, learn from others.)

More from the good guys at CBinsights:

204 startup failure post-mortems (view here
Why we don’t have an exit strategy? (view here
54 mistakes of a startup CEO (view here)

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