3 Ways To Cripple Your Startup From Day 1

01/13/2016 03:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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photo credit: © david_franklin / DPC

Painful to watch.

Passionate entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams, full of energy and hope, trying to change the world...only to commit every mistake in the book. One after the other.

The result? Years of time and piles of cash up in smoke. Cut down before they had a chance to shine.

You can do better. Learn from their mistakes. Shorten your path to success.

I give you three entrepreneurs I've worked with, sharing the biggest problem they faced from Day 1.

1) "If I don't have a finished app, people won't give me feedback."

Never start with code.

Please. If you go from first idea to code, you do yourself no favors. Like taking a 40-pound backpack on a marathon.

Why? Because no matter how fast you (or your developer) can code, conversations run faster. Period.

Listen--as an entrepreneur, your job is to create value for a specific group of people. Not to generate tons of ideas, or to build things in a cave. Switch your mind from make to listen.

Better yet, go one step further. Do you really need to make an app to solve your customer's problem? Don't ignore low-tech, especially because of scale. In the early days, scale matters not.

And if you must use software, see if you can test with an incomplete version.

Take Rodolfo Saccoman, founder of analytics company AdMobilize. When he began, he hired people to act as walking iPad-powered billboards. A halfway solution, but it worked: people saw the ads, and the iPads measured how many people saw them.

He didn't need to build a polished app. An incomplete app combined with manual labor gave him all the information and feedback he needed to figure out the next step.

Can you do the same? Build a halfway solution, do the rest manually? See if you can make it happen.

But whatever you do, try this: before you spend even a minute on product development, have 20 conversations with potential customers. Ask them open-ended questions. Learn their language. What problems do they struggle with, every day?

Keep trying to figure out what makes them tick. Will you get it right the first time? No. But get started, and keep going.

2) "I have a great idea for a product, but no clue how to start."

Sound like you? Good--at least you admit you don't have all the answers. Instead of jumping straight into the fire, you look to avoid common pitfalls. Smart.

But wait. Please don't marry any idea yet, however great. Matters not how many 'aha!' moments you experience late at night, you must remain skeptical.

Yes, you should act on those moments. But left unchecked, they kill months or years of your life. Instead, sleep on it. Give your brain chemistry a chance to reset. Next day, you get to work and see how your new idea fits your business and purpose.

And how?

You ask the right questions. Not how long it'll take to build, or what features to include, or how much you need to spend.

Step back and think: are you passionate about the kind of people your idea will provide value for? Because you can bet on one thing: your best competition has boundless passion, even if you don't. Great ideas won't save you then: passion beats ideas, every time.

So how do you find a group of people you'd love to serve?

Simple: pick a group and talk to individuals. Get to know them.

And not just a few.

3) "I've talked to a few customers, so yes, I know these people."

A few conversations won't do. You need as many deep conversations you can get, and more.

Why? Simple: much of the information you need lies hidden inside your customers' minds. You have to tease it out; they won't tell you everything straight up.

Your best bet? Just reach out to more people. Frame and focus your conversations carefully and watch the truth come out.

When Jeff Hyman, successful entrepreneur and former VP of Marketing at Dyson, launched his previous startup, he interviewed customers in-depth, way before he built anything.

His aim? To help people lose weight. Before long, he identified the core problem: people don't care about the health benefits of losing weight. They care about the vanity aspects, such as getting more attention, admiration, and so on.

Take a guess: how many customers do you think he interviewed? Five, eight, maybe ten? Turns out, he talked to many dozens, at length. Highly focused questions. Listening skills off the charts.

Think about it: your entire startup depends on the pain points of your customers. Every action you take, every hour you work boils down to one question: can you solve their most pressing problems and get paid for it? Accomplish this and your life as an entrepreneur gets way simpler.

Commit to a steady, rigorous diet of conversations with potential customers. Make a herculean effort and you benefit from a useful side-effect: you gain confidence. Even better, you quickly learn to spot the kind of person you don't want to serve.

Start with conversations, not code. Choose a group you'd love to serve. And talk to as many as you can.

Don't let Day 1 leave you feeling empty.

Make it one to be proud of.

Hi, I'm Harry, a fellow entrepreneur. Keen to help you get organized, so you can know your customer and earn more revenue. Let's connect.