The end of the year is a good time to reflect and learn. I’ve made many mistakes in my life. Some were more penalizing than others, and some may have cost me my company or set back years of my efforts.
Fortunately, because I also did a few things correctly, I ended up okay. But these mistakes are valuable lessons for me today, and likely for new entrepreneurs who want to maneuver the crazy startup/life jungle.
Interestingly, as I look through the list below, I realized one of the common themes in the mistakes below relate to caring too much about what other people think but not following what made sense to me. Good advice is golden, but following bad advice or mere pure pressure may be detrimental for an entrepreneur.
Here is list my top 10 mistakes in life as an entrepreneur.
10) Listen to MBA students from Anderson School to write a 60 page business plan
When I started my first technology startup as an undergrad at UCLA, I looked towards some students at the Anderson business school for some mentorship. To an undergrad student interested in business, MBA students were like masters of the universe, and we believed in everything they said. They advised that I create a very robust business plan that factored in all the MBA training they were receiving.
This whole process took more than 4 months of valuable startup execution time, especially when our plans keep changing. When the business plan was already 55 pages long, one of the MBA students said, “you still missed a section on listing out and describing the 5 Risk.” That was another one week.
At the end of the day, once I finally proudly displayed my 60 page bullet proof business plan to a Venture Capitalist, she annoying told me, “Oh we don’t look at anything beyond a presentation deck or a 1-page executive summary.” That crushed me.
Lesson Learned: just because someone is successful in their own rights doesn’t mean they are the expert at what you are doing. MBA students are generally smart individuals who worked mostly entry-level at big corporations like Consulting or Investment Banking Firms. Their achievements of being there is highly respectable, but often they don’t know a lot about how the startup world works.
Your divorce lawyer uncle is not a corporate lawyer. Don’t mistaken success to true relevant expertise.
9) Spent too much time making my first business “look legit”
Similar to the mistake above, when I started my very first business (not tech startup) first year in college, I was enthralled with the idea of having my own business.
I spent a lot of time figuring out legal options, website stuff, logos and business cards – basically the things that made me look like a “legitimate business.”
I did that for a couple months, and I felt great about it. However, I later realized I didn’t spend any time making my business actually more valuable. My ego probably got in the way (you know, like giving people a business card with a fancy logo that says you are CEO of your company), but since my business didn’t have true value or content, eventually all that was trashed as I moved on to other ideas, logos, websites and concepts.
Lesson Learned: many of the most successful companies came about as hobby projects that didn’t have any business structure before they got traction. Instead of making your business “look” legit, it is much better to focus on your product or talking to customers to ensure that they would actually buy your service once it is ready.