Advice

5 common myths about building a startup

The journey of building a startup is tough and challenging. No one has managed to master it yet and I believe no one will. I, myself, am still learning a lot as we are building Knowledge Officer and trying to fix the huge skills gap problem before it turns into a crisis. One of our core values is to “Continuously Learn & Share”. That is why I want to share some of my learnings from this journey of building our startup with you.

In this article, I will walk you through five commonly believed myths about building startups that many entrepreneurs have encountered at some point. I call them “the deadly sins” of being an entrepreneur.

1) Entrepreneurs are born, not made

“You are either an entrepreneur or you will stay an employee for the rest of your life!”

There is a strong wave of young people, straight out of college, who want to start their own businesses. While I am not generally against that, we need to agree that only a few of those will succeed without being backed by strong experience and industry connections. Building a business is a lot more than just the technical and business know-how. There are many things you are going to face which can’t be taught in a classroom, including people management, how to talk to investors and board members, managing your financial aspects and many more.

Takeaway: Focus your early years after college on maximizing your learnings by finding the best opportunities to mix and learn from people who are 10x better than you. This can be achieved by joining startups, established companies, research groups, working in universities and many other means. Don’t throw yourself right into the challenge of starting your own thing without being fully equipped with the right tools and knowledge/experience. Most importantly, surround yourself with the right network and advisers.

Now, every rule has exceptions! but I believe this advice applies for at least 80% of the cases.

2) Best founders are friends

“Being co-founders is like getting married, make sure you choose either your girlfriend or your best friend.”

It’s so easy to pick someone as your co-founder when you already know them. At the same time, it’s hard and awkward to pitch yourself to a complete stranger to join you in building the next billion dollar company. That’s why most people choose the easy route without thinking of near and long-term implications. Finding the right co-founder is one of the most important decisions you will make in the early days and can make or break your startup! Many people think that your co-founder has to be your best friend but that’s not a rule. I would probably go on to say that it’s the exception.

Takeaway: Understand your edge and find those who compliment your skills and continuously challenge the status-quo. Go the extra mile and try to find the best partner. It might be a start of 10-year plus relationship.

3) Fundraising is a nightmare

“I can’t build my startup because I can’t find investors or raise money.”

It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs quit because they can’t raise what they think is necessary for them to start. It’s sad that they are not aware of how much freedom they have before bringing in investment and how much they can do without spending a dollar.

There are also those who keep going to events and shaking hands with every investor they can find without knowing anything about the investor or their investment thesis and without even understanding their current needs and where exactly do they want to spend the money.

Takeaway: Investors are not beasts. They are just normal people who want to make positive multiplier return on their investments. Understand the investor mindset and be well-prepared based on your stage and state. You can do a lot also without raising money, especially in the early days. Try to bootstrap for as long as you can to gain more confidence over the problem and your solution. Getting early traction also helps with your conversations with investors at the seed stage.

4) It’s all about the brilliant Ideas

“You either think Google or Facebook or you better not start!”

Building a business is way more than just building a product. Building a product is more than just finding the next brilliant idea!

The main reasons startup fail are bad timing, founder-idea misfit, non-viable business models, lack of momentum amongst many more. Focus on these elements and think of solving a real problem before developing an actual solution. It’s also important to know whether your product is on the demand fulfillment side or the demand generation.

Takeaway: Build something an increasing number of users want. Keep growth and scale in mind, but also remember that there are zillions of things to think of at the beginning before these two. Google & Facebook did not reach this stage overnight.

5) Customer development is a waste of time

“You don’t need to test your idea with a lot of users. You are revolutionizing this industry and many won’t understand.”

Many entrepreneurs are just too lazy to talk to people every day. They say they are too busy but if they think twice, they will understand how dangerous their situation is in case they are not continuously validating what they are developing in their gorgeous offices. You are not building a business for yourself or to be your own boss! You should be aiming to address millions of users across the globe. If I have all the time in the world, I would talk to each and everyone of them!

Takeaway: Get out of the building and talk to your customers. Make customer development a vital component of all your plans and quarterly goals. Treat your customers the same as you treat your friends and care about delivering true value to them.

I hope you can all break free from these myths. If you have more deadly sins to share, please do share in comments.

Ahmed El Sharkasy

Ahmed El Sharkasy

Co-founder & CEO at Knowledge Officer
Co-founder and CEO at Knowledge Officer, a UK-based startup that offers personalized learning paths for professionals to help them achieve their career goals. You can reach out to Ahmed on Twitter. You might also want to follow Knowledge Officer's publication on Medium where he regularly writes about the journey of building Knowledge Officer. They're also starting a podcast very soon to share their experiences.
Ahmed El Sharkasy

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