The Seven Don'ts of Growing Your Startup, from CEO and Founder Colin Keogh

You can find a lot of information online about what you should do if you want to be a successful startup founder, but there’s less advice out there about what not to do. Labs mentor Colin Keogh, CEO of The Rapid Foundation, a project that aims to empower underprivileged communities through technology access, held a session to discuss the seven things that all entrepreneurs should avoid doing as they grow their startups.  

Don’t: Fear failure

One of our basic human instincts is the fear of failure. But as an entrepreneur, this fear should push you to get started rather than hold you back. “There are many people who won't make the jump because they're afraid to fail. Whereas if you push it as fast and as hard as you can, thinking that you will fail and you don't, you’ll have a good business,” Keogh says. Failed startup ideas may seem like a step back, but try to view them for what they really are: learning opportunities. “I've had varied experiences with startups, both good and bad,” Keogh says. “I found that the best ones to learn from are those that fail. Think of entrepreneurship as a journey. You'll be an entrepreneur for life, not just for this company.”

Don’t: Wing it

Growing a startup is a very detailed-oriented process, so neglecting to carefully plan out your next steps can be costly. Without a plan, it can be difficult to achieve any growth or momentum. Even if none of your plans go exactly right, it’s important to at least have an idea of the direction you want to go in or the steps you want to take. “You can’t go out on funding rounds or take part in accelerators without any planning. You should have a game plan for every major commitment you’ll have, from early-stage founder agreements to onboarding legal professionals” Keogh says. “I had an experience with an accelerator program where the lack of planning stopped us from achieving anything. I felt like I was wasting wheel spins without any making any gains.”

Don’t: Be afraid to have difficult conversations

At some point in your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll have to have an uncomfortable conversation or two (or more). Whether it’s with an employee, an investor or a cofounder, addressing unpleasant topics is important to avoid any avalanche effects. “Nobody likes having difficult conversations and early-stage founders, in particular, avoid these conversations—equity splits, terms, and conditions on financing agreements work commitment from co-founders and partners,” Keogh says. “Nobody wants to have these conversations, but you need to have them because if you don't have them, you're going to stack your failure. If something waivers or breaks, it’ll break in a major way.”

Don’t: Ignore your instincts

Even if you’re a first-time entrepreneur, you should follow your instincts in any situation that makes you uneasy or gives you pause. “All arrows can be pointing towards something being perfect, but if you don't feel right or you get that nagging sensation, you should probably avoid it,” says Keogh. Just remember that your gut won’t always be 100 percent on the mark, especially in situations where you aren’t well researched. “You don't trust your gut in a field you know nothing about because it's tainted,” Keogh says. “You want to know everything about what you're going to do, and then if your gut says, ‘Whoa, slow down,’ listen to it because it's probably right then.”

Don’t: Skip the product validation process

Sometimes entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming that their product is going to take off without validating it first. Product validation and iteration are essential processes in the startup lifecycle, so never overlook or skip them. ”You may have the best idea that's ever been created, but if it's not validated and other people don't want it, it's worthless,” Keogh says. Whether this is your first product or your tenth iteration, validation is always necessary, especially in a constantly changing consumer market. “Tides change, markets change, situations and consumers change,” Keogh says. “If you have a product and validation doesn't go your way, you've saved yourself years of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Don’t: Grow too quickly or too slowly

Even though you should be constantly validating your product and ideas, try not to validate and grow so slowly that you end up being a blocker for yourself. “You need to get your product out as fast as possible, but in a validated, sensible way,” Keogh says. On the other hand, don’t feel pressured to move quickly because someone is offering you funding or asking you to speed up validation or development. ”If you're an early-stage founder and somebody offers you $20 million, what are you going to do with it? If you don't need $20 million, don't take it. If you need $1 million to get you to the next stage of validation, take that instead,” Keogh says.

Growing too quickly can also hurt your hiring practices. If you need one manager to efficiently grow your product, don’t hire two because you think you’ll reach your milestones faster. “If you raise a huge funding round and you've never managed a team and you need to hire 50 engineers, what are you going to do? You're stacking your odds of failure by bringing in these outside elements that you don’t necessarily need,” Keogh says.

Don’t: Forget to  take care of yourself

Self-care is important for everyone (you can read more about it here), but it’s something that entrepreneurs often don’t leave enough time for. With so many ongoing obligations, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of neglecting your well-being. “I’ve always said that the weakest element in any startup is always its founder. If you break the person, the company won’t last,” Keogh says. “There's always another day for the company, but there's not another day for you if your health explodes.”

Try to take some time out every week to practice anything that helps you de-stress, whether it’s yoga, meditation or a short walk through the park. “Don’t let it physically affect you,” Keogh says. “Do whatever you need to do to make your startup successful but don’t do it at your own expense.”

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This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

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