These 8 Business Beliefs Are Killing Your Startup

Here are a handful of 'old' business beliefs that could be killing your startup.

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  1. Perfect planning = excellent execution = success.

    Think about all of the planning that goes into a wedding, and how little of the detail anyone remembers from it. So, what if the timing is a little off on the march, or if the groomsmen’s ties are a slightly different shade than the bridesmaid dresses.

    In the same way, your product release is important to you, but if everything isn’t 100% as you planned it, will anyone else even notice, or care? No. Just get your product out the door so you can begin the process of learning and iterating. As General Patton once said: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

  2. People buy pretty things.

    No, people are tempted to buy pretty things. That’s why fashion magazines exist. What ultimately drives them to purchase is psychology and an interactive experience. To make people buy, make it easy for them to behave the way you want them to; focus on interaction design, not visual design. An upscale boutique may have hardwood floors and relaxing music, but they’re not selling the kind of volume as the franchise grocery store that carefully places high-margin products at eye-level.

  3. Have lots of friends.

    Ah, the popularity trap! In business, this translates to the the problem of vanity metrics like visitors, views and followers, and thinking that Facebook “Likes” are going to impact your business. Ditch those and focus instead on what directly impacts your business’s bottom line: conversions, retention rate, customer referrals and even (gasp!) revenue.

    Note, however, that metrics by themselves are not enough; as Ash Maurya has said, [metrics] will only tell you that something is going right or wrong. To understand why and to get to the real insights, you need to get to the people behind your numbers — the customer.

  4. Customers are loyal.

    Dogs are loyal, customers are not. Maybe you make some nice moves and get a handful of seemingly dedicated, loving customers, but they’re not going to stick with you if you mess up more than once. Given that so many startup founders are millennials, who are known for their constantly shifting brand loyalties, this may already be apparent.

    So, if all customers are fickle, how do you keep them? This is where startups have an edge on bigger businesses. They’ve gotten notorious for their tendency to pivot, but pivoting is a great way to acknowledge that your current path is not earning or retaining enough customers and that you need to shift gears. If more companies had short runways and had to make these hard decisions sooner rather later, there might be fewer fizzles, or long, drawn-out product failures.

  5. If it ain’t broke…

    Tradition assumes that every business’s goal is to achieve product-market fit, to find that special formula that will skyrocket sales and ensure long-lasting success. But if you don’t innovate and change the formula, your product will eventually become irrelevant and customers will get bored and move on (see #6).

    The best startups are the ones that have struck fear into large companies in their space because of their ability to not only iterate faster, but to be constantly moving targets themselves and therefore harder to pin down and crush as competition. So, even if it’s not broken, fix it. Strive for continuous innovation; it’s as essential as changing the seasonal inventory in a retail store. Keeping things fresh for your customer makes them come back for more.

  6. First product, then marketing.

    In a way, this is a correct belief because everything needs marketing. People, places, products… you can build it, but they won’t come unless you communicate the value to the right audience. Startups need to dedicate resources to marketing, because as sexy as the “we went from zero to one million users with no marketing” story is, it’s just not the norm. But this is again where timing comes into play.

    Consider marketing as a component of your product, not a supplement or something that comes after. For example, FEED Projects are like the Toms Shoes of bags, but rather than push their mission through advertising and storytelling, they’ve built it physically into the product.

    Each bag has a large number printed on it, and that number represents the amount of nourishment (i.e, lunches, vitamin supplements, etc.) children in need will receive via their in-kind donation to the WFP. It’s a built-in story that gets people thinking and talking about the product and mission in the same breath, which is the kind of word of mouth marketing that turns customers into brand ambassadors.

Ana Yoerg is a founding partner at Pivotal Pod, a content marketing agency that specializes in working with startups. She is, at heart, a word-nerd who believes that great branded content (e.g., creative ad copy, email, blog posts, bylines, video) coupled with well-timed, agile PR campaigns can dramatically boost user growth and build customer engagement for any startup. Pivotal Pod is the producer of the Lean Startup promo video, “What would an entrepreneur do?” featuring Marc Andreessen and Eric Ries. Clients have included Opera, Wikia, Mobile Theory, Rumgr, VegasTech, and Explore.org, a project of the Annenberg Foundation.

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