Because of my background, I’m often asked – What are the biggest or most common mistakes venture leaders make? I totally understand why people ask this. So, this article is the answer to that question and it is my hope that it will help you avoid making the same mistakes I’ve made or seen in my career… as you will no doubt make plenty of your own. What? Why is Jit saying that?
Please note: Mistakes are not failures. They represent opportunities to learn lessons and move forward. That said, it is better to avoid them when you can.
When does a problem become a big mistake? If I’m being honest, the severity of the mistake depends on where you are in your venture lifecycle. If you take a look at my Venture Lifecycle graphic below, you will note that there are 4 lifecycles in a venture. They are Establish Venture, Build Product, Market Launch and Customer Success. This article will focus on the very beginning – the Ideation and Validation portion of the Establish Venture phase.
The Four Phases of a Venture
It’s Okay to Color Outside the Lines
When venture leaders begin the ideation process they often stay close to their wheelhouse of expertise. This is actually a good thing and a concept that I highly recommend in my blog entitled Choosing Your Next Venture — Three Key Steps to Success. However, one of the biggest mistakes here is to stay exclusively within the “four walls” of your area of comfort and expertise.
When you’re ideating a new concept for a venture, it is necessary and critical to ensure that you expand and explore the areas adjacent to the focal point of your proposed venture. Do NOT make the mistake of only thinking narrowly about the singular area that your venture will address.
Think about areas that your product or service can extend into. Are there other industries, geographies, use cases or customers that your venture’s product can help? Are there substitutes, alternatives and other ways the customer satisfies the need your product will address in the marketplace? If so, how will yours be different and superior? Take all of these factors into consideration when ideating your venture’s product.
Solicit Input Beyond Your Friends and Family
Another big mistake venture leaders make when ideating is to only ask for input from folks who are in their immediate circle of friends and family. While this is certainly a good place to start, the reality is that some of these people may either lack the expertise to offer good advice on your idea, or they may be unwilling or unable to help you build on the idea to bring it to full fruition.
When ideating, make sure you run your ideas by people within your extended network, perhaps folks that you haven’t spoken to in years. They may have some key advice and ideas to offer on how to make your product much better.
Iterate, Iterate, and Iterate Again
Have you ever worked with someone who thinks they have a fantastic product idea and they won’t take input from anyone else? They think their concept is “perfect” and they stop developing it further. “It’s perfect! That’s it! We’re done!” This is common and a massive mistake that I have seen more than once. Do NOT make it!
The reality is that even if an idea is awesome and lights up people’s eyes when they hear about it, often it can and will need to be changed, updated, and improved over time. Don’t assume or conclude that your idea, as it comes together in the ideation phase, will be what your venture ultimately goes to market with when you launch.
Anticipate and prepare your team for the fact that changes (sometimes substantial ones) will likely need to be made to the product before it gets into your customers hands. Don’t lock yourself or your ego into a “fixed” vision of a “perfect” product early on in your venture’s lifecycle. Keep an open mind!
Do Not Skip Validation!
The first and biggest mistake venture leaders make in the validation phase, is to skip it entirely. Yes! You
heard me right. In their enthusiasm to move ahead aggressively with their idea and be the first-to-market, some venture leaders make the very risky move of skipping this step entirely or they give it a short shrift. DO NOT be the venture leader who overlooks validation in your haste to get to market!
The justification and benefits of a rigorous validation phase are clear to those who have undergone such an exercise. For more information on validation, please read Checks and Balances: The Art of Managing Product Development. In a nutshell, having a robust validation phase ensures that you get the best input so that you can tweak your product for maximum appeal in the market.
Because you may not have the same areas of expertise as those you validate your product with, there may be aspects of the product that you hadn’t thought of beforehand. This is the insight and knowledge you will gain in this phase of development.
So, I strongly recommend that you take the road less traveled and reach out to a large network of extended folks to double-check each of the core aspects and value propositions of your product. You’ll be happy you did when you avoid the blind alleys and pitfalls your venture would otherwise have suffered if you skipped it.
Avoid the Dreaded “Endless Validation”
Another error venture leaders make is the exact opposite of the one above – it’s called Endless Validation. You don’t want to end up spending so much time validating your product that you miss your market opportunity and never get it out the door.
Validation is critical and important, just make sure you don’t end up in an endless cycle or loop that you get stuck in. Set clear milestones or hurdles that represent 80-90% of what you want the product to do. During and after that validation phase, you will certainly continue to take input, but you can be confident that you will have locked down the bulk of the features in this first shipment or sale of your product.
It is highly likely that you will incorporate additional validation feedback as you iterate through future versions of the product. That’s normal and to be expected. Just remember that too much validation is not a good thing for your venture. Avoid this “failure to launch” syndrome!
Expose Your Product to a Broad Audience
Sometimes venture leaders validate but only work with those close to them or those with a positive view of
their product or service. The challenge with this is obvious. If you only have “yes people” validate your product or service, it’s not going to get any better.
This is the same as not having validated your product at all. Actually, it’s worse because you’ll think you’ve run a “rigorous” validation when the reality is that you’ve only been operating in an “echo chamber”. This is perhaps one of the worst mistakes teams can make in the validation phase.
Along these same lines, if you only have “yes people” working for you, no one will challenge your mediocre and lousy ideas. You need a team who will tell you the truth and sometimes save you from yourself.
When validating your product or idea, it is important to make sure that you explore discussions with folks well beyond your closest circle, especially those who have been adversarial or opposed to it in the past. Guess what? These folks will often give you the best feedback for how to tweak your product to make it more successful. I spoke about this in my blog entitled – 6 Valuable Lessons for Dealing With Objections and Rejections. Read it for thoughts on how and why you’ll want to validate your product with those likely to tell you no.
Shoot for the “goldilocks” scenario of validation, that of neither doing too much or too little. Keep it just right. This can be a challenging phase for venture leaders to manage and navigate, especially those who are doing it for the first time. As noted above, the best way to manage it successfully is to establish a set of metrics for when you think you’ll be done with this phase. Accomplish the bulk of what your clients need and want, and use those metric measures as guiding lights to navigate your team through this phase.
I hope you enjoyed this blog. Please let me know your comments, questions, feedback and insights below or feel free to email me directly here. Please Read and Share all my blogs at LeadingVentures.com.
About this blog – The goal of this blog is to share my experiences, to capture and reveal valuable insights, and to draw from my serial entrepreneur-ship through 7 ventures over the past 20 years. I have encountered many impressive entrepreneurs along the way and I hope to share our collective experience with you to help teach and perhaps motivate you to launch your own B2B or B2C enterprise.
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