13th April, 2018

3 mistakes startups make early on (and how to fix them)

A business is a complex beast. Running one can lead to plenty of mistakes – but there are ways you can avoid them.

With every startup there are moments where you learn as you go along. It’s what makes them so fun. But their ad-hoc nature also leads to business errors.

The good news is you’re not alone.

Speedlancer’s CEO, Adam Stone, and Tribe 9’s co-founder, Ruby Lee, will be talking on how to navigate your startup’s early years at the Masters Series by WeTeachMe at Inspire 9.

Stone said mistakes are littered through every startup before it gets a grip of what it’s doing. Here’s how to side-step them.

1. Confront your own biases

One of the most important things business owners (or let’s face it, all humans) can do is confront their own biases.

Stone learned this lesson while building Speedlancer. Having set up a successful eCommerce company already was no buffer.

He said Speedlancer struggled to keep customers after the first completed task – not because they were unhappy with the service. Speedlancer just didn’t offer a package that suited their needs.

“I had an eCommerce company previously. We scaled that to 140,000 paying customers so I had pre-conceived notions about how to use freelancers because we used them heavily in that business,” Stone told The Pulse.

“We were comfortable using freelancers to build and scale. We assumed others were as well. I probably should have realised sooner that my biases were holding us back.”

He then simply put himself in his customers’ shoes.

“It was about taking five steps back and thinking about it from the customers’ perspective. Talk to as many as possible.”

2. Learn how to use freelancers properly

What Stone found from that customer feedback that there was confusion about what role freelance workers played within a business.

It’s no surprise that Stone, whose business lives and breathes freelance work, suggested that startups don’t outsource enough.

“Talent is a startup’s biggest expense. If there’s any way to cut that down just imagine how much more could be done,” said Stone.

He said outsourcing more work allows in-house talent to focus on strategy but startups were puzzled by how much to tell freelancers about the business.

“Founders can give the freelancer too much information without building a process around it. By giving that information up in the first place without a risk strategy, founders risk having that information leak to a third party,” said Stone.

“If the freelancer is working without much guidance, you run the risk of losing control of that process and the information you’ve given them.”

Aside from choosing a trusted freelance supplier, he said the solution is to think about  your processes for contracting freelance workers. Balance what they need to know upfront without revealing state secrets.

3. Pick and choose relevant advice

It can be difficult to sift through the mounds of well-meaning advice (such as this very piece!) to find the nuggets of gold that apply to your business.

“Every business requires different things and different learnings,” said Stone. “If you weren’t building anything innovative then it would be easy to grab advice. It would have been tried and tested.”

He said the key was to keep your ears open, but to try and focus on information which will be an immediate benefit to your business or complement a shortfall in your understanding instead of trying to understand and apply everything.

“Be a straw, not a sponge,” said Stone. “It’s about being selective about what knowledge you choose to bring to your company. That’s the role of the founder.”

So if you need help communicating with clients, look for information about communicating with clients. If you want to increase your upselling game, look for information about upselling.

You can hear more from Stone (and from Lee as well) at the Masters Series by WeTeachMe at Inspire 9 in Richmond, Melbourne, on 18 April.