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5 typical mistakes startups make

And how you can learn from them

I have been advising successful app companies for 10 years now, as well as start-ups, SMEs and corporates that are new to the mobile business. To digitize their business, to accelerate their growth or to help them in difficult situations.

The fact that start-ups, SMEs and corporates differ massively in terms of processes, culture and many other aspects (I was able to get to know all three types of company as a founder, CEO and executive) should come as no great surprise. But there are also significant differences and recurring thought patterns in the approach to app projects, which I would like to share with you.

Let's start with the start-ups 👨🏽‍💻🚀 in this article

A startup at work


Here are my top 5 typical mistakes made by start-ups:

1. "We talk to as few people as possible about our app idea so that it doesn't get stolen."

Honestly, in my experience, the "idea" is just 1% of the journey, 99% is the team, product, business model and marketing. The probability that a business angel or investor will be so enthusiastic about your idea that they will immediately put together a team and steal the idea is almost zero.

At least experienced investors know that the most important thing is to put together a team that is able to respond quickly and flexibly to changing market conditions, learnings from the first user tests and opportunities that arise on the journey. And that also has the degree of persuasiveness, drive and persisctance that every start-up needs to survive difficult times.

Holding back your idea means one thing above all: slowing down. The sooner you share it, the more you talk about it - especially with critical and experienced outsiders and not with family and friends - the faster you can learn from their feedback, adapt and pivot if necessary or throw the whole idea overboard. This is always better than committing to a project, investing a lot of time and money and then only realizing afterwards that the idea didn't work out.

I recommend that you "change your hat" from time to time. Take off the "founder's hat" and put on the "devil's advocate" hat. Try to look at all facets of your idea as critically as possible. Otherwise, the person opposite you will do this for you at the first pitch at the latest. Of course, there are exceptions where it is advisable to approach the market very cautiously and not share anything at all without an NDA. But these are extremely rare.


2. "We have no competitors. Our idea is unique."

Heard a thousand times, refuted a thousand times. A quick Google search is usually enough to find direct competitors in the same market segment. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper - for example, I also search in the store fronts of other countries (each country has its own app store). And I always find what I'm looking for. And then the first impression is already gone. Not because I assume that the idea has to be unique, but because I assume that the founders have looked extensively at their competitive environment before they present it to the outside world (and by extensively I mean really extensively).

The good news is that even if the idea already exists - and, as I said, everything already exists - that doesn't mean it's bad or can't work. Apple didn't invent the smartphone, the MP3 player or the smartwatch. But they have rethought and simplified these products. It's not the idea that matters, but what you do with it and how you significantly improve the user experience compared to the competing products.


3. "We are now concentrating on making sure the app works. The "prettifying" will come later."

Everything your customers see, think and feel when they interact with your app should have top priority. After all, your customers are ultimately not interested in the complexity of your product, nor in your conceptual and scientifically sound derivation, the user personas or even your code. They only judge what they see and not what's "under the hood". So you should focus on this.

For this to succeed, the app must be uncompromisingly customer-centric in its design and development from the outset and, above all, be one thing: SIMPLE. Developing an app and then simply "prettifying" it afterwards is simply not possible. That would be like the architect building a house with an ugly basic structure and then trying to make it prettier with white paint. The house remains ugly.

My recommendation: Try to visualize your concepts as early as possible, be it through mockups or even better through a clickable prototype. And have them tested by someone who has intuition and experience.

Many product owners throw themselves passionately into the final technical details and edge cases and often do this very well. But then they no longer have the necessary distance to see the user experience as a whole. I have also had limited good experience with user tests, as users only judge what they see and are not in a position to suggest things that they know from other apps, for example. In the app world, there are a lot of technically excellent people who juggle Github and Jira perfectly. But too few people with a feel for aesthetics, simplicity and simplification. Find these people and get them involved early on.


4. "Next year we will then internationalize."

Either you go directly to the English-speaking market - after extensive market research - or you stay local for the time being. Of course, this depends on many factors such as category, competitive environment, business model, price sensitivity, marketing costs and much more. But whatever makes the most sense for your app, focus on "the one market" first. No investor will believe that you will conquer the world after one year in Germany. If you have proven product-market fit and your growth engine has been proven to work, then expansion will come naturally. You don't have to explain this to an investor because they know it.

Focus on "product-market fit" and on sales and marketing. Investors like to give money for something that is demonstrably scalable - that's why it's called "growth capital". This is currently much easier to obtain than "risk capital".


5. "We will bring an expert on board for marketing and sales when we are ready."

Yes, you can do it and, as we all know, money and resources are always scarce at the beginning and you have to set priorities. However, the topics of marketing and sales are so fundamentally important for most start-ups that they should be addressed at an early stage.

At the very least, your business plan should explain how you will actually reach your planned users. I usually see high-level assumptions like: "in the first year we will reach 5% of the SOM (servicable obtainable market), in the second 10% etc." That's a good starting point, but the crucial question is HOW and AT WHAT COST you reach these users. Because they won't fall from the sky, but usually have to be bought in via performance marketing or a smart sales concept. You therefore need a business plan that explains the assumptions (conversion rates) and costs you intend to use to reach these users. This forces you to plan your budget more precisely and helps immensely when approaching investors later on.

So, that was quite a lot to read. I hope it was still helpful for you young app founders out there. And always remember to "Stay hungry, stay foolish"... but also keep your numbers under control and put on your "devil's advocate" hat every now and then.

In my next post, I'll share with you the top 5 misconceptions of SMEs.

See you next week!



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