7 tips to mess-up your startup in style

Startups and young businesses with a large innovation potential are popping up all over the place. In 2017 nearly 10,000 startups were created in France. All with a great idea to revolutionize the world, and yet nearly 90% of them failed…I’ll explain to you how to be part of this 90%.

1. Poor recruitment choices
When then Dream Team becomes the Nightmare Team.

How obvious you’ll tell me…well not as much as you think! Startups attract a completely different audience who come to work to have fun. And yes when you hear the word ‘startup’ your head rings out ‘table football, beers, a toboggan in the office like Google, Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops’. Unfortunately the American model doesn’t always work in other countries. You need to, of course, work on your HR marketing to charm candidates but also avoid sending out the wrong signals. You need to seduce them with an exceptional work environment and offer highly motivating and interesting roles…instead of seducing them with post-work drinks that take place every Thursday evening between colleagues wink.

Here are 2 small pieces of advice for your future recruitment interviews:

  • Interview the same candidate several times, with different people (if that’s feasible of course) and why not even do one interview over a drink to see how the candidate acts in different situations.

  • Test them on concrete cases. If you recruit someone for a customer service role for example, use a problematic scenario that you’ve already had experience with to evaluate their thought capacity and the way they react. Example: ‘Mr Smith sent you an email because he’d like to be reimbursed after renewing his subscription 5 days ago, except that during that time he used the tool, can we pretend to have a phone call?’. And more importantly at the end of this role-play, evaluate the candidate by telling them something that they did well ‘I found that you were jolly and polite’ and then something they did less well ‘however you didn’t let the client express themselves enough, they weren’t able to get a word in’ and see their reaction to this ‘criticism’, you might be quite surprised wink.

You need to pay particular attention to your first recruitments (you’ll make mistakes, everyone does but more importantly learn from them) because these are the people that will make-up the core team of your business. You need confident, mature, autonomous people with a good ability of taking initiative.

  • Carefully work on your HR marketing to attract the right people
  • Do several interviews per candidate (even with a different person)
  • Place them in real-life situations to see how the candidate behaves
  • Your first recruitments will make up your core team

2. Raise unnecessary funds
Money, cash, dosh, wonga, readies, dollar.

No, no and no! Creating a startup doesn’t necessarily mean you need to look at raising funds! The clients are the priority before any fund raising. If you run after getting funds, you won’t have time to run after your clients and if you don’t have any clients, investors won’t invest. Raising funds takes an enormous amount of time, I’d say it’s even a full-time job when you want to do it correctly. So make sure your team behind you will be able to keep up with the work or let a specialized firm help you out.

But the big question here is ‘Do I really need to raise funds?’ If you’re asking yourself this question then the answer is probably no. Just because you read in newspapers and magazines about tens of startups that have gotten funds doesn’t mean you need to do it. Not all successful startups have raised funds. Some need them, other don’t. To raise funds, you need to have a clear objective (recruitment, new product development, going international…). You need to raise the funds because you really need to do it. For example, a company that needs to speed up its growth otherwise its competitors will get ahead of them or a company that needs to be an international leader to sell.

Just know that an investor invests in people. If your core team, as explained above, isn’t trained or stable, they won’t invest.

  • Run after your clients first rather than after raising funds
  • Raising funds is very time-consuming
  • Only go in search for funds if you have a clear objective
  • Make sure you have a core team before raising funds

3. Go international without any knowledge
Back to square one.

It’s the absolute dream for lots of people to create an international startup with an office in the United States, England, Singapore…but be careful! There are lots of factors to take into account in international development.
Think about cultural differences. You’d like to commercialize your product in Japan? Well simply translating your site in Japanese isn’t going to help you. In fact, Japanese sites are very different to Western sites, that are clear, organized into categories and simple. Japanese sites are more complex with lots of information all over the place. To give you an idea, here is the Japanese version of Rakuten (previously Priceminister):

Purchase habits are also different in every country. For example Germans are known for paying by bank transfer over a bank card. You therefore need to adapt the payment methods you offer.

  • Your site must be adapted to different cultures
  • Purchase habits are different from country to country

4. Be attracted by the shiny stuff
Shine bright like a diamond.

Shiny stuff is all the stuff that isn’t part of your core business. For example you’re the founder of a startup that creates digital dog collars that translate dog language, one day you meet someone that asks if you want to animate a canine education club (at the expensive of your amazing innovation). This is shiny stuff, your core business isn’t canine education, so concentrate on your business: creating digital objects for the animal world.

The shiny stuff can take your eyes off your main objective and the development of your product. You’ll end up dividing your time by two, three or four and lose vision of your product. And that’s where the wave of bad things will start to unfold: your colleagues will see you concentrating on other things and SO will put the product to one side SO they will become demotivated SO potentially perform badly SO your updates and developments will take longer SO you will have to close your business…Well, maybe not quite up to that stage but it could cause you big problems and gaining back confidence of your team will be very difficult!

My advice: Write down your objective and frame it. This way, whenever an opportunity comes up, ask yourself ‘does this fit in with my objective or is it going to divert my vision?’. If it’s going to deter you, run away!

  • The shiny stuff is everything that isn’t part of your core business
  • It risks you devoting less time to your business
  • Write down your objective clearly and frame it in your office so that it’s always at the front of your mind when shiny stuff is presented to you

5. Not knowing how to delegate
What? Really? You don’t want to take holidays?

If there’s one thing that any good entrepreneur has difficult doing…it’s delegating! And yet ladies and gentlemen, it may just be the key to success for your company. You are the boss of the company, you know how to do everything or almost anyway, you have a clear vision of where you want to go and the means to achieve your objectives…but unfortunately you can’t do everything!

I am, of course, aware that delegating is probably one of the most difficult things to put in place. You certainly don’t feel like delegating one of your tasks/missions to someone and you tell yourself that it won’t be done as well as if you did it yourself. But at the moment you are only 3 or 4 in your company but how are you going to manage when you’ll be 10? Then 15? Then maybe one day 50 or even more?

All your colleagues must also have a clear vision of the company, where you want to go and the clear values of the business. It’s a good basis to start with so that your colleague who’ll your delegate your precious product development to, for example, will understand exactly what you expect. For the first time, take your time explaining to them very clearly how you see things, do it with them. You need to invest some time into this to then gain it back later from your amazing colleague who will completely manage the product development and be autonomous.

Finally, you can always outsource anything that doesn’t bring value to your business. For example, you sell shoes online, is it really that important to have a customer service team on site? No? Then outsource it!

  • You unfortunately can’t do everything, your startup might grow very quickly so you need to delegate as much as possible
  • Your colleagues need to have just as clear a vision as you of the future, of your values and understand what you expect
  • Invest some time into the colleague that you will delegate a task to
  • Outsource anything that doesn’t create value to your business

6. Be too cool
Of course this doesn’t mean stopping your Thursday night drinks with your colleagues!

We all have an image in our head of the cool startup where we can arrive when we want, take a break to play video games, make questionable jokes about colleagues and act as if the boss is our ‘mate’. Unfortunately being ‘too cool’ can bring about prejudice to your company.
Hang on though, I’m not saying you need to be the big mean boss who controls even the tiniest things and underlying gestures, or not even say ‘hello’ in the morning. This model hasn’t worked for years! But if you show that you're too nice, some colleagues might forget that they’re, above all, there to develop the business.

As a boss, you can of course be relaxed, joke with your colleagues, go for a drink after work but when a colleague does something that bothers you, don’t hesitate to tell them. Take them aside and make things clear, there’s no need to be aggressive or threatening, just have a discussion.
Don’t accept too many things that bother you. For example, one morning at 11am your colleague sends you a message letting you know that they won’t be in the office today because they ‘slept badly’. You, who are very kind, responds with ‘no problem, get some rest’…Well that’s a great excuse for them to start later again and as for the other colleagues, they’ll feel disadvantaged.
But, I’m not saying all your colleagues will be like this! Far be it from me to say but there are certain colleagues that could abuse your kindness a little bit too much.

  • Don’t hesitate to speak to a colleague when they do something bad
  • Don’t accept situations that bother you
  • Speak frankly and openly with your colleagues

7. Have a poor business model
Now that’s going to take a lot of thinking about.

The point that could seem the most logical in this article. A poor business model can destroy a business. Let’s take the example of startups producing SaaS solutions, accessible online software hosted by a service provider. For them the pricing is very difficult to put in place: Am I going to work with monthly subscriptions? Yearly? One shot payments? You need to find the strategy that best fits with your product and, let’s not hide it, what will bring in the most return for you.
Lots of startups make the mistake that proves to be fatal: they sell their solution at a more competitive price than their competitors…and they shoot themselves in the foot. To the eyes of many, these businesses pass as ‘low cost’ solutions even though these can actually be higher performing and even offer more functionalities. I don’t mean here that you need to sell at extortionate prices, just really think about the image that your business model will reflect on your product.

Finally, pricing can often be complicated to understand by users even though for you it’s crystal clear. If a visitor doesn’t understand a price, they’ll be less convinced to buy from you. Think about getting someone outside of the company to check your prices, they could give you a really valued opinion for the success of your startup. You also need to have room for change. You need to be able to pass from a one shot tariff to a subscription tariff really easily. On average, your pricing will probably change 3 times before you find the right pricing strategy.

  • An incomprehensible pricing could lose you potential clients
  • Adapt your pricing so that it gives off the right image of your product (be careful with low cost tariffs which give you a poor quality image)
  • Make sure you leave room to change your pricing easily


In this article I wanted to talk about real-life experiences and experiences told within my network. This doesn’t mean that you can’t grow your startup being cool and friendly with all your collaborators though. This advice must be adapted to your business, your situation and your products.

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