This is the final part in the series. Gary Schoeniger discusses his interview with one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs John Osher and the mistakes that startups make. Below is Part Four: Mistakes with the Overall Startup Vision. Part One discussed Startup Mistakes in Research and Strategy. Part Two discussed Startup Mistakes with Financial Planning. Part Three discussed Startup Mistakes in Management.
In a recent interview, I asked John to share his list of 17 startup mistakes with us. He graciously agreed. Below are the mistakes regarding Company Vision:
Accepting “it's not possible" too easily rather than finding a way:
"I had an engineer who was a very good engineer, but with every toy we developed, he would say, 'You can't do it that way.' I had to be careful not to accept this too easily. I had to look further. If you're an entrepreneur, you're going to break new ground. A lot of people are going to say it's not possible. You can't accept that too easily. A good entrepreneur is going to find a way."
Seeking confirmation of your actions rather than seeking the truth:
"This often happens: You want to do something, so you talk about it with people who work for you. You talk to your family and friends. But you're only looking for confirmation; you're not looking for the truth. You're looking for somebody to tell you you're right. But the truth always comes out. So we [test] our products, and we listen to what the testers say. We give much more value to the truth than to people saying what we're doing is great."
Lacking simplicity in your vision:
"Many entrepreneurs go in too many directions at once and do not execute anything well. Rather than focusing on doing everything right to sell to their biggest markets, they divide the attention of their people and their time, trying to do too many things at one time. Then their main product isn't done properly because they're doing so many different things. They have an idea and say they're going to sell it to Wal-Mart. Then they say they're going to sell to the Home Shopping Network. And then the gift market looks good. And so on."
Lacking clarity of your long-term aim and business purpose:
"You should have an idea of what your long-term aim is. It doesn't mean that won't change, but when you aim an arrow, you have to be aiming at a target. This concept will often come up when people ask 'How do I pick a product?' The answer depends on what you're trying to do. If you're trying to create a billion-dollar company with this product, it may not have a chance. But if you're trying to make a $5 million company, it can work. Or if you're trying to create a company in which family members can be employed, it can work. Clarity of your business purpose is very important but is often not really part of the thought process."
Lacking focus and identity:
"This was written from the viewpoint of building the company as a valuable entity. The company itself is also a product. Too many companies try to go after too many targets at once and end up with a potpourri rather than a focused business entity with an identity. When you try to make a business, it's very important to maintain a focus and an identity. Don't let it become a potpourri, or it loses its power. For instance, you say, 'We're already selling to Kmart, so we might as well make a toy because Kmart buys toys.' If you do that, the company becomes weaker. A company needs to be focused on what it is. Then its power builds from that."
Simultaneously, I will keep the option open to sell it in case I can't get something more proprietary. That means I won't sign international agreements that would kill any opportunity to sell it to a multinational. I will make sure that the patent work is done properly. And I'll try to make sure manufacturing is up to the standards of any multinational company that I might try to sell it to.
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Gary Schoeniger Founder and CEO The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative