What Was the Biggest Mistake You Made Early in Your Startup?

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The women of the Young Entrepreneur Council weigh in on this question and offer advice to other founders of growing startups.

By the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)

Trying to Be All Things to All People
I knew how to do a lot of things as a result of my corporate career, and I thought it would be smart to earn money doing them. But a lack of focus meant a lack of time to devote to the core mission of my business. It required taking a step back, reconfiguring my offerings and learning to say “no” when the opportunity didn’t suit me.
- Alexandra Levit, @alevit (Author, Inspiration at Work)
 

Doubting Myself
When I started my first business, I had enough confidence in myself to take the leap and do it, but not enough to get me through many of the rough patches. I started to believe that failures in the business were representations of myself, and therefore I was a failure. It took finding mentors and taking a step back to realize that failures help you learn and that I was me regardless of failures.
- Darrah Brustein, @darrahb (Founder, Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments)
 

Losing Focus
Early on, I let fear get in the way. Rather than focusing 100 percent on building my business to be the best it could be in one area, I was constantly looking for other revenue streams. Once our team became more focused, our company really started to take off.
- Allie Siarto, @AllieO (Founder, Loudpixel)

 

Burning Out by Myself
As a single founder at first, it was difficult for me to move ahead with my idea as fast as I wanted to. The learning curve is steep and lonely when there’s no one to answer to. When I found a business partner with complimentary skill sets, I invited her in as a co-founder. This felt like my “AHA” moment. After sharing ownership (and sweat equity), we’ve felt unstoppable!
- Emily Doubilet, @sustyemily (Founder, Susty Party)
 

Saying ‘Yes’ to Every Client
When we started Influence & Co., we took on any client who wanted to work with us. We quickly realized that some clients weren’t worth having. Since we’ve grown, we’ve become pickier about who we work with and make sure we only represent those who are true experts in their industries.
- Kelsey Meyer, @Kelsey_M_Meyer (Founder, Contributor Weekly)
 

Waiting to Hire Experts
At ‘ZinePak we waited almost a year and a half to hire a CPA. We cut corners and saved money by doing the books ourselves in Quickbooks, but we were missing out on opportunities to run our business more effectively and save money. With changing tax laws (and Obamacare), it is more important than ever to bring on experts with industry knowledge to help you navigate the changing landscape.
- Kim Kaupe, @zinepak (Founder, ‘ZinePak)
 

Adjusting the Model for an Investor
A potential investor kept telling us, “If you do this, we’re very interested.” It didn’t take long, but we realized that all they wanted was a particular type of company for their portfolio. It went against what we were doing as a business, so we ended up parting ways. We spent considerable time trying to be what they wanted us to be, but once we stopped, we refocused and came out stronger.
- Benish Shah, @benishshah (Founder, Before the Label)
 

ElizabethThinking I Was My Target Market
When I started my second company, I thought my target market would be people like me (women business owners), but I was wrong. About half the clients who actually signed up for coaching and training were men, and most had full-time jobs. I changed the language on my website and our marketing so it reflected my true target audience. Who you are and who you serve can be very different.
 - Elizabeth Saunders, @RealLifeE (Founder, Real Life E®)
 

Ramping Expenses Too Quickly
I made the mistake of ramping expenses too quickly. I was too optimistic about our early projections and thought I could continue scaling at a much faster rate than was realistic. Next time, I’ll forecast growth much more carefully and wait to take on additional expenses as long as I can.
- Sarah Schupp, @sarah_schupp (Founder, UniversityParent)

 

What’s your answer?

About the blogger: The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.