The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are some common mistakes young entrepreneurs make?” is written by Ellen Rubin, cofounder and CEO of ClearSky Data.
Safety is never guaranteed in the startup world, but entrepreneurs often forget this basic truth. They focus on the success of unicorns without taking into account that private markets are constantly changing, or that all startups are subject to high and low cycles. Preparing for the challenges is critical to your company’s success.
Of course, those challenges are part of what makes being an entrepreneur an experience like no other. It can feel like jumping off of a cliff—thrilling, but ultimately painful if you fail to strap on a parachute first. Managing risks, changing direction as necessary, and ultimately remaining true to yourself can be the basis for a parachute that turns your company’s journey from a dangerous risk into an exciting, successful adventure.
As a repeat entrepreneur, I see the same recurring mistakes and misconceptions take root among entrepreneurs and early-stage startups. If you’re preparing to launch a new business, it’s worth learning which are the most common “startup killers” so you can avoid them. Here’s how:
Throw out the startup playbook
Change is inherent in every industry, but it’s constant for entrepreneurs. Even if you’ve gone through fundraising, recruiting, board management, or a company launch, you can’t expect the process to be the same in a new situation. Entrepreneurs need to relentlessly think in creative ways, expect the unexpected, and adapt quickly.
This is true not only from one company to another, but from one stage of a business to the next. I’ve watched a startup firsthand evolve through stages of growth. At one company in particular, things that were fundamental to the team’s early-stage success—including relationships, business model assumptions, and methods for problem solving—became irrelevant as the company grew, and were actually harmful in the next stage of business. The shift happened because it became challenging for the original, tightly integrated team to factor in critical information, which was now coming from a broad range of customers, partners, and market signals. Suddenly, the playbook that worked for fast-decision making was no longer appropriate for more complex business challenges, and the company’s leadership needed to create a new playbook that worked for the larger team.
Grow your village, and use it
Mentors are invaluable to the startup process. Invest in relationships during every step of your entrepreneurial journey. Throughout my career, I’ve turned to various mentors for advice, and the value their perspectives and experiences provided is impossible to quantify.
Allow a village to help raise your company. You might have one person you call to float technology ideas, another you meet to muse about your career path, and yet another who likes to discuss startup operations over drinks. With a wide network, you’ll give your company greater context and avoid putting too much stake in a primary information source.
Stick to your team’s roots and plan for its growth
Knowing what kind of company you want to start will help guide its culture as it grows. As your team shifts from a handful of people to a few dozen and beyond, remaining true to your original vision for the company’s culture will help you find candidates who perfectly fit the environment, and who can contribute and succeed as the company expands. Often, an ideal culture fit can be more valuable than a candidate with specific technical skills or domain expertise.
My current company prioritized a “culture of achievement” from day one—an environment where team members are individually driven to contribute to the group’s overall goals. There are many models for a successful startup, but ours has helped support our organizational structure and provide consistent employee motivation.
Know your limits
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. If an acquaintance tells me he’s thinking about launching a business while maintaining the safety net of his full-time job, I’m likely to tell him that he might not be ready to face the risks associated with running a startup.
Launching a company requires a solitary mindset that doesn’t always crave approval from others to act on ideas. If you’re serious about your idea, ask yourself, “Am I comfortable feeling like an outsider, taking criticism, and even being called crazy?”
If the answer is no—if you prefer more clarity in your career, and you rely on proof points or reassurance to help guide its trajectory—entrepreneurship might not be right for you. Perhaps you’re interested in supporting a startup in a role other than leadership. In any case, your career will be far stronger for your ability to recognize and amplify your strengths.
However, if you’re ready to jump off the cliff and enter the all-consuming world of being an entrepreneur, get ready to use your parachute: your networks, resources, planning ability, and readiness to soar safely and succeed.
Ellen Rubin is the CEO and cofounder of ClearSky Data. She is an experienced entrepreneur with a record in leading strategy, market positioning, and go-to-market efforts for fast-growing companies.