By Tobias Neale, Head of Delivery at Contis
Starting a tech company is tough, whatever your sector. And turning a profit is harder still, even for those who’ve managed to secure funding – three quarters of new companies backed by VC firms never return money to their investors. But that doesn’t mean for sure your fintech startup won’t be the next TransferWise, Revolut, or Stripe.
Whether you’re focused on faster payments, overhauling credit checks, or going one better than Android pay, there’s always space for innovation.
In the early days, there will be plenty of mistakes – big and small. So, to help you avoid the mistakes others have made before, here are some of the behavioural pitfalls I’ve seen during my time at Contis.
Making assumptions about your market
If you have personal experience of a sector it can be tempting to move ahead without doing independent research. This is completely fair, but it’s always good to test your assumptions with research. This could include reading industry reports, speaking with people who work in your sector, or commissioning surveys. You want to be an expert in your market, and it’s best to start this as soon as possible.
Being too optimistic about your funds
Much as we’d like to pretend it isn’t the case sometimes, money really does make the world go round. Before you start a project, make sure you have the money you need to do what you really want – and always build in a buffer.
Suss out the ideal scenario you’d like to reach, pull together rough costs, then whatever figure you arrive at, double it. It’s rare that projects come in under your original estimate, so this should help you to keep the coffers sufficiently full – and avoid frustration further down the line.
Changing your mind
Flexibility and agility are great, but that doesn’t mean you should start down a given path, then change your mind and back-track a few days later. This is a sure way to burn through your time, resources, and any partner, investor or employee patience. If you’ve decided on a course of action, try to commit and follow through – even if you’re not sure of the final outcome. You’ll only really know if it’s worth it once it’s complete.
Switching your audience
Part of your research and planning will be deciding on your audience. Who does your product cater for? Once you’ve identified this audience, stick with them. Some of the biggest mistakes (and most expensive) come from people changing their target audience after a conversation at an industry event, or after reading a new report. They suddenly decide to pivot, flitting from the audience they’ve always planned to help to another they may not know at all. Every market is different, so don’t flit back and forth between them.
Sticking to ‘working hours’
Some people are natural night owls, finding it easier to work after 8pm. Others rise with the lark and have most of their work done before the rest of us have reached for our second coffee. Start-ups are generally better than traditional businesses at being flexible, so you know when you’re most productive – that’s when you should work.
But don’t fall into the trap of working 18 hours a day. It may work for a few days, but then you’ll get tired, slow down, make more mistakes, and ultimately spend more time fixing them. It’s a myth that start-ups work all hours – it just looks like that from the outside because they’re more productive at different points in the day.
When there are lots of jobs to do, it’s tempting to quickly switch between tasks. But multi-tasking is a myth. If you’re looking at regulation, then break away to quickly review a contract or discuss progress with your developer, it’ll take you ages to get back to where you were. In fact, the American Psychological Association found that jumping from task to task could cost you up to 40% of your productive time.
A better approach is to work on one thing, finish that task, and then move on to the next. It’s less disruptive, and I personally find it much more satisfying to tick off jobs on my to-do list as I go.
Being too single-minded
You may have a vision. You may feel you know the best way for something to be done. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking your idea is always the right one. If someone contradicts you, see if their idea might be more effective, or if it could improve your plan.
It also helps to reflect on the areas where you don’t have as much experience or knowledge. You can prioritise gathering advice in these areas, where there may be plenty of people who are already experts and can quickly help you out. Then you can focus on your areas of expertise, and the big picture.
Continually seeking advice
The flipside of the last point is that you could easily dedicate all of your time to gathering different points of view. ‘Analysis Paralysis’ happens when you spend so long collecting advice, information, and additional input that you aren’t able to decide what to do next.
Trust what you’re doing. Take advice on board but remember there’s a fine line between carefully seeking advice and hoarding opinions. Remember: no one knows your product like you, so trust that you know what you’re doing.
Forgetting it’s all a test
When you set out, everything you do is a test. Even if you’ve done exhaustive research, the first version of your product is based on the conclusions you’ve drawn. Now it’s time to test them. But before you do, remember that this is an incremental process, and negative feedback can be far more useful than positive encouragement.
Similarly, a bad idea can be a springboard to a better one – even a great one. You just need to get your idea out there, see how it goes, and then get back to work.
If you never launch your theory, you can’t test it. You just waste a whole load of time, effort, and money.