3 Personal Habits That Can Kill Your Business

Startups rarely fail because of a bad idea. Most novice entrepreneurs blame failure on external factors, market shifts, unforeseen circumstances, or the more famous “we ran out of money” excuse.

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But in my experience, startups almost never fail because of these reasons. Startups fail because of the flaws of their founders. We humans are all deeply broken. Consequently, we bring this into our startups. Our financial immaturity, lack of wisdom, poor planning, passive aggression, fear, sub-par management skills, the absence of marketing knowledge, weak leadership, and the list goes on. And while we’ll never remove them all, here’s three practical flaws that that will place your startup on death row.

1. Cheap Equals Chince.

Look, I get it. You’re a startup. You have a limited budget. You’re an entrepreneur willing to do things yourself. And that’s all very admirable. But if you’re launching a company that hopefully one day will become something great, and you’re unwilling to invest in the parts of your startup that really matter, then you’re better off having never launched your business in the first place.

Reading some of the entrepreneur sites about cutting costs, it becomes clear in about 2 minutes that if you just keep bootstrapping, you’ll eventually bootstrap yourself into a crummy website, crappy business cards, a poorly planned office environment, and a low budget video for your company’s home page. And as they say, if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat. The guideline is this:

You never cut corners on the things that truly distinguish what you’re doing.

Yet, I see it all the time. Online businesses who develop or design their own website because they believe it’s not worth the $2,500. Or tech companies who develop their own explainer video. You know the number one message that every potential customer will see when they hit your site, the sales pitch that will drive the almost all conversion required to pay back the investment of launching your company? That video.

It’s areas like these where entrepreneurs should never be cheap. Instead, you’re patient. You save and you spend smart. You don’t hire anyone either. You research and interview and plan. And when you find the best person for the job, the guy who’s talent is worthy of putting your baby in their arms, you pull the trigger.

To push it a bit further, you pay them on time and you expect first class results. And then, and only then you experience the magic. A deliverable that is beyond beautiful. A masterpiece of a website or a genius video that provides you (the new entrepreneur) the confidence required to run with the best.

On the other hand, you can join the camp of folks who paid a friend because they gave them a “bro-deal”. And you end up with a mediocre website that looks just like everyone else and a video that resembles the commercials from your hometown’s insurance company on Main Street.

Let’s face it, entrepreneurship is almost always expensive. There is a cost to be in this club. But it’s those who pay to play that win in the end.

2. So Fast You Hurt People.

On January 3rd, 2013 a mentor of mine asked me point blank,”give me 10 important memories from last year.” My response was less than impressive. I couldn’t remember much. I was so busy making a living that I literally forgot to make a life.

My dream of running my startup had created a blurred mental history that wasn’t healthy for anyone.

He later told me his question was prompted from his view of my life’s unsafe velocity. Over the recent months, I had become so engulfed in the achievements at my feet that I had forgotten to look at the future. I was unprepared for meetings. I would forget to ask important questions during critical phone calls. I would make purchases, hires, and important decisions with little thought and I almost never kept my promises. I was late to meetings, late to home, and late to bed.

Speed is great when you work by yourself. When you’re the only one feeling the consequences. But entrepreneurs who have spouses, kids, employees, contractors, vendors, interns or freelancers should tread slowly. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

At the time, I ignorantly wanted both. I thought I had this super ability to make quick good decisions. But I didn’t. Looking back on my speed I saw a wake of destruction and bad decisions. Everything from my marriage and my staff to growth strategies and investor communications. I hurt people and cost the company money. But after my revelation, my mentor said this,

“Dale, I love that you can drive fast. It’s what makes you so good. But driving at 120mph is dangerous for everyone. I’m not telling you to drop to 45mph, but let’s keep it around 80mph this year.”

3. Cocky Breeds Fallout.

There is nothing worse in the world of business than classic egotistical arrogance. Everyone know’s that guy who just can’t help but tell everyone how great he is. But the truth is–if he was that great, why would he have to tell anyone?

When I look back at the kind of people I want to rally behind or listen to it’s never someone who’s loud, out-spoken, or flashy. Instead, it’s a man or woman who walks into the room and commands everyone’s attention, without asking for it. They are gentle but strong. They are humble but genius. They are calculated and well planned.

He who has the most power in the room, often speaks last.

Confidence is not something that comes from what you’ve accomplished or how much attention you draw to yourself or even how much money you’ve made. It’s a trait you must nurture by taking daily steps to confront your fears. Self-esteem and personal fortitude are characteristics you must decide to sharpen. Confidence is about what you believe you can produce in the present. It’s the manifestation of your level of self-worth.

The problem is, entrepreneurs usually have too much or too little and finding the right amount and how to show it, is a delicate balance.

A few years ago, I had crossed the line from confident to cocky. After looking back, you could almost watch the people leaving me. Nobody wanted to work for a leader who believed he was more important than the rest. At the time, it frustrated me. It got to the point where I was almost forcing people to follow me. It’s this moment where entrepreneurs get in trouble. Your business is only as good as the people who are following you. If people are following you for a paycheck instead of your vision, you’re putting your company at risk.

Solving this problem is hard. It’s humiliating, embarrassing, and awkward. And there is only one way to do it. Get in a room with 4-5 people who are willing to speak truth to you. Ask them point blank, “how do I come off to people?” And then, to make it even harder, you must apologize. An empathetic, gut-wrenching apology that conveys to people that you are now leading with new eyes and a restored view of others. It’s this change that will kill your cockiness and hopefully put others willingly behind you.

Have you struggled with being cheap, fast, or cocky? What have you done to mitigate the consequences or grow through them? Let me know in the comments below.

Author

Dale Partridge
Dale Partridge is the Founder of StartupCamp.com. He's also a keynote speaker and author of the Wall Street Journal & USA Today Bestselling book People Over Profit.

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  1. Emily says:

    Hey Dale,

    What you have written totally resonates with me. Right now I’m attending college specifically as a back-up plan. I’m taking criminal justice courses so that I can quickly into the paralegal field, as I realized I wanted to meet a wide variety of people and gain valuable knowledge…WITH the goal in mind that I’ll eventually have enough money from writing blog posts and stories to support myself (and later on a bed and breakfast hehe). I’ve been staying up late most nights working on stories or posts after tedious studying. I definitely want to get on the fast-track to success before I have a husband and kids to depend on me! Great post:)

    Reply
  2. Spencer Hain says:

    A very well written article, Dale! All the three points you mentioned are definitely the worst mistakes any start-up founder can make. One thing I have noticed these days is entrepreneurs are trying to cut down on office costs by opting for a poor office location. These people forget that the look of the office creates the very first impression on the minds of your client. Instead of going for cheap and poor office locations, one wonderful alternative available these days are serviced office spaces. I say this from personal experience. Two of my friends started their own businesses in the same field; almost at the same time. One of them opted to cut down on office costs by setting up his business in the basement of an old building as the rent was less over there. The other one invested a bit more and set up his office in serviced offices Sydney ( http://theofficespace.com.au/services/our-services ). The results after 2 months were quite clear. The one who played smart and invested in a good office environment was obviously more successful than the other one in-spite of running the same business. Thus, I say that there are other ways to cut down costs. You have to know what will work the best for your business and respond likewise. Blind cost-cutting is one of the worst mistakes to do.

    Reply
  3. Hi Dave, Your content is simply fantastic! I have been hesitant to register for your professional camp, but I have no doubt that it will be amazing! I’ve seen a lot of your content geared towards product oriented businesses. Would you recommend your camp for someone who is doing sales consulting and coaching?

    Reply
    • WOW! Dale, I am so sorry! Oooof names are hard for me.

      Reply
    • Hey Amanda! Sorry for the insane lag. Yes. StartupCamp would be perfect for a coaching business. We have LOTS of consultants at Camp. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  4. Till now all my attention was to find some one who can get things done at a very cheap rate but now I understand that it is better to invest more one time to get the best product than getting it repaired hundred times by hundred people. I will implement all your points from now so that my New Year brings me a great Success. Thank You very much Dale.

    Reply
  5. I am young, and wanting so badly for my small but wonderful, to me, superhero blog to take off and Ive been fortunate enough to find quality employment but i still find myself cutting corners because i’m cheap – or i think i’m too smart for my own good and i try to do things myself and i’m moving too quickly and having to back track. Your entire article literally stopped me in my tracks and immediately pointed out my flaws and i’m am so gracious to have found this so early. Thank you for allowing me to see my downfall before it occurs. Thank you for essentially giving my dream a new plan and new life. I know Nothing! but now i know something.

    Reply
  6. Susan says:

    I am the second generation of entrepreneur. I saw my father learning and am learning myself these same things.
    I do not bill low anymore – mandatory health care made all of my fees go up and I have learned to send wisely. I work long hours, yet I do take time away during those
    long days to do me things. I know that I cannot do all that a business requires, I cannot be all that my clients request, yet I am honest with them when I cannot do something
    or I do not know something. I have learned to listen to my clients. Yes I get more information than I need from them to do my job, yet they have a place to come and talk.

    Reply
  7. Great article!! The honest look back on your own mistakes is refreshing and really makes one look back more honestly on their own.

    Reply
  8. Christine says:

    Dear Dale,

    It is 1:30am and I can’t sleep. I crawled out of bed and began surfing the internet. Not very productive, but hey I can’t sleep. Surfing for me helps me calm down sometimes but recently it’s only use is to fill a void. You see, I am an employee of a start up and it is really starting to kill me. You have nailed so bluntly I want to send this article to my boss. The job is not fun and challenging anymore, it is just painfully taxing. I AM working for a paycheck not a vision anymore. I hope I will be able to get out before I do permanent damage to myself.

    Thank you for writing this post and making me feel a little less alone and a little less crazy.

    Christine

    Reply
    • This is awesome. I love receiving comments like yours, Christine. 🙂 You are definitely not alone… and crazy, well, you’re in the right place. 😉

      Reply
  9. (Speed is great when you work by yourself. When you’re the only one feeling the consequences. But entrepreneurs who have spouses, kids, employees, contractors, vendors, interns or freelancers should tread slowly. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    If you want go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. )

    Super Good.

    Ps Ill be in Bend Next week again for a house I’m looking at. I FB Messaged you.

    Reply
  10. J Ring says:

    Good stuff, Dale! I’m aiming to make some bigger investments in the startup, now. Keep bringin’ it!

    Reply

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