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Common mistakes of first time (technical) founders January 14, 2011

Posted by jeremyliew in founders, mistakes.

There is a great thread over on Quora answering “what are the most common mistakes first time entrepreneurs make?”. The current top rated answer is from Siqi Chen, one of the co-founders of Serious Business. We funded Siqi and Alex Le at Serious Business. I’ve reproduced Siqi’s answer below but it is worthwhile to follow the link to Quora to read other answers, and the comment thread on Siqi’s answer.

I believe that self awareness and humility are two strong predictors of long term success. I think Siqi showed both qualities in great abundance at Serious Business, and in his answer below. I know that he is learning a lot about how to be a better executive while at Zynga, and I hope to one day work with him again.

I would note that there was no inconsistency in the hiring bar applied to the rest of the management team at Serious Business; Charles Hudson and Mike Jimenez are now cofounders of Atomic Panda and Ryan Ferrier is Chief of Staff at Crowdflower.


These are the greatest mistakes I believe we’ve made at Serious Business:

1. Undervaluing Management Competency
We underestimated the difficulty of managing a team and undervalued the skills of general management, process, and strategy. This failure stemmed from the very top down (that is, me) and affected every level of the company. Having never had any direct reports prior to Serious Business, I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.

2. Lack of Strategic Focus
We used our limited resources as a startup to attack markets we didn’t understand instead of focusing on our core competencies, which were fairly unique in the market. And we did this repeatedly.

3. Inconsistent Hiring Bar
We’ve made some uneven hires over the course of Serious Business. While we’ve tried our best to maintain an exceptionally high bar, it has been consciously lowered during dry spells of hiring. This has always been a mistake. (This was somewhat mitigated by the fact that we’ve been pretty good at letting under-performers go quickly.)

4. No Product Management Support
For a while, we had a goal of hiring no product managers, ever – with the intention that we would end up hiring product focused engineers. This was a mistake. We ended up with two part-time product managers/designers (Alex and I) supporting (at one point) 3 separate live products with multiple millions of users each. This does not work.

This is the most common mistake I’ve seen other first time entrepreneurs

Overvaluing the Idea
The Silicon Valley wisdom that Execution > Idea hasn’t penetrated as far as it needs to. There are still too many entrepreneurs who are chasing that perfect idea instead of focusing on building the team and processes to make the idea irrelevant