Startup ventures take bravery, guts, and a huge amount of comfort with risk. So when things start going wrong for entrepreneurs, I always hark back to the days when I first started down this journey of entrepreneurship, green as hell, and yet, confident that I could change the world. Here are some tips and advice which will hopefully set you clear of making the same mistakes I did!

I remember my first ever small startup was after I came back holidaying from Malawi. I had seen locals eating packets of soya chunks which they would cook with tomatoes and onions, and I thought this would be a really cheap protein alternative for people in my home country of Kenya.

I proceeded to have discussions with the manufacturer and then ordered a container of the stuff to test the market.

Startup Mistakes Number 1) –

Testing the market means examining the feasibility of the market to have a demand for your product in the cheapest way possible. I should have taken samples and run tests all around Nairobi and the surrounding areas, rather than spending $20,000 on a container load (yes, that’s right — Twenty Grand).

Make sure you always test the viability of your business idea in a cheap and effective way. You will never know what results may turn up.

I brought the products into the market, only to realise that they had not got a certificate from the Kenya Bureau of Standards, meaning they could not be sold until inspection.

Startup Mistakes Number 2) –

Never fall foul of regulations — They will come back to haunt you. The shelf life of the product was 9 months, and I had to warehouse the goods for 3 months before the inspection was done and the goods cleared for sale.

Always check what the regulations are around your product or service, or your small business enterprise may suffer from significant delays and/or fines.

I approached supermarkets to ask for my product to be trialled, and spent the next month going from door to door, begging for anyone to showcase my product.

Startup Mistakes Number 3) –

An effective logistics and distribution arm for your product is always necessary. You need to spend time and energy laying it out, and developing relationships. I had too much pressure to flog my product because of the limited shelf life, and so was too eager to get things moving fast. In hindsight, this meant I probably developed relationships with the wrong retailers, in the wrong areas.

Finally, I started running taste trials with my product in the supermarkets. I noticed that the days I ran trials were great for demand, people would often buy 3 or 4 packets at a go. Unfortunately, I was a one man band, and did not know of other ways to market my product.

Startup Mistakes Number 4) –

It is OK not to have a ready marketing plan, but you must have several ways of hitting the market, and be prepared to test the ways, and either expand on the ones which work (by hiring more staff to replicate your efforts across more locations), or pivot or drop the ones which don’t. Be prepared to test on multiple fronts, especially in the age of social media, you have to take advantage of these tools, whether B2B or B2C. And once things start working, do not be afraid to push the method further and expand on it.

Have a plan of action for marketing and be prepared to test multiple angles and measure the outcome.

Startup Mistakes Number 5) –

Do not go about doing everything on your own. A small business enterprise is a tremendously lonely place, and also, you have no one to support you on your weaknesses. Find some co-founders, or hire if necessary.

About a month before the products expired, I became very distraught that my venture had failed. I sold the remaining stock to an animal feeds manufacturer at a severely discounted price, and gave up the venture entirely.

Startup Mistakes Number 6) –

I gave up. The worst mistake possible. The idea was absolutely fine, but the execution and strategy needed to be improved. You need to give yourself the time and energy to make something work, and learn to be patient. On top of this, you shouldn’t take setback so personally. I learned this the hard way, when 6 months later, the product started being sold by another distributor, who executed the strategy in a much better way than I ever thought of.

This was in 2011, and I still make many, many mistakes on my entrepreneurial journey. I have learned that this is alright however, as long as you continue to learn and figure things out as you go along. If you have the stomach for this, then entrepreneurship is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do. Go for it! 🙂


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