Everybody loves a successful startup, but even the most successful startups generally overcome plenty of mistakes before they become successful. Unfortunately, for many young companies that don't win in the marketplace, failure is the product of fatal mistakes.

Like most things in life, mistakes aren't created equal, and when it comes to the mistakes that can really hurt a young startup, technology mistakes can be particularly pernicious.

Here are several of the biggest technology mistakes startups make and how they can be avoided.

Being seduced by premature optimization.

As a founder or employee of a startup, it's healthy to be optimistic about its prospects for success. After all, if you don't believe what you're working on has a shot, you probably should be looking for a different opportunity.

But overoptimism can lead to a harmful mistake: premature optimization. Yes, performance and scalability are important, but when your company pulls out the big guns in the name of optimizing performance and scalability before it has real traction, valuable resources (namely time and money) can be rapidly depleted unnecessarily.

How to Avoid

Remember that when it comes to optimization, chances are you'll make incorrect assumptions about usage and growth patterns anyway. So focus on building something that works and is maintainable, but don't pretend that you'll have 1m new users overnight.

Picking cool over proven.

There's arguably never been a more exciting time to launch a startup. One of the biggest reasons: the plethora of new technologies, many open-sourced, which enable even the smallest startups to do things even the largest startups would have found challenging a decade ago.

From the sexiest NoSQL solutions to useful tools open sourced by companies like Facebook and Twitter, startups have no shortage of cool toys to play with. That, of course, doesn't mean they should. Picking the latest and greatest over the more mature and mundane can create more excitement, particularly for developers, but it's also a good way to make fatal architectural decisions.

How to Avoid

Respect your developers, but keep in mind that developers have plenty of reasons to make technology decisions that work against the company's interests. That's why it's so important to make sure key technology decisions are being made by someone with real-world architectural experience.

Not investing enough in UI/UX.

Thanks to the aforementioned new technologies and general decline in the cost of hardware and software, it's easy for companies to focus on the backend. After all, many founders believe that great systems can become significant competitive advantages.

But great products are usable products, which is why companies that fail to invest in frontend development are liable to see their great backends go unused.

How to Avoid

Recognize that appearances matter with products, so budget to bring a UI/UX person on early in your startup's development.

Hiring too many developers too fast.

At many startups, developers are treated like rockstars and you can never have too many. There are a variety of reasons a company will buy into this notion. One of the most common, of course, is that, in theory, more developers equals more code.

But growth in developers doesn't necessarily lead to greater productivity, particularly at early-stage startups just building out a product. In fact, in many cases, more chefs in the kitchen will not only not lead to things getting done more quickly, it will lead to significant problems with the quality of a company's code base down the road.

How to Avoid

If your startup hasn't raised millions of dollars in funding, it's generally easy to avoid this mistake; you simply won't have the funds to go on a hiring spree. If you're raising money, think long and hard about what you promise investors. In short, be careful about promising to grow your development team rapidly simply because that's what they may want to hear.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 June, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (7)

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David Ashton

I respect your ideas but I can't help but thinking it seems a bit limited.

about 6 years ago


Savenet Online Backup

Great post Patricio - all excellent points!

Of course another big mistake is a total lack of market demand, often glossed over by the easy access to funds that are spent on marketing goals which further act to hide this!

about 6 years ago

Stefan Tornquist

Stefan Tornquist, Vice President, Research (US) at EconsultancyStaff

Good post Patricio,
I've been thinking about small companies and opportunity cost recently. One mistake that's often made is wasting time on partnerships and other non-revenue programs that don't balance out with value. For example, they might look quite appealing for the positive association with known brands or some level of access to a large audience.
One reason many don't live up to expectations is that we can't control our partner's execution. Marketing is generally in the details (do we get a solo blas email or is our message buried in a newsletter, etc.) and if we don't have a say in those, we're not really able to influence the outcome.
Another is the imbalance of motivation. There's a French expression (and I'm probably butchering it) "In every relationship there is the one kissing, and the one offering the cheek." Most partnerships have that inequity, and very often it's the small company trying to prove itself with a free test or something similar.
As the cost of start-ups in digital gets lower, the importance of time in the equation increases, so companies need to be as judicious with it as they are with budget, maybe more so.

about 6 years ago



In some cases it can be a mistake to not plan for scale. Of course you should ensure you have a viable product first, but i've seen businesses sunk specifically because they couldn't adapt to scale.

The last 3 points are spot on though. Like one of the other comments here, market is also a common failure point, as is not collecting the right data to make good decisions.

about 6 years ago

Faseeh Shams

Faseeh Shams, Marketing Manager at Adthena

I would second the third point specifically, I have seen a lot of start-ups which have great looking websites but the product it self never looks at par to the shown expectation. I think there has to be a synergy in marketing may that be the design of the website or the product it self.

Stefan, you are right in many ways but I have found partnerships to be a strong aggregator of brand recognition. But again too much wastage of time on anything can be dangerous in the start-up world.

about 6 years ago

Alec Sharratt

Alec Sharratt, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I too second the third point... getting the product or service right is fundamental to success. You can deliver all the traffic in the world to a nice flashy site, but if the product is rubbish... Well, no-one will buy it.

Technology is so important in start ups of any size, getting good integration of data from websites, to booking or sales provides invaluable insight. Insight that can guide the business and aid in making decisions about where to go next.

Thanks for the great post by the way.

about 6 years ago


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over 5 years ago

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