Our work with Intrapreneurs has shown that the common pitfalls and important questions continue to ring true. We've created an interview series to highlight these individuals and their expertise, if you know someone who should be featured, please share here here

Nobody goes into a new venture thinking they’ll fail. And yet, 2/3 do.
Why is that? And what’s different about the other 1/3?

Starting something takes audacity.

The audacity to believe you can add enough value to build a business. I love audacity.

But success? Success at the start takes humility.

The humility to recognize that you’re doing something new and may need help. You absolutely need both, but part of what the successful 1/3 realize is that while audacity is a beautiful motivator, it’s a terrible coach. It doesn’t remind you to challenge your assumptions or ask for help.

Audacity will give you the strength to take risks but not the wisdom to know which risks to avoid.

Over 6 years of working with entrepreneurs and executives to build new products, here’s what the team here at DeveloperTown has found: Leaders often take unnecessary risks in the first years of a new product that lead to critical missteps, resulting in wasted time, money, and opportunities.

Seth Godin nailed it in a recent post:


Here are a few of the most glaring and unnecessary risks we see leaders launching new products take:

  • Building the product before validating the market.
  • Designing the user experience... in a vacuum.
  • Building too much too soon.

We’re going to address these risks in our next 3 blog posts.

Until then, below are a handful of questions we ask clients that often uncover additional risks you can avoid at the start. They aren't glamorous, but they work.

  • What’s the external and internal problems that the product will help your customer solve?As storytelling expert Donald Miller says: “People buy solutions to internal problems.” What external problem manifests an internal problem for your customer?
  • How are your customers currently solving these problems? Put another way: What’s the next best alternative to your product? It might not be a specific competitor, but a habit or manual process.
  • What’s the smallest step you can take to get meaningful feedback from your target customer/users? You don’t need to spend a dime before getting smart feedback from the people who matter.
  • What assumptions are exposing you to the most risk? They might be assumptions about product features, your customers, your users, how you’ll raise funds, etc. Put another way: What do you believe that if wrong, would sink the ship?
  • How can you start validating (or invalidating) those assumptions? Similar to the question about getting early feedback, you absolutely shouldn’t wait until you have a product to research and test the market — creating products in a silo, even if that silo is full of smart people, is a surefire way to fail.
  • Who is the leader in your market? How did they get there? With a little effort, you should be able to identify who else is selling to your customer, pick apart their marketing, and start to get an understanding of the path they've taken to get where they are. A favorite hack of mine: Use something like the Wayback Machine to see how a competitor’s site and messaging has evolved over time. They’ve likely dumped tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into what you see there now — learn from their evolution.

These are just a starting point, but thinking about them deeply and answering them honestly will help supplement your audacity with the humility you need to start strong.