For 2023’s first edition of our Startup Life newsletter, we asked founders to tell us one big mistake they made throughout their founding journey and what they learnt from it — so you can avoid doing the same.
Don’t forget the boring stuff
Move fast and break things does not apply to legal or tax structures. Talk to the professionals! We made assumptions about how German company structures work based on experience with other countries' corps and wanting to be fast and thrifty. Those assumptions cost way more time and money to fix than if we had consulted with professionals to begin with.
If you are founding a company outside of your native country, also make sure to understand the cross-border rules especially as it relates to your personal tax obligations. In particular, figure out when exactly you need to file your taxes, as deadlines differ from country to country.
— Arielle Kilroy, cofounder and CPO of Dado, an employee experience management platform
Create an environment where it’s OK to fail
One mistake we made at Einride in the early days, and which we see a lot of other European startups do, is to be too terrified of chaos. The reality is that every startup will have chaos. While we were starting to scale at Einride, we met with a professor from Stanford who had researched the dynamics of European and US startups. He told us European startups fail more often than US startups because of their Germanic culture which focuses too much on structures and processes — putting output and delivery as a secondary focus.
We were underestimating the importance of building a culture where people felt they could fail, and focusing too much on structure rather than on delivery. So very early on we decided to throw this hyperfocus on building processes overboard and instead empower individuals and their teams to prioritise outcomes first. By allowing the team to fail and learn, we were able to scale quickly, but it’s also helping us sustain a thriving culture today as we grow to a team of 500 people.
— Robert Falck, cofounder and CEO of e-transport unicorn Einride
React fast to customer problems
In Veriff’s early days, there was an incident where we did a bug fix on our product that led to our service shutting itself down on a Saturday, without our knowledge. We’d just onboarded a large client that Veriff depended on for life or death, and they were not pleased: Veriff’s service failure had cost the business tens of thousands in lost revenue.
I met with the CEO of the company two days later and was completely honest about what had happened and the cause of the service failure. Surprisingly, he said he would always prefer to have a long-term partnership with a company that responded quickly to challenges and was transparent, rather than a company that didn’t have any issues at all.
That was some six years ago now. My biggest learning from that experience is: unexpected things happen, it’s a natural part of building a business. What matters is how you tackle a problem and work together with your clients.
How (and how not) to run a startup.
— Kaarel Kotkas, founder and CEO of identity verification service Veriff
On the subject of... founder learnings
🤝🏽 Cofounder woes. The founders of AI leadership coach Bunch nearly split up at one point: a painful experience for both of them. But months later they worked it out, and the company is stronger than ever, they recount on LinkedIn.
🐂 What makes a good founder? Someone who is not only determined and bull-headed, but who asks for advice from time to time.
📉 IPO mishaps. Over brunch with Sifted, Ali Parsa, CEO at healthtech Babylon, reflected on why taking his company public was a bad idea.
🧠 Founder mental health. In this interview, former cofounder and CEO of Monzo Tom Blomfield shares the highs and lows of hypergrowth, and the effect it had on his wellbeing.
🎓 Nine lessons learnt. A founder recounts what she learnt after two of her companies failed and one was sold, and what she’s learning while working on another venture.