Confessions of a startup founder: What I learned from my $5K mistake

March 5, 2015, 6:45 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the best mistake you ever made?” is written by Sunil Rajaraman, Co-Founder,

The most exciting thing you can experience as an entrepreneur in the early stages of a company is locking in paying customers. It’s validation that not only is your product something people need, but it’s something they are willing to pay for. As co-founder of, an online website that allows businesses to hire freelance writers for blogs and other jobs, I’ve learned a lot: young entrepreneurs, myself included, often make the mistake of buying advertising too early on simply because you have a small amount of early customer traction.

That mistake cost me $5,000, but I’m happy it didn’t cost me more. I’m also happy I made the mistake early on, rather than later in the lifecycle of the company.

I learned that paid advertising is expensive. And unless you’re extremely sophisticated in the early stages, you likely don’t have the assets built out to optimize conversion rate. Also, at the time, we had no custom landing pages, no content assets, and no idea how to optimize our funnel to both target great customers/and get them to sign up.

As we watched our $5,000 disappear like water down the drain, we realized we needed to come up with a new strategy since we had virtually no money (this was before we raised our first round of outside financing). Making the mistake forced us to rethink how to get early customer traction, and we came up with some really creative stuff. For example, we reached out to every blogger on technorati with relevant expertise in our field, and asked them if we could write guest posts for them. This gave us a lot of high-quality inbound links and increased our organic search rankings.

All in all, making that $5,000 mistake was what propelled us to think about low cost customer acquisition, content marketing, and organic search. I’m happy I made the mistake, and I’ll never make it again in the early stages of a company.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the best mistake you ever made?

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