Mark DeSantis | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mark DeSantis


RoadBotics, a Carnegie Mellon University spinout, uses readily available tools like smartphones to help maintain the country’s roadways.

The Mistake:

My mistake was investing in a product and going to market too soon – and wasting a lot of money in the process.

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to imagine their product is more ready than it is. I experienced this early in the life of kWantera. In my eagerness to get into the market, I made the call to build out the sales and marketing staff.

As a result, we ended up trying to sell a product that wasn’t ready for prime time. Both the sales team and the company board understood that the mistake was made in the spirit of building a successful company. We had gotten ahead of ourselves. Through the process, there was a lot of pain and anguish.

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to imagine their product is more ready than it is.

The Lesson:

This is a common challenge that stems from the eagerness of the entrepreneur and pressure from investors. These pressures often result in premature investments being made before the market need has been identified.

It’s like trying to sell a half-baked loaf of bread. The marketing effort is confused and ineffective, and you may end up having to lay off or reduce your sales or marketing team. The board has to be able to agree that mistakes were made. Let's try again. For a lot of founding CEOs, that opportunity never comes about.

The lesson is to engage with hypothetical customers through market discovery. Have 100 conversations. Run the idea by people to see if the need for the product exists and it’s something someone would pay to resolve.

It involves talking to a lot of people and having those conversations again and again. Through this, a picture emerges that helps you to identify if you’re on the right track.

The most important thing a founder can do is that market discovery process. There’s always a risk, but you’ll get a better sense of what you’re doing, and it will focus the minds of everyone working on it as to what you’re trying to sell and why.

Follow Mark DeSantis on Twitter at @MFDIII.

Image courtesy of MarkDeSantis


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