Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is the Primary Reason For Startup Failure?

dont-quitWhen I heard a friend make the statement “Your startup can’t fail if you don’t quit,” I realized that every entrepreneur should adopt it as their mantra. Pivoting or dealing a new hand is not quitting. If we all repeat this mantra, perhaps we can improve the statistic that over half of new startups fail within five years. Nothing is more discouraging to future entrepreneurs than a failed startup.

Why do most startups fail? There are a thousand reasons listed by pundits across the media, but most of them agree that the number one reason is NOT running out of money. The number one reason is that the founder quits. Of course, they may be quitting because they ran out of money, but good entrepreneurs tell me that running out of money is most often an “excuse” rather than a “reason.”

Let’s take a look at the main reasons (excuses) given for startup failures, and suggest some alternatives to quitting:

  • “I’ve lost interest – I don’t want to do this anymore.” This suggests you have lost your passion for the current business model, probably because someone suggested you change from your original concept to make it easier, or to make more money. My suggestion is to morph the current idea into one you love and enjoy, rather than quit and take an employee role you never wanted.
  • “I can’t find any investors in this economy.” If you can’t bootstrap the venture yourself, find a partner, friend, or family member rather than a professional investor to carry some financial weight. Otherwise, look for advances from distributors, vendors, and even future customers. Try bartering services you have for something you need. I’ve seen countless creative solutions to the cash flow problem, from people who don’t quit.
  • “The people around me are all turkeys.” We all make people mistakes. So you made some bad hiring or partner decisions. Now is the time to face up to these issues and move out the people who don’t fit, rather than let them destroy your startup. The sooner it is done, the happier both of you will be.
  • “I don’t have the skills or discipline to run this business.” If you knew everything that had to be done, and could do it easily, you would be bored and lose interest (back to item #1). If millions of people all over the world run businesses, there is nothing implicit in the role that is beyond normal intelligence. Half the fun is learning, so get started today, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • “I finally realized there is no market for what I do.” Big markets rarely spring “full grown” out of nothing. Every entrepreneur has the challenge of making a market, or differentiating his product to match an existing market. Every startup I know has tweaked (or totally transformed) their product several times, rather than quit.
  • “I grew too fast and everything is spinning out of control.” This is probably a good reason to scale back and focus on organic growth, but it’s not a good reason to quit. You must have something of interest, or growth wouldn’t be the problem. Reset to the basics, get financial or management help, and failure should not be an option.

Another important point is that even if you declare your current startup a failure, don’t let it defeat you. Most people agree that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. The bright side is that investors tell me they are wary of funding an entrepreneur who has never failed (in his own mind), since that often leads to a cocky and unrealistic view of future expectations.

Overall, my view is that starting a business is just like everything else. Nothing important is all that easy, and all of us stumble a few times and pivot along the way as we learn. There is a real difference between cashing in your cards for a new hand, in the face of unbeatable odds, versus quitting and walking away from the challenge. You don’t learn any lessons by walking away.

Marty Zwilling


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1 comment:

  1. While I don’t freelance myself, I do a lot of work with freelancers, some of whom are established and some just starting out. A lot of them ask me for advice on where to get clients or on how to become more established, and from now on I’m just going to forward them to this excellent write up. The stuff about making a business plan is gold – not enough freelancers out there do this. In my experience most freelancers just jump into it and start looking for clients without figuring out how much they want to charge or what financial services like one hour payday loans they have to apply.

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