There are several common reasons a startup fails. Oftentimes there’s no market for the product, the idea was poorly executed, the startup was poorly ran or founders just got bored and gave up.
These mistakes are common amongst newbie founders and, to a degree, they have to be learnt by first hand experience. That being said, it’s really frustrating to see/read about smart people falling to these traps and I read an article on Medium today which damn near made me pull my hair out.
The article in question is titled “How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked my life up”. It’s not too long and is pretty well written – go read it now. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.
Ok, you’re back. This article made me want to bang my head against a brick wall as it featured a lot of the bullshit that’s involved with startups right now. Let me be more specific.
1. The author sought an escape in a startup
Startups are freakin’ hard. I don’t mean long-hours hard. I mean every single part is difficult. Hiring the right people. Developing a product. Identifying a niche. Marketing. Selling. None of these tasks are easy (the one exception being the tech side if you’re already a developer but truly full-stackers are rare).
The author clearly hated his job and wanted out. But like the dude who leaves his wife for a younger, seemingly-more-attractive model – he found out that nothing is perfect.
If you think that working for a startup is suddenly going to undo problems you have at work, at home or whatever then trust me: you are wrong.
What the author should have done was changed jobs. Get a gig where he can spend more time with his girlfriend and friends. Start to enjoy life, basically.
2. The author searched for an idea, rather than letting it come naturally
I can guarantee if you take twenty minutes of your time you’ll come up with what seems like a good idea for a startup. Look back on it in 24 hours and I bet you think it sucks.
The best startups are formed to solve problems that the founder has experienced first-hand and repeatedly. The author just wanted the startup life but (it seems) didn’t have the need thats required to run one. By need I mean that you feel the world needs this product, or at the very least that you do.
Founding a startup for the hell of it is like adopting a puppy because you like the idea of having a dog but aren’t prepared to deal with the mess.
3. The author tried to mask the struggle
Your friends and family are, in general, going to be very supportive of the leap you’re taking. They probably think the world of you and you don’t want to feel like you’re letting them down. But a major, MAJOR pet peeve of mine is how damn near every founder feels like they need to tell people they’re killing it. When asked how their startup is doing, 99% of founders (not a scientific statistic) will shoot you smile and tell you about increased signups, engagement rates, rapid pivoting or whatever. You know what you never hear? Honest replies like: “You know, I’m having a kinda shitty week” or “I’m really unsure whether there’s a market for our product”.
I don’t know why but founders seem to feel like they need to project this constant image of whirlwind, starry-eyed success. Like everyday they work at their startup is a trip to Disney World.
Guess what? Startups suck sometimes. You work in a constantly insecure environment. You’re always over-allocated. You don’t know the next time you’re getting paid. Sometimes you launch and no-one shows up. Yep, you can paint these things up as positives (“an exciting environment to work in!”) but they’re truly not. It sucks. Now of course there are positives that, in my opinion, outweigh the negatives (hence why I do what I do) but to pretend on daily basis that everything is rosy in the garden is just plain madness.
And if you can’t express your thoughts, feelings and experiences to those closest to you then who can you express them to?
4. The author had a naive definition of success
“Successful entrepreneurs are not necessarily those who raise millions of investment rounds”
I seriously needed to take a beat when I read this. I truly can’t comprehend why, oh why, an entrepreneurs success would be defined by raising funding. I don’t want to pick on him here because he only suggests that some people may harbour this view. However, it is a hyper common view that raising investment is some kind of win when it’s not.
Raising investment means you managed to convince one or a handful of people that you could be majorly profitable/popular in a few short years. It says literally nothing about how good your product is and if anyone will buy it. Multiply that by a thousand if its a seed round.
Taking on investment is another headache you’ll have to deal with and if at all possible (and most of the time it IS possible) you should bootstrap your company.
Defining success as raising investment is like a rock band prioritising getting signed by a big label rather than making good music.
5. The author provides nonsense startup advice
Okay so this part is obviously quite relative but the tips he gives feed further into startup bullshit.
“Are you ready for the social pressure?”
The only social pressure that you’ll feel as founder is that which you create yourself. This relates back to point number three above. If you’re constantly telling people how great your startup is doing then you’re gonna feel the need to continue that lie (if it is one). Honesty with yourself and others is the cure for said pressure.
“Do you have enough cash to last at least a year?”
Bullshit. You need enough cash to do you until you can build a product and validate a market. That shouldn’t take a year – it should take at an absolute maximum 6 months. Three months for a basic MVP seems to be a good rule of thumb (again, highly scientific).
Referring back to point number two, if you feel you *need* to create something you’ll find a way – trust me.
“Are you ready to sleep only few hours a day?”
Another statement that forced me to take a few deep breaths. I’ve written about this a bit already so I won’t go on too much but the notion that working long hours and skipping out on sleep will help you achieve startup success is absolute FALLACY. Yes, sometimes there are grinds but they should be few and far between. I’m sitting in my office at 6:15pm and I would’ve been out of here an hour ago but I decided to write this blog post instead.
Hey founders, you’re probably the most important part of your startup so it’s pretty crucial that you look after yourself. That means getting the recommended amount of sleep, nutrition, social activity and exercise every single day – with few exceptions.
All that being said…
So I might have been a bit hard on the author of the mentioned piece. I also may have portrayed startups in a negative light but it doesnt hurt to show the other side of the experience.
As I said it’s frustrating to see the same mistakes performed repeatedly (and for poor advice to be peddled). Maybe that’s just the way it always has to be for newbies but I hope not.
If you’ve any thoughts on this piece then be sure to leave a comment or get in touch.