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You will fail

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I was talking to my good friend Jacques the other day and he asked a set of penetrating questions which all boiled down to -- do your realize that you're probably going to fail? Jacques and I have been studying and reading about startups for a long time and (I think) are getting pretty good at separating the BS from the real. Plus he's been helping me with my current effort, so he has a pretty good idea of what I'm up to.

So for all those entrepreneurs out there who are reading the self-help startup books and are excited about your new application, it's wake-up time.

You will fail.

I thought somebody should tell you that, because we don't talk about it enough. Odds are, you will fail. That's doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your team, your idea, your market, or any of that. Stats show that most teams -- even teams that are rated highly in all success criteria -- do not meet the expectations of founders and investors. In fact, most kind of fizzle out after a while. This is not my opinion, it's just stats.

This is why investing in startups looks so comically tragic from the outside: nobody really knows what will work or not, so at the end of the day it's intuition and gut feelings. Of course it's funny: at an early stage investors are writing checks for real money based on less information than the average horse better has. They just try to dress it up more.

But whatever you do, however, keep trying! The world needs you. Entrepreneurs in startups are going to change the future of mankind, and they're going to do it over the next decade or two. At this time in our history, being an inventor and innovator is the highest calling anybody can have in life.

Just be honest with yourself about the odds. And when you do fail, whatever you do, don't go on the internet and write a long tirade about how everybody else is to blame. Sure, it will feel that way. Worse than people not giving you an honest shot (which sucks if you are used to being a hyper-achiever) is watching other folks take your ideas and get funding and run with them. That kind of pain can last a long time, I know.

The best way to look at it? It's a numbers game, just like sales. Books and positive reinforcement and all of that exist to keep you motivated and playing the numbers. So try to fail quickly. Try to pivot from your original idea to something else. If you can fail at 40 different startup ideas in your life, you're going to kick-ass at one of them. Learn to laugh at yourself and others -- all while you're working as hard and as smart as you can.

Just thought I'd say that. I think a lot of times it's easy to lose track of reality in this business.

As for me and my startup? I'm going to keep plugging away. I'm in startups because I want to make the world a better place, I want to help people, and I want to create, not just consume. When I die I don't won't to look back on all the times I quit, I want to look back on all the times I tried. Sure, quitting is logical at some point. But lots of times I've quit before I even really gave things a chance, and I don't want to do that any more. I try because trying is good, noble, and honest. I'd trade a life full of trying as hard as I could any day for a life where I tried half-assed and hit it big on startup #1 and then never created another good thing for mankind. In fact, most guys I've seen that sold out successfully on a startup lost track of who they were, drifting from one half-assed investment to another, never able to devote themselves to any one thing again. After all, why pour yourself into anything? You might fail!

But I'm no fool, either. Life (and the market) is not a meritocracy, and simply because I work hard and am a good person doesn't mean that anything good is going to happen. I'm not doing a startup to cash out in five years. I'm doing a startup because that's who I am. You try hard, life kicks you in the ass, you learn more, and then you try hard again.

Just try not to do things you'll regret while doing it.

We must imagine Sisyphus as happy.

7 Comments

That's why I "Embrace Failure" (see http://jeffjochumblog.com for a real explanation of that) whenever I can. Makes all the downsides become steps up. Go get em.

So true.

Here's one of my worst experiences in startups: http://www.maximise.dk/blog/2009/06/worst-case-scenario.html

I would add one thing: no budget, no chance. Reality check - you can't live on air and neither can anyone else you're asking to be involved. To be a success you need to dedicate 100% of your time. To dedicate 100% of your time you need *some* money. You don't need to be a millionaire, but trying to press-gang people in to working for equity will only end in them losing interest and putting your work to the back of the queue. Because they can't live on air!

I'm doing a startup because that's who I am.

I like this thought. I think we're all searching for that-- that is, what is the pursuit that I most identify with? What is that thing that makes me more myself?

Failure may or may not come, but if Failure is Not an Option is your motto and you deeply believe it then your chances for success become 100%. You will probably change your plan a couple of times but you will succeed.

How much money are you going to raise, MORE THAN ENOUGH.

How long will it take...... Five to Ten times longer than you plan.

First thing is you need to know is that you need far more money than you think at first.

Are you willing to go to the mat, over and over and over again? Are you willing to let your credit go down the tubes? What are you going to do when you wife leaves?

How bad do you want to succeed?

(I'm not sure why I keep checking that little "Remember personal info?" box... I'm hoping that maybe if I do it 40 times, one of them will take ;-) )

Awesome post! I heard that this is what distinguishes people who succeed at startups (ironically) is the fact that they're WILLING to fail.

So, good for you! And I'll be rooting for you just the same cuz, after all, SOMEBODY has got to change the world. :-)

Very true. In my startups I learnt two things that help me have a lot of fun irrespective of failure or success. I learn way more from my failures than successes :

1. You must try & fail, but can't afford to fail to try - every technology, customer relationship, market, people - everything that you touch in a startup follow this rule.

2. Be "passionate" about your gut-feeling. But take the "emotion" out of the picture. People always take the credit for your work, but blame only you for all the failures. Just don't get emotional. Purge negatives and simply move ahead. Speed is the best anti-dote for depression.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on January 2, 2010 8:03 PM.

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  • SamTheEnergyGuy: Very true. In my startups I learnt two things that read more
  • abby, the hacker chick blog: (I'm not sure why I keep checking that little "Remember read more
  • Ralph Brown: Failure may or may not come, but if Failure is read more
  • Vishal Kapur: I'm doing a startup because that's who I am. I read more
  • Greg: I would add one thing: no budget, no chance. Reality read more
  • Max Kim Tobiasen: So true. Here's one of my worst experiences in startups: read more
  • Jeff Jochum: That's why I "Embrace Failure" (see http://jeffjochumblog.com for a real read more

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