Early Symptoms That A Start-up Is Going To Fail

Written by Faizan Patankar

Starting a business is as easy as logging in online and filling in a few details. But actually building a successful business from a start-up is not as easy as some make it out to be. The business owner’s worst fear is of the start-up failing. Let’s not hide it, there are some start-ups which you see and think, ‘who the hell runs this start-up?’ As someone who runs a start-up, you’d probably like to know what the early symptoms that a start-up is going to fail are.

Well then, William Pietri – a developer, entrepreneur, and writer has articulated a top-voted 10-point answer to the question.

Not demonstrated user need.

For example, consider 3D movies and TV. If you ask peoplehomer_doh why they sometimes prefer stage to screen, nobody ever says, “Oh, movies are only 2D.” The 3D tech has novelty valuebut even a little bit of user testing would show the pushers of 3D that most people are perfectly happy to go back to 2D movies after experiencing 3D, and that many actively avoid 3D. That wasn’t the case when sound or color or fancier special effects were added.

Fear of testing hypotheses.

As a founder, I can say it: most start-ups launch in a cloud of hype and bullshit. That hype is really useful; start-ups are difficult and painful; you have to be really excited to do it. But the hype is also dangerous: it lets people assume they just can’t fail. If a start-up team doesn’t seek contact with reality early and often, they will have a bunch of surprises in store. It hurts to find out your ideas are dumb, so you have to really want to know the truth more than you want to feel comfortable.

No love for the audience.

If you are going to spent years studying and serving people, I think you have to love them. YouTube’s first designer, who happens to be an old friend, would grab a video camera, hop on his motorcycle, and go to users’ houses to see them in their natural element. He’s a natural democratizer of technology, and wants people to get really involved in what he’s making.

No love for the domain.

I would never work at a sports start-up, because I don’t care much about sports, and never will. If I’m going to do my best work, I really need to love what I’m going to spend all day thinking about.

No love for the team.

Hostility between roles? Hostility between founders? Management that doesn’t really care for the employees? Employees that don’t care about one another? That company is probably doomed.

A desire for perfection.

Perfection kills. The things that your early adopters care about? Those should be awesome. Everything else? Fuck it. A team that has a hard time being pragmatic will spend a lot of their time and money on shit that doesn’t matter. And that will keep them from getting the product out early enough to get useful feedback.

Not thinking about revenue.

A lot of people want to make a product, not a business. What’s the difference? The latter makes enough money to pay the bills. I get it: products are exciting; commerce is banal and a little grubby. But until it’s a solid business, it’s not sustainable. Building shit without thinking about money? Really fun. But start-ups like that are just playing dress-up at $1m a year.

Caring too much about what other people think.

Some people are really worried about what the competition thinks. Or what their friends will think. Or what’s cool in Silicon Valley. Or even what their investors think. When instead, they should be caring about what their users think, and whether they’re staying true to their own vision.

Being in it for the wrong reasons.

Is the company being built to flip? Are the people in it to get rich? Is the fun part showboating for the press and the digerati? Are they doing it just to build something they think people should want? Are they high on a Big Idea? God help them.

A high Dunning-Kruger quotient.

The heart of the Dunning–Kruger effect is that clueless people can’t tell that they’re clueless. Teams that know that they don’t know much: generally awesome. Teams that think they know it all? Very dangerous.

Read more answers to the question on Quora here.

photo credit: Image 1, Image 2

About the author

Faizan Patankar

I started Career Geek Blog in 2011 to share my experience in job-hunting. I now focus on careers industry and blogging is just a tool to share that info. Love hacking careers. During the day I focus on my hobby - Engineering.