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.
If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter