How an IBM Statistic Based on Nothing Made Headlines in India

I’m just a girl, standing in front of a statistic, wondering where it came from.

I read a study about Indian startups by IBM Business Analytics and Strategy and Oxford Economics. As it turns out, it contained a statistic that caught a lot of people’s attention. (Or one news intern saw it and the story was repackaged by multiple websites. Either way, there was buzz.)

This was it:

Source: IBM, Oxford Economics

Ninety-percent of India startups fail within the first five years.

*Scrolls to source*

It’s an Op-Ed on a news website. Let’s look for that 90% stat.

THERE IT IS!

Okay…let’s go to Patel’s Forbes story.

Wow. One more hyperlink.

*clicks*

Now we’re at Fortune.com. It’s a story from 2014 about Silicon Valley, which is very far from India. There in the third line from the top is what we’ve been clicking all over the content universe for.

Fortune has provided the estimate without a source. Aha! Now I understand. It’s one of those things people say that doesn’t need a source. Like “Leonardo DiCaprio is dating a model right now,” or “Kids love Snapchat because it’s fleeting and temporary.” (Not because it’s free, all their older relatives were on Facebook, and kids are essentially narcissistic monsters who love selfies.)

But here’s what happened after the IBM study was picked up by Indian media.

Do better, IBM and Oxford Economics.