Confusion is the Silent Startup Killer

Danielle Gillespie
3 min readSep 30, 2022

Cashflow might not be your primary problem.

Do a quick google search for “startup failure” and you will see endless hits with gloomy statistics and a handful of the most commonly referenced reasons for failure. One of the top reasons cited for startup failure is cashflow or, running out money. But before you throw in the towel you need to ask, is cashflow really the problem? Or is it simply a consequence?

This article is not going to solve your cashflow troubles overnight but, instead, it will help you reframe the problem to tease out “the why” that may be contributing to your ability to close deals.

As a foundational element for this discussion; cashflow is directly affected by challenges associated with raising money, securing paying customers and/or aggressive burn rates.

There are a variety of reasons that can ultimately lead to cashflow issues. But, oftentimes when experiencing cashflow challenges, I find a good place to start is to examine the clarity of the company’s product message.

Start by asking: do people tune out when you tell them what you do? Are they confused by what you do? You may not want to see it but, if you think the answer might be yes, you may have a problem with the message you’re broadcasting.

If You Confuse You Lose*

I recently worked with a startup company and, during my initial conversations with the leadership team, I discovered that everyone on the team thought the product was something different. What’s worse is that some people on the team couldn’t articulate the product’s primary differentiator. And even worse, some people on the team were a key demographic and didn’t use the product.

In this particular case, the founder lacked deep empathy for the space and didn’t seek insights from the primary customer segment. As a result, the product was a moving target that was continuously morphing. There was no clear message that communicated the product’s mission and as a result, there was nothing for customers and investors to grasp on to or connect with.

Founders and founding teams need one strong, compelling, emotional hook to lure in customers and investors. The hook should be used in website copy, pitch decks and networking conversations. The ability to clearly communicate your ‘only-ness’ is crucial to acquiring paying customers and attracting investment money.

Your startup journey is hard enough, without this clarity the slog will be even more challenging.

Tune Up Your Talking Points

Once you have clarified your message, ensure the whole team is on the same page. Your team is one of your most valuable marketing assets because they will carry your message out into the world.

Furthermore, a clear product mission statement will become the guiding principle around which you will make business decisions. It will help you define what customer success looks like and how to get there. A clear understanding of product mission and customer success will help you make informed decisions about marketing, engineering, budget and product enhancements. It will also make it easier for you to decide if/when to pivot.

Get off the Hamster Wheel

Startups are challenging, exhilarating and draining. If you start to feel that you are on an infinite hamster wheel trying to balance budget, raise money and acquire customers, you can quickly start to lose sight of your long term objectives. If this starts to happen my recommendation is to take a short break; take a weekend off, get some extra sleep, get some exercise. Once refreshed, revisit your product mission statement and make sure you are prioritizing the efforts that fully support your business goals.

* This phrase attributed to Story Brand is one that I live by. If you liked what you read and need help gaining product clarity, feel free to reach out!

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Danielle Gillespie

Defining the intersection between technology and human connection (I also help entrepreneurs build rock solid tech products: daniellegillespie.net)