Why is it so hard to start a Start-Up?

Ivan Golovko
Jan 10 · 6 min read

The question never popped into my mind even when people directly confronted me with hard written facts.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

Do you have enough financial resources?

Are you clear about your goals and the practical steps needed to achieve them?

Can you measure the amount of time and effort you are willing to invest in the project to make it succeed?

All I did was nod my head and said yes and Amen to everything. The only way to figure an answer to the above is to do the job. So, I started. Back then, when the idea was still in its initial stages, I was dead serious and self-confident that the business plan I had written will succeed.

After weeks of pondering over it, it suddenly happened. I finally reached the Eureka moment. And Tada! you are in the magical process of the flow as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

The words sprout out of you, and you create “the plan”:

And you go on with your project until you spot the aspects that you might have missed. You can only discover those aspects if you expose your ideas to an audience that don’t belong to the FFF circle of yours (Friends Fools and Family). With all the positive feedback at your disposal, you are prepared to ruin your life.

Anyone in your FFF circle is most likely not ready or is not willing to sacrifice the relationship they have with you, in order to provide honest feedback to you. What do you do then? Where can you get constructive feedback on your Start-Up idea? The answer is easy. From entrepreneurs, people who made their plans a success. I got it, and the feedback was brutal.

I called the Start-Up “Idea House” and it is based on a social project that I am a part of “The Tannenbusch House”. The Tannenbuschhouse is an open space where we invite people in our public living room where they can host their ventures (dancing classes, leadership coachings, writing workshops, etc.) for free. My idea was to digitalise the project and create a platform around the concept of open spaces for social and commercial projects.

It’s similar to Airbnb but on an hourly basis or car-sharing applied on houses. In Germany, you can get funding for almost anything. From music system to hosting a dancing class and from even a spade to dig the soil for an Urban Gardening Project. But, the requirements and the amount of bureaucracy that you have to go through to get the funding for your sound system or whatever you need the funding for is mostly not worth it. By the end of the day, it is easier to just earn the money by doing a regular 9-5 job or just borrow. One fine day I decided to apply for Founderscholarship.

All they needed was the applicant to describe the idea within a short idea paper and pitch it within five minutes to a live audience (mostly entrepreneurs, corporates or lawyers from the field) who will either disregard or approve your idea.

It took me five evenings to write the idea paper and five minutes to apply for the pitch. My co-founder is an experienced Software Developer with a very logical and rational approach. We used a template to create the five-minute pitch and practised the presentation an evening before. I was working on the pitch day, treating my patients — Manipulating their spines and fixing painful joints.

I left early from work, and you could already see sweat stains on my shirt. I was very nervous. I should the last person who should do a pitch or a presentation since I’m usually talking too fast or assume that the listener has already some preconceived knowledge about the topic. So yeah, that’s where we went wrong.

We pitched at a Co-Working Space for Tech Start-Ups. One by one, the fellow applicants were going in for the pitch. In the moments where you become dull and oblivious to your surroundings is usually the moment where you feel that something is not right. To overcome my insecurity, I said to my co-founder.

“Let’s pitch; anything is better than just standing around and waiting till we get executed.

My part was a bit longer, which led to the conclusion that I had to start the pitch. He pulled out his phone and set the timer.

“Five minutes and go!” He said.

In the morning, I decided to write the pitch down to be clear on what should I say exactly, word by word. But in that case, it is best not to have a plan. Mike Tyson was right:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

And that is what happened.

“Idea House!”

The lady with the schedule shouted at the entrance. My co-founder and I were standing in the middle of co-working desks. The co-workers were focusing on their screens, or they put their headphone on to be able to focus on their work (We were very loud.). We pitched like there is no tomorrow and it sounded well, to us.

We convinced ourself that there is nothing that can go wrong in this pitch. We went in into the pitching office. It was a small room with a projector and five judges. I pulled out the USB-Stick out of my pocket like a cowboy pulls out a gun and inserted it into the laptop.

“Idea House” The title screen appeared on the wall, and I breathed in deeply.

“It’s showtime!”

I thought.

My co-founder pulled out his phone and set the timer. The judge started to explain the procedure and the rules around the pitch. The little introduction ended with four words:

“You have three minutes.”

I panicked.

The pitch is already extensive, and it took me a lot of effort to explain how the platform would work based on the real use case scenarios. We pitched, and we pitched, and we pitched. Three minutes were unrealistic, but we got done in precisely five. Just later, we realised that this is a trick to make applicants come to an end on time.

The first question we had was:

“What about the legalities? The tenancy law in Germany is stringent, and it varies across different states.”

The answer we had was silence.

The lawyer was silenced by a tech entrepreneur who sympathised with our idea. He asked:

“Did you do market research? Who are your biggest competitors?”

That was the most embarrassing moment I had in a presentation. I was so convinced about the idea since we had a real first-hand experience of hosting such a space with some vital statistics like 300 Events within a year with 40 attendees on average per week so I thought that these numbers are probably enough to present. Alas! It wasn’t.

The question was answered with silence, and the clock ringed. The five minutes of Q&A ended disastrously. I talked to my co-founder after, and he said:

“It an eligibility criterion. If an existing solution already covers the Market, then there is no point in pursuing it. They will repudiate us.”

And this is exactly what happened. A few hours later, we received an email that our project application was denied. But, we got the most honest and practical feedback we could ever get. We understood that the idea we had was connecting with people we’ve never met before.

We saw how the eyes of the judges lit up upon making a reference to Airbnb and the sharing economy principle. It was motivating enough to dig deeper to answer the hard questions and not give up in the face of rejection. After a day or two, I was happy that our funding proposal got declined because I learned how important was it to get proper feedback from the people who were working in the field and it also made me aware of the challenges that we hadn’t defined yet.

Rejection and Critical Feedback will speed up your learning curve not linearly but exponentially because then you’d get an urge to do something about it to change it. So, get yourself out there and fail a couple of times. It will make you move the grounds of your groundbreaking idea in ways you wouldn’t have imagined before.

Ivan Golovko

Written by

Novelist and Idealist with a background in medicine. Learn more about my work on https://www.ivangolovko.com/

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