Startup FAIL?

I’ve been listening to a number of startup podcasts lately after seeing a listicle (can’t believe that is a real word now) on the top startup podcasts you should be listening to, and the tone is just so optimistic on all of them.

Everyone is wonderfully successful, has just the right partners, has great traction, awesome investors, money in the bank, and seeing exponential growth. Funny thing, it makes it sound like startups are great, just come up with an idea, build it, launch it and boom, near instant success.

There is very little to no mention of failure, even though the reality is that 80% of startups fail. 8 out of 10. Why do we never hear about the failures? Where are the failures on the startup blogs, on the tech blogs, on the startup and tech podcasts? Zip. Sure, maybe once a year, they might do a retrospective of what they did wrong the last year, but 9 out of 10 articles are about the amazing successes, not the dismal failures. Pretty much an inverse proportion.

Even those startups with a modest success, and then fail, are rarely talked about.

I guess in the tech and startup press, if it doesn’t bleed, it leads.

I’ve been toying with the idea for a podcast interviewing the founders of those startups that failed. Or maybe I should just add a weekly feature to my current show, talking to startup founders who failed. After all, don’t we usually say that failure is not really failure, its more of a learning experience? Don’t worry, if you’re embarrassed, I won’t mention your name or startup, and I’ll even disguise your voice if you like. I’m serious about this — contact me if you have helmed a startup that has failed and want to come on the show. Info below.

Why is the startup world depicted so optimistically? Even when you dig into the successes, it almost seems like app A won over app B simply due to a lucky break. Why does no one download and talk about app B?

Seems like the current startup mythology goes like this:

  1. Come up with idea — month 1
  2. Build it, either by yourself or with a co-founder — month 2
  3. Launch it — month 3
  4. Get tons of traction from users who just can’t live without your product — month 4
  5. Make tons of money from those same users who are simply throwing money at you — month 5
  6. Get tons of money from investors clamoring to give it to you — month 6
  7. Buy giant house in Atherton — month 7
  8. Eventually go public, become a billionaire, write a book on the above, talking about how your genius made you successful

When in reality its more like:

  1. Come up with idea — month 1
  2. Build it, either by yourself or with a co-founder — month 2
  3. Launch it — month 3
  4. Attempt to promote your business and gain traction to no avail — months 4–7
  5. Get a small bit of traction and paying customers but not enough to cover costs — months 5–8
  6. Empty your bank account attempting to get traction by running ads everywhere, attempting to get investor meetings and flying to any investor meetings you might get — months 4–12
  7. Give up, bank account empty, shut it down — month 12
  8. Try to get a job

On the other hand, if the startup world was depicted as-is, then who knows how many of those founders who were successes would never have started their startups at all? Maybe there is some sort of silver lining to this — maybe founding a startup allows people to actualize themselves, to really live their dream. Maybe if the press wasn’t so positive about startups, there would be less of them. And I personally think we really need a good, healthy batch of startups to keep the engine of commerce running.

Think about every company employing thousands today: Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Alibaba, HP, IBM, they were all startups at one point. What if those founders knew the reality and didn’t take the risk. Where would be be today?

My point is — if you want to run a startup — you should be able to go into it with your eyes wide open — you will likely get to do what you have always wanted to do, and get away from your dead-end, soul sucking job. But on the other hand, let’s not minimize or belittle the downsides to running a startup.

So here’s my challenge: startup media, please let’s try to be a little more “fair and balanced”. Since featuring things in the proper proportion would probably be kinda depressing (who wants to hear negative news 80% of the time) let’s at least strive for a 50/50 balance. Interview one successful founder, then interview an unsuccessful one. I’m sure that we can all learn from both of them.

If you are interested in coming onto my show, I’m accepting applications via Just pop me an email with your contact info, the name/concept of your startup, and we’ll go from there. No need to be deep, deep in the heart of Silicon Valley, I can just interview you for my show over Skype.

Photo Credit — Jeremy Page — flickr

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