Startup Antipatterns

We’re writing a book about the many faces of the startup founder. And we want to hear from you.

Startups fail.

Not always, and certainly not all for the same reasons, but nearly 80% of new businesses don’t make it past Year 1. Life as a founder is filled with anxiety and certainty your company’s death knell is lurking just around the next corner.

There are stages to this anxiety, seemingly straight out of the DSM. First you assume it’s just you. You wonder “what’s wrong with me” or “what’s wrong with my company”. Then you panic, thinking that if anyone ever knew what happened behind the curtain you’d be sunk.

Gradually, as you meet more founders and hear the origin stories of their companies, you realize it’s a mess everywhere. You begin to understand that your job is mostly pattern recognition and risk reduction. You should be working to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, and hopefully have the wisdom to identify problems before they have a chance to jeopardize everything you’ve built.

For startups, these dynamics are heightened and accelerated. A traditional business has years to grow their staff and solidify business practices. Startup founders are thrown directly into the fire and are expected to know how to manage staff, spend money wisely, control costs, execute on the vision, get the word out, and, oh yeah, raise more money every 12–18 months!

We know there are a frightening number of pitfalls waiting to ensnare startup founders. We’ve started our own startups, some of which thrived and some of which failed. We ran an innovation lab at AOL where we created 7 companies in 14 months. At Tanooki we’ve helped founders bring over 40 startups to life. We’ve lived through many of those pitfalls firsthand. Over time, we’ve experienced professional deja vu enough that we started identifying some familiar anti-patterns. We even started to refer to them by shorthand, saying “oh, we’ve got a ‘Half-in Founder’ on this project, how do we get them more engaged?” or “This is our very first Alpha test, but we’ve invited a key partner… is this an ‘Accidental Stakeholder Alpha’?”

So now, of course, we’re writing a book. We know that there are many more patterns to discover, but we’ve heard “oh my god, this is my life!” from enough people we’ve shared our initial list of patterns with to realize that sharing what we’ve learned so far could be immensely helpful to anyone starting (or working with) a startup.

Over the next few months we’re setting out to interview dozens of founders and vendors about their experiences, which patterns they’ve seen, and how they’d handle the same situation after having lived through it once already.

Hopefully by sharing experiences and battle scars, we can help raise the odds that your company can avoid the falling into these traps.

Over the next year we’ll be sharing some of the anti-patterns as we write the book and gather interviews. Let us know if you’d like to share your experiences in the startup world, or if you’d like us to drop you a line when there’s a new chapter ready.


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