Why are startups hard?

David Goehring

Is it because we’re trained and educated in to a different way of thinking or are they inherently hard?

This post from Derek Sivers C Dixon got me thinking. From the first day of school we are trained to think in a certain way. Essentially, we’re all managers or at least that’s what we’re expected to become.

Be a part of the machinery. Optimise it, tweak it, but don’t disrupt it! That’s what school teaches you.

But we know that entrepreneurship is different. Steve Blank, Eric Ries and the rest of the lean startup movement have taught us that a startup is a completely different beast than a company with an established business model and product.

Instead of optimising you should be experimenting.

Instead of tweaking you should be pivoting when the experiments fail.

And disruption is on top of the agenda.

With the lean startup process we now have the manual (sort of) for doing it. But it’s still so darn hard. The manager within us keeps holding us back.

So, I wonder: are startups hard because we have to fight the instinctive urges that one and a half decade of management thinking training (aka “school”) has programmed us with or are they hard because, well, it’s simply hard? What do you think?

3 comments

  1. Anders Borg

    Here are a few crass, biased and hard-earned notes:

    While working with creating a solution to offer you have no way of knowing that anyone will pay for it profitably and long term (the only really important thing). If you don’t want to go all-in on risk, do consulting until you know, or just do consulting (and let customers take risks). Optionally, secure a customer before you develop anything and have them pay for all of it.

    No one really wants you to succeed. Your parents, friends, spouse gladly ridicule you for taking risks, when you instead could have made a career as a manager in a large corporation, securing steady and increasing profit to yourself and your (optional) family.

    No one understands disruptive lateral thinking until they see it realized, and might even work against you “because it’s stupid and weird”. Also, most disruptive solutions fail, by being too early or completely missing the mark, and if they do you’ll be considered a failure (or at least that’s your fear).

    Generally most business endeavours fail. Period. If what you initially promote doesn’t sell, sell something else, preferably to the same customers you’ve already approached, preferably using the competences and partners you already have. The important things are sales, understanding market needs, revenue and profit, not any specific solution.

    Early investors will rip off an arm and a leg for investing in your high risk likely to fail venture, and if you choose the wrong investors they want control and will become a burden. Unless they invest a lot, that can in itself easily kill your venture.

    Choosing your co-founders and active personnel is crucial. If you get co-founders that work against you, you are screwed. If you believe in your ideas, don’t let others take control. Better have them on a short leash as sales partners, subcontractors etc, than as co-founders. Another solution is to make a clear partitioning in terms of responsibility early on, so you don’t step on each others’ toes. Respect each others’ responsibilities and know-how.

    And above all, the only reason for running a business is profit (and indirectly wealth), whatever meta values you might promote. If that’s not your goal, then just don’t do it. Ideas and technology are worth nothing as long as they don’t generate profit, unless you are into charity, self-destruction, divorces and stuff.

    If you consider working for a start-up when it’s somewhat established, see to that they have money to pay a reasonable salary and also secure stock. You don’t need that much stock to become wealthy if the company succeeds, and if you are not on the board or in the management team you can still become rich without doing anything beyond a normal job.

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