In large organizations and industries the concept of “paying your dues” is well understood as the process of doing entry-level tasks or overcoming a series of professional challenges before attaining a certain level of success. In the startup world, however, there may be no better way of proving you’ve paid your dues than by failing – and wearing that failure as proudly on your sleeve as possible.
Even if a startup goes out of business, for example, it’s assumed that those involved in it learned valuable lessons which they can bring to their next venture. Understanding – and surviving – major risks can be a proof point in getting VCs to invest their money in the right idea, particularly if a founder’s previous failure exposed them to a new opportunity in a similar sector. In no other community does the notion that failure comes before triumph carry such resonance.
It would be a huge mistake, however, for entrepreneurs to treat all kinds of failures the same. There is a big difference between an instructive failure, for example, and one that’s symptomatic of a poor way of working. Those are the failures that individuals can take with them from one startup to another – with disastrous results. Make sure the following aren’t among the failures you find yourself discussing with investors or anyone else:
1. Fixing Something Not Broken
While some startups are broad enough in scope to serve almost anyone, others are laser-focused on a specific niche. The only thing in common with those that die out is that they fail to offer a product or service that anyone actually needs. To some extent, startups may feel they need to get out in market with a product (or even a minimum viable product/prototype) to test the waters, but that’s not the only answer. Make the most of the tools available to you:
2. Becoming Known Only As A Quirky Name
Startups don’t have the luxury of slugging it out for years in obscurity as their large enterprise predecessors might have done. Instead, they often have to come out of the gate prepared to serve a global market without having anything close to global reach. Poor marketing – or an utter lack of marketing – can doom startups to a miserable form of failure. The best entrepreneurs make sure their message is clear, compelling and consistent before they launch anything.
On the other hand, good marketing doesn’t begin and end with hiring a marketing specialist or team. It means being savvy and tactical about how you’ll disseminate content and drive demand. This is just a sample starting point:
3. Running Out Of Money
It probably seems incredible when you’re struggling to get seed funding that anyone could burn through so much cash that they have to close their doors prematurely. It’s a fact of life in Silicon Valley and far beyond it, however. In most cases it’s not a matter of overspending on things like product development. It’s a failure to drive enough revenue to provide a sustainable, long-term future.
The only way for startups to avoid this kind of failure is to create an agile sales strategy that can shift and adapt based on market conditions:
Failure is a fact of life among startups, but if you follow the advice above, even entrepreneurs that start all over again at some point are at least more likely to have the sort of failure they can be proud of.
Looking for more advice related to startups? Read our post “The Difference In Sales Enablement For Startups” for tips on how to engage staff and boost sales.