Entrepreneurship Industry News

The Unrealistic Expectation That Kills Startups


The old saying warns us not to “major in the minors,” but getting mired in minutiae is an occupational hazard for startup founders.

After startups make it past the earliest stages — say, after their Series A — founders go from being hyperfocused on their unique value proposition to spreading their time across non-unique challenges that all businesses face. Founders then have to suddenly become adept at HR, recruiting, haggling for office space and managing the board, along with the constant mental overhang of the next funding round. It’s as if the quarterback is now expected to block and tackle, throw the football, call the play and sell tickets. Each of these undifferentiated jobs is a potential point of failure for the founder who is suddenly expected to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Acumen across disparate disciplines — including ones that require special administrative and operational skills — is rare, and it’s unrealistic to expect every founder to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, this skill gap trips up startups that have already demonstrated product market fit and even causes some to fail. When this happens, their unique ideas get pummeled by an onslaught of quotidian tasks.

The Interruption Of Disruption

Everyone rallies around a new and interesting concept, but many startups languish because it’s difficult to carry that idea to the next level. In a 2016 analysis of 193 failed startups, only 23 failed because of “no market need,” aka lack of product market fit.

Often, the momentum behind a great idea dies because the founder (or founders) can’t build the right team. Finding a niche in the market is a much rarer skill than being a good hiring manager, but the consequences for not hiring right are just the same.

These common snags could be written off as business as usual, but maybe they don’t have to be. Years ago, for instance, startups spent a lot of their time and resources securing servers and other hardware, which they had to increase when their businesses grew. Back then, driving to data centers and then making sure they worked properly were all time-consuming activities. More than one startup died because it couldn’t keep up with the need to keep adding servers. Now that hassle feels like a distant memory. Today, most startups can merely rely on the cloud and scale up as needed.

In other words, the cloud has liberated startups from previous constraints on their businesses. A round of duplicative, undifferentiated tasks (tasks that don’t create net new value) confronts every startup at some point. Is there a way to remove those restraints, too? If setting up servers was a giant speed bump for startups and AWS and other cloud services cleared that, are there other speed bumps we can remove?

Read more: Forbes