Most businesses fail, so there’s a good chance your startup sucks…
A couple of years ago, I took a meeting with an older gentleman and two college kids. They had driven from Philadelphia to meet me at a Starbucks in Manhattan. I don’t mean to brag, in fact, they didn’t tell me they came all the way out just to meet with me until the end of our meeting. This does real damage to a 20-something’s ego.
I’m not going to talk about the project these guys were pitching because it really deserves its own post. I actually came up with the title and idea for this column as a result of it. One of the reasons why was because of a line that the adult on the team said to me. He was apparently the money behind the project and also ran a traditional manufacturing company. Sadly, I don’t remember it verbatim but it was something like, “Look, these kids are smart and determined, they just need someone who knows about internet things to help them out.”
“Someone who knows about internet things.” What an atrocious condensation of one’s passions. Once I heard that, I knew I was dealing with a team that had no clue as to what they were doing. I’m leaving out a lot of the story, but trust me on this.
I come from the school of thought that the successful person ought to know a little bit about everything and that there are no excuses for launching an online business without knowing how the game is played. You wouldn’t open a pet store if you don’t know about animals and you wouldn’t open a clothing store if you were a nudist. So why would anyone want to launch a web property without any interest or experience in the space?
Now, I also come from the school of thought that says work should be enjoyable so I prefer to collaborate with experts in a particular field who love doing the tasks required that I’m not too fond of doing. That way you avoid annoying your coworkers/peons with burdensome work beyond their area of expertise. Getting back to the topic at hand, if you don’t know how to build a website or how to deal with social media, you can always hire someone to do it for you. But if you’re the master of the house and don’t know or care to learn about what those people are actually doing for you, they’re not always going to do what you want or what’s best for the company. It can lead to a lot of unnecessary drama, and I’d rather have smallpox than that.
Nobody has ever died from learning something new, at least when it comes to startups. No established company releases products or services that will somehow be so confusing, intimidating, and powerful that making a mistake while using them will somehow immediately leave you on the streets with a heroin addiction. Twitter won’t make that happen, but if you tweet “Just closed a round of funding for whatever.com, check out the new beemer! #startups #vc #entrepreneurship #bmw,” don’t be surprised if you suddenly lose the respect of the entrepreneurial community and get labeled as a douche because you brought it on yourself.
Part of the beauty of startups is that you’re allowed, almost encouraged, to make mistakes. It’s almost universally expected that startups will stumble somewhere along the way and it’s the agile ones that can regain their balance. That shouldn’t be misinterpreted as “it’s a startup so we can do a crappy job, they expect us to screw up.” Why not save yourself time and try to always do the best job possible? At the end of the day, the entrepreneurial CEO is responsible for everything. Ideas are cheap, it comes down to you and your team to make sure everything is done the right way, not your investors. Unless you’ve already screwed up and sold your majority share to them, but that’s a lesson for another day.