One BIG But-Not-So-Obvious Way To Lose At Entrepreneurship

Failure is the default outcome for any attempt to cancel out an obstacle.  Whether a charity, business, or church we plunge headlong into figuring out what we will need to make our venture go.  There’s a list of “obvious stuff” to think about:

  • Does the product/service matter?
  • Do we have enough money/capital?
  • Where can we get more when we need it?
  • Is the team complete [enough]?
  • Do we have market access?

So off we go through the machinations to test the “feasibility” of achieving our dream. Failure to realize the dreamed outcome is almost always a result of having underestimated an important detail; maybe two [sic].  Undercapitalization is cited as the reason for 85% of startup failures.

But that’s ridiculously obtuse.  There is no way that many startup entrepreneurs are so naive as to not be capable of the basic math it takes to estimate launch capital.  The demand for capital is just a inflection point of another demand on the company that was hard to anticipate i.e. necessary pivots related to regulatory changes that require you to change your product or how you address the market, changes in distribution costs etc.

Capital/money is simply dehydrated labor.  Whether used to retain labor for production or for acquisition of labor through trade, it represents a storage of uninstantiated labor just the same.  So to know the capital demands of your plan to boil the ocean with your fantastic idea is synonymous with knowing how much work the venture will be.  And anticipating the workload of an organization that doesn’t fully exist is hard; especially across phases of execution over time.  My business parter and I use this phrase often: “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

Emotional feasibility

But hard as all that is, the “obvious list” is the easy part.  We expect a venture launch to take time, money and hard work.  But the real naivety is in ignoring the fact that it will take a piece of your soul.  Whether you “succeed” or not you will forfeit a part of your sanity, health, home life, personality that you won’t get back.  Some lose it all.  I once heard a story from a woman who had started one of the first HMO health insurance companies which was quite successful; so much so that her business partner “died from the stress” during a rough and early merger.  It will change you, permanently.  So be ready.

‘So is it a bad idea to start your own company?’, you ask.  Not necessarily but it certainly could be.  That’s a very subjective conundrum which is my point.  Spend some time getting to know yourself by writing down specifically what is most important to you.  You may find that you already be enjoying the syrup of this short life and, if you “succeed” only stand to lose it in exchange for something less valuable.  That’s not much of a best-case scenario IMO.

On the other hand, maybe you’re young and untethered and your new product idea is every bit as noble, novel and lucrative as you believe it to be.  Or maybe you’re an old and eccentric hermit with nothing to lose.  Either way if you think you possess a potent mix of talent, tenacity and temerity then go disrupt something.


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