How to avoid obvious failure as a startup

Look at the top startups– the ones who are actually making money versus the pretenders.  What’s the difference between them? You’ll notice that they all work ultra hard, are ultra networked, and are ultra knowledgeable.  The catch-22 is that if you’re a one-man show, how can you possibly put in enough time to work, meet people, and learn at the same time?

Let’s look at how people fail at this:

  • Ultra networkers: You know these folks– they pass out their business card to everything that has a pulse. Many are but an inch deep, as all they know are people, not topics.  They do add value because they can introduce you to folks who do have knowledge– and that can often come off as name-dropping.  Find the most often in sales. Having great contacts, but not having knowledge is like trying to eat a bowl of cereal with a fork.
  • Ultra knowledgeable: Academics. Find them in universities, reading books, writing books, and lurking on forums.  They are afraid of actually getting started for not knowing enough– afraid to fail, so they don’t try.  Zero execution and often no network.
  • Ultra-hard workers: Often entrepreneurs– fire, ready, aim. The most damaging of these 3 types.  They are so ready to move in any direction with no goal– just eager to go, go, go.  Lots of open projects– zero of them completed.  The aftermath of the eternal fire alarm is a trail of destruction.

Do you recognize yourself in any one of these profiles?  How do you avoid the traps these folks fall into?

Focus on learning, networking, and execution in that order.  

Good luck getting a question in.

  • If you try to network before learning, then you come off as an idiot— you should be researching the folks you meet beforehand, anyway, out of respect. Plus, you’ll have something interesting to talk about instead of saying “So what do you do, anyway?” or asking them questions they’ve heard a zillion times.  If you’re going to a conference, know who you’re meeting before you leave, and hit up the speakers before they speak (they’re mobbed afterward).
  • If you decide to execute before networking, you run into brick walls— your yet-to-be-discovered colleagues could have told you if only you had asked.  Like Sissyphus, you’re going to roll that ball up the hill for the rest of eternity– making every mistake in the book.

But that doesn’t mean that you should only learn in the learning phase.  In truth, you should be doing all three, but have a primary focus in each step.  The art of learning by doing, which is to have small active projects you’re learning on is not the same as running a large project and promoting it.  This process of learning, networking, and executing also doesn’t mean that you’re not working as hard– you can still work 80 hours a week, but spend your time in the right proportion.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top