The mythical startup

Here is the popular mythology about how a new technology business becomes a success. Our hero, a lone genius, slightly lacking in social skills, one day comes up with an amazing new idea for a website. He locks himself away in his bedroom and stays up all night building the software. He launches the next morning and is immediately inundated with customers. Shortly after that, he cons some dumb fat corporate into buying the company for squillions and then retires to spend the rest of his life happily sipping mojitos on the beach of a remote tropical island.

This fairytale narrative is pretty harmless, I suppose. But for anybody actually working on a startup, or considering it, it’s a real distraction: as a result of this expectation many of the things that you think you know about what it takes to create and grow a successful business are wrong.

The path you need to follow is unlikely to be the exact same path taken by somebody else who was successful.

Besides, those who have been successful find it much more difficult to pinpoint the reasons for their success than you might imagine. The decisions they made were typically a mixture of strategic foresight paired at just the right time and place with good execution, ultimately inconsequential mis-steps and lucky stumblings. It’s only much later that they get to decide which of these were which.

‘The mythical startup’ in Idealog #33
This series, expanding on ‘The mythical startup’ in Idealog #33, is cross-posted on Rowan Simpson’s blog

On the other hand, we don’t often hear from the founders who tried something and failed, despite the fact that the lessons they uncovered in the process of not making it are likely much more relevant than the post-rationalisations of the lucky winners.

So, what should you be paying attention to as you try to get your new venture off the ground?

In this series I want to try and break down this mythology and explain some of the counter-intuitive lessons from the ventures I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with.

There will be seven short posts, starting on Monday:

  1. One Man Band
  2. Eureka
  3. Inventor In A Shed
  4. The Firehose
  5. Pinch Me!
  6. Mojito Island
  7. All Together Now

If you can’t wait to read the whole thing, there is a shorter version published in this month’s Idealog, which is on sale now.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


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