when startups fail

Jumping on the startup bandwagon is not for everyone. It’s certainly not for the risk-averse. Because starting a business is a bad idea if you’re not able to accept failure.

It’s also not for someone who can’t develop or follow a plan. Startups need structure. Processes and procedures don’t just happen. They need to be created and implemented.

According to Small Business Trends, “A bit more than 50 percent of small businesses fail in the first four years”.”

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surviving your startup

Actually, we thought the number was higher. Maybe because we’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve seen more than a few startups fail.

Sometimes you know upfront.

You get an inkling that something’s off. Often it starts with a whirlwind of excitement and big plans. Really big over-the-top plans that seem wildly optimistic.

Now we have nothing against excitement and having a positive attitude is hugely important. But so are plans – especially when you’re starting a new business. And if the plans aren’t based in reality, you’re looking for trouble.

That was the scenario a few years ago when we were hired to build a website for a new music and light dining venue. The concept looked good on paper. A sophisticated, casual night spot in an area that could easily support this kind of entertainment. The client was over-the-moon-excited. She was commissioning pricey artwork and spending freely on interior design. The excitement was contagious and we were all looking forward to the opening.

Then reality kicked in. And we realized that under all the glam and excitement was…..well, nothing. No business plan. No marketing plan. No roadmap on how this business was going to run. They couldn’t find a decent chef because they hadn’t allocated enough money for one — unacceptable in an area where people expect top quality food.

A few months into the launch of this project and the red flags we’d noticed were looking bigger and bigger. One thing after another went wrong until we realized there was no way this venture was going to fly.

In hopes of helping save other startups, here is what went wrong for our client and the six warning signs you need to heed if you’re launching a new business:

Six Red Flags

  1. Ignoring the competition
    Our music venue client disregarded a successful venue down the street because it was really a restaurant. But they did have music one night a week.  Fast forward a few months, the competitor’s weekly music night was drawing crowds. Because they had terrific food and longstanding customers. Never underestimate the value of customer loyalty. And always understand the competition.
  2.  Failing to prioritize
    Rather than allocating marketing dollars to communication tools to let people know they were opening and build some buzz, the venue owner spent money on all sorts of pricey premiums and custom artwork. Social media was minimal. PR was non-existent. Huge oversight! We still have some of those premiums — they lasted far longer than the club.
  3. Skimping on the essentials
    Serving food? Better make damn sure it’s good. Saving money by hiring inexperienced (or poor) chefs will be your demise. That’s what happened to our client.
  4. Not listening to the experts you’ve hired
    Savvy entrepreneurs know they can’t do it all. That’s why they hire professionals to handle what they can’t. If you’re paying someone to help you build your business, listen to their advice. Otherwise, save the money and do it yourself. It’ll be less of a loss when you shut down.
  5. Not listening to your customers
    If one table sends back food with a complaint that it’s cold, that’s easily fixable. If more than one table has the same complaint, pay attention. You’ve got a problem in the kitchen. Ignore the problems and you’re never going to make it.
  6. Falling in love with your product or service
    The A#1 mistake our client made was falling blindly in love with her venture. She was so convinced that this was going to be a success that she did little due diligence. And once things started to fail, she ignored the warning signs.

As entrepreneurs, we’re passionate about entrepreneurship. We like to see others succeed. And we love being involved in success stories. Building a website for a company that didn’t even last a year made us feel pretty bad. Especially since we loved the website!

Because we give a damn, there’ve been times we’ve suggested that a potential client pull back instead of moving forward with a new website. Rather than see a startup fail, we’ve suggested that they go back to the planning table and rethink what they’re trying to do. Once all the pieces are in place, we’re happy to build their website.

Lest we discourage anyone who’s eager to start a business, here’s an article from Inc magazine on 15 reason why it’s a good idea to start a business.

If you’ve got a clear plan and aren’t afraid of making mistakes (they’re part of the learning process), go for it.

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