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11 Reasons Why Starting a Company is Hard

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Startup rule #1 is: SURVIVE.

Here is a summary of 11 reasons why it is hard for a startup to survive:

  1. Having a great idea at the right time is hard.

  2. Designing an excellent and simple product is hard.

  3. Developing something people want is hard.

  4. Getting traction is hard.

  5. Keeping the damn thing up and running is hard.

  6. Implementing a scalable business model is hard.

  7. Building a great team is hard.

  8. Raising seed money is hard.

  9. Raising venture capital is hard.

  10. Turning away free advice is hard.

  11. Managing your emotions is really fucking hard!

Nobody said it was easy. Having said that, it is usually worthwhile.

There's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.



Only 11 reasons? ;)

I'm sure if we put our heads together we can think of more, Emily. Feel free to suggest more reasons.

See also Tara Hunt's So you wanna do a startup, eh? Sucker!

And also her Lies, Damned Lies, and Startups and Kevin Dewalt's Why Lean Startups Are Hard...


Ah, Morpheus. Very impressive. Here is Virgil's take on the topic: "fortune favors the bold".

I had heard a different translation of the Latin proverb "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" so I looked it up and sure enough there are several:

"Fortune favors the bold, Fortune favors the brave, Fortune helps the brave, and Fortune favors the strong are common translations of the Latin proverb "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" (or "Fortuna audaces iuvat")."

I do prefer "fortune favors the bold" best so that's my translation going forward.

The marines say, "To the brave, good fortune."

Kartik, I really like that. I should invest in a luck factory. I'd make a fortune!

Also, thank you Luke for the link to increasing your luck surface area.

On point #1: in fact, i would say that the right timing is what makes the difference between interesting ideas, and ideas with potential (which is a requirement for success).

Agreed, Arnaud. The right timing is so important and so hard!

When we worked on the real-time Web in 2000, everything was an uphill battle, from educating people to getting them to adopt it. Now AJAX and Comet and HTML5 and JavaScript are mature and known, and thanks to Twitter and Facebook, real-time Web applications are something people know and like. What a difference ten years makes!

i'm in the period of having just shut down a startup and kicking the tires on a bunch of ideas... it might be that this goes without saying but wanted to share what's been one of the hardest parts of starting something new for me.

while maybe one or two of the ideas i've kicked around are interesting and maybe worthwhile and one i was really excited about.. the question i'd keep asking myself is: "am i really truly passionate about this?" and it's hard, when the answer is "no", to really admit that and move on / keep digging.

sometimes it's hard to follow your passion (when there are other bright, shiny things nearby).. and it's hard to answer honestly the question "are you doing what you're most passionate about?".. and do something different if the answer is no.

Eric, thank you for sharing, and I agree that one of the hardest things we entrepreneurs have to do is know ourselves.

Know our weaknesses so we know when to ask for help.

Know what we really care about so we know what will keep us going when the chips are down.

And know when NOT to listen to the optimistic voice within, since most of us entrepreneurs are optimists by nature.

"Math is hard!" - Barbie

Something I haven't seen yet is the topic of management. Learning how to shift from builder to supervisor has been more than one boss's Achille's Heel. Management requires communication skills, accurate time and project management, general leadership and people skills, and a sense of humor. Very few companies survive on only one camel's back.

Your point is well taken.

I tried to capture that in point 7 (building a team is hard) but it's certainly worth calling out, so thank you!

Ah, I fail; though I suppose I'd offer "building and supporting a great team is hard." That said, building a great team is hard; supporting a bad team is Hell!. I just think my view reflects the change of hats associated with moving from a developer role to a leadership role, something that happens some time down the road from the original team building phase.

I agree that learning to manage and lead is a struggle and takes a lot of practice.

No one is born knowing how to prioritize, focus, or lead by example. Those all become learned habits.

Adam...found this interesting. :) Wondering if you could elaborate a bit on #10. Take care! -Dan

Hi Dan!

As an entrepreneur you will get free advice everywhere you turn.

Furthermore, some of this advice will be conflicting -- for example, "stay focused" but "be open to opportunities".

You could spend most of your time collecting advice if you're not careful.

Ah, yes. I'd definitely agree. And in the case of student entrepreneurs, this means going to start-up event after start-up event. Sometimes you need to skip the entrepreneurial talks, sit in a dark basement, and build something great... :)

Awesome list. Take care!

Well said, I'm a fan of focusing and building something great.

I think 11 is toughest.

Agreed, Tim, and the Ben Horowitz article on managing your psychology is very heartfelt:

re: Point #8: I've written a series of blog posts about our experience raising $1MM for AppMakr. The raise took us 14 weeks, and my goal is to help other entrepreneurs do it more quickly and efficiently. You can read about my "Fundraising Cribsheet Manifesto" at . Hope it's helpful.

Thank you, Daniel, you have many useful links on that page.

See also Don't underestimate how long it takes to raise money and 5 magic slides.

To your original point, Adam, I think the #1 rule is not to survive but to succeed. Is surviving usually enough to succeed? Granted both words mean Do Not Fail to the point of Death

You have to survive long enough that you can succeed. Survival is on the path to success.


But yeah, you make a good point. SUCCEED AS FAST AS YOU CAN.

Sometimes "as fast as you can" is many years. :)

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