Ever Tell Yourself That Your Startup is Going to Make It Instead of Facing the Truth?

failure

I know I’ve been there before and, sadly, more than once. Chances are you are going to be there too.

Why?

Sometimes solving problems and executing fast isn’t enough.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are. The biggest factor in a startup’s success is luck, and that’s something you can’t control.

The Fruitcast story

One of my first startups that I thought would succeed was Fruitcast. It was a business that helped monetize podcasts. We would place ads within podcasts, which would help publishers make money and companies get in front of more people.

When we launched the business, we received a ton of press and even had meetings to sell the company. One of the companies interested in buying us was Yahoo. Their paid ad division was looking for new channels to expand into, and Fruitcast was an opportunity for them to enter the podcast advertising arena.

We never sold the company to Yahoo because of multiple issues within our business. Firstly, the economics didn’t work. Secondly, the main person who was behind Fruitcast wasn’t committed to the business.

The big lesson I learned from this startup is that you shouldn’t get distracted. Don’t let press, potential acquisition, or funding talks take your attention away from what’s important. Focus on growing your company and changing your business model until it works. If those other things work out for you, great! Just don’t count on them.

The Serph story

If you thought I had bad luck with Fruitcast, just wait till I tell you what happened with Serph.

After two years, Serph never launched, and I was out a million bucks of borrowed money.

The concept behind Serph was very similar to Amazon Web Services, except Amazon Web Services didn’t exist yet.

We spent a million dollars on servers and infrastructure, but the business never launched. Why? Because we picked the wrong team to run the business. They were smart, but they were poor executors.

And that wasn’t even the worst part. We should have launched the business a few months into starting the company, but we never had the opportunity as our business partners ran away with our money. To add insult to injury, before they left, they trashed the house they lived in, which we owned.

The lesson I learned with this startup is no matter how good your idea is, you’ll never succeed unless you launch. To ensure that you launch on time, you need to pick the right team. The team has to be able to execute well. Beyond that, you need to have similar values and fit well together. If you can’t gel as a team, you’ll never meet deadlines.

Will your startup succeed or fail?

Sadly, I can’t answer this question for you. You will know better than anyone else if your company has a shot at succeeding. But to figure this out, you’ll have to look at it from an outsider’s perspective.

It’s going to be hard for you to do this, but it is possible.

All my failed experiences (dozens of them!) taught me that you are going to make mistakes. If you learn from your mistakes and start avoiding them, you’ll increase your odds of succeeding.

Take it a step further, and learn from other entrepreneurs. The principles of entrepreneurship haven’t changed. What worked for Carnegie and Rockefeller in the 1800s still works today. So, when you have time, read the life stories of other entrepreneurs, and learn from their mistakes.

What should you do?

Whether your business is doing well or poorly, one thing will remain true: eyeballs are always valuable.

Sure, you want to create a great product or service, but that alone may not be worth much to someone else. But what usually is valuable is eyeballs. If you can get thousands, if not millions, of people to your website on a regular basis without spending money on ads, you’ll have something valuable. Those visitors will be worth something to someone, even if you can’t make your business work.

For this reason, I changed the way I start companies. Before I create a company, I actually pop up a website, work on building an audience, even if it takes me a year, and then I consider creating a business. I do this because it is much easier to make money and create a profitable startup if you already have eyeballs on your website.

If you want to build up traffic to your website, focus on inbound methods. You can start by following the instructions in these guides:

Conclusion

I’m stubborn, so if someone told me my startup wasn’t going to succeed, I would push forward anyway. Heck, even when I knew my startup was bound for failure, I still kept pushing forward because I hate failing.

But pushing forward when a company is bound for failure doesn’t make sense. Why? Because you are wasting time, which is your most valuable asset. It’s something you can’t buy back.

You might as well put your time and energy into something that you and others feel has a shot at success. These days, if I get into something I realize is sliding toward failure, I quickly get out. But I had to learn this the hard way…

What would you do if your startup was bound for failure?

Comments

  1. Nikhil Waghdhare :

    Hey Neil,
    Great post. I agree with you. The success of a startup depends on various factors, like minimum variable product, planning and many other factors. we can’t judge the success by only predecting it…. 😉
    Even non minimum variable product also can be successful. The great example of it is crazy egg.

    • Nikhil, glad you liked it! You bring up some great points. I think a minimum viable product is important for long term growth.

  2. Lewis - Marketing Bees :

    I’m actually half way through the development of my first ‘startup’ and already think it’s going to succeed although I think it’s that determination that helps get it going. Obviously need to be careful not to step into the ‘deluded’ zone. I know it’s going to take A LOT of work and focus to get it to succeed.

    Thanks for sharing your ‘failures’ with us although I suspect that these failures have helped you get KISSmetrics, CrazyEgg and HelloBar to where they are today?

  3. Thanks for the great post.
    It’s so hard to accept that you have a great idea and you invest so much energy and money into something that might fail, of course it’s hard to quit even if you know it’s a failure.
    Is there any way to predict if your startup will be successful, or it all depends on luck?

    • It’s all hard work and chance that dictates success. However, if you do some market research and surveying you can quickly determine what works and what doesn’t.

  4. And one of the hardest things to do is to know when to quit.

  5. Matthew Boulding :

    Another great article. I totally agree. It can be hard for people to actually step back from the emotional aspect especially when you have put blood sweat and tears in to something. Neil, apologise but you may have covered this off as a topic but a good article might be something on where to find people to work with.

    • Matthew, glad you liked it 🙂
      I think that would be a great topic. It’s all about having the right support network around you.

      • Hi Neil,

        I agree with Matthew and would love to learn about how to get right team in position for the job.

        I am technically not strong but wish to introduce a mobile application, which will be well ….. (to use a cliche term) ground breaking. How do I go ahead to gather my team?

  6. Hello Neil! It’s a great post.
    A lot of us have few startups.
    In my experience if you have a possibility to run your own business or startup long enough you will succeed. There is a book “Blue Ocean Strategy” which describes the possibility to find the way to improve or change your business. Or, there is another well-known book – “The Lean Startup”. I believe you can always find the way to rebuilt your startup the way it will work.

    • Roman, glad you liked it 🙂
      Great points. It’s all about customizing the experience for the user and make sure your product is the best it can be.

  7. Hello Neal,

    I also started a start up which people can record webcam videos online using a flash app and get them edited professionally by our team
    (me and my parter :-))

    I also launched free beta. Actually it was pro video editor work for free. Still didn’t receive any attention. Because I thought f I do something good people will follow me..

    Then I started to read your blog and it changed my vision.

    Thank You.

    • Nuwaz, glad I could help 🙂 Please let me know if you need any help along the way. Always willing to provide assistance!

  8. Ismael Rodríguez :

    Great post, Neil.

    It’s very important for those involved in creating a startup to learn this kind of lessons. In this sense, thank you for share your own experience.

    I absolutely agree with the new way you start companies, and in fact I’m trying that way this time, poping up a website and working hard last months to build an audience and testing its profitability. But, I think in this play, SEO & engagement are crucial and we all walk a step back to you with this issues 😉

    And… I’m a little worried about the role of luck in business & life succeed. Don’t you?

    • Ismael, worry will get you nowhere. Just keep doing what you’re doing 🙂 If you do everything you can then you don’t have to worry as much about outcomes.

  9. Woah! The Serph Story was a serious high pressured situation!

    I don’t know how you got you through it – but thanks for sharing your experience. I totally helps

    Naomi

  10. HI Neil, excellent article. Question to you – How would you know that your start-up is bound for failure ?

    • Ravi, you really never truly know. That’s the challenge 😉
      What you can do in the meantime is survey and do some niche research for your product or service.

  11. Justin McGill :

    Appreciate you sharing you story. I had always wondered what happened with the hosting company you’ve referred to in previous posts.

    I actually have a blog post scheduled for next week that talks about one of the businesses I started that failed. Though, thankfully, I managed to break even on the deal money wise. I did lose a lot of time though.

    Cheers!
    Justin

    • Justin, thanks for the feedback 🙂
      Let me know if you need any help along the way. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  12. Thanks Neil for sharing pieces of your story.

    Seth Godin’s The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit may give someone some help about mind shift to quitting because by Seth Godin the winner is the businessman who knows when to quit.

  13. Nishant Bazzad :

    Thanks Neil, For the great post.
    Is there any way to predict or know if your startup will be successful?

    • Nishant, you never will truly know. That’s is the challenge and the fun part about it all. Let me know if you need any help along the way.

  14. Hi Neil,
    As always you hit the nail on the head, even if it provides a little angst and is a hard pill to swallow.

    Our trick to avoid lost time and money for start-ups, and even when working with companies who have been around a while, is to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis immediately. We’ve done it for start-ups and more than once had to deliver bad news. The biggest help in doing so is when we look at our clients’ competitors to see their successes, marketing practices and value propositions. This helps determine, coupled with other elements of the SWOT, the likelihood of success, roadblocks and the amount of capital required for launch.

    Not every product or service is going to be a winner. Knowing this to the best of your ability early on will help steer start-ups in the right direction, and whether or not to get out before going in the wrong direction. Sometimes, once the analysis is done, a losing product or service can be altered a bit and made a winner. This takes a bit of time and money, but can save hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of wasted resources.

    • I like the concept. SWOT sounds like a legitimate way to find out if something works or not. Let me know how it all works out. Keep me posted!

  15. Holy Mackerel – never knew of the Serph story – inspiring to see you come full circle to your current levels of success!

  16. christian sommer :

    Neil,

    Great article and very timely for our startup which we just launched a few weeks ago to “launch and learn”. Sharing your failures and examples of things to be thinking about as a founder are spot on. There is so much to consider with startups, what problem are we solving, what is our unique value, brand messaging, marketing, monetization strategy, etc but i recently read an article about “the only metric you should focus on” is…are people using your product. Your comment on eyeballs and constantly working to build your audience is critical. I believe that if people are using it and you are growing traffic, then you should continue the startup, if this is going in the opposite direction and not improving…then it’s time to closely re-evaluate the business viability and make a tough decision.
    As always, thank you for your candor and insight
    Christian

    • Christian, glad I could help. Love your insights as well. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to call it quits on anything in life. Often times though, its for the best.

  17. Awesome post Neill, I can completely relate to this as starting any business is like white water rafting. I’ve found that the hardest thing is to carry on working even when there seems to be no results. For me this is the biggest de-motivator.

    • Mitesh, it’s definitely a tough thing to do but in the end it’s worth it to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Let me know if you need any help along the way :)!

  18. Great article. Failing is the best step to learning how to succeed.

  19. Hearing about your failures is oddly encouraging. Thank you for this article.

  20. Hey Neil, Great post as usual. No matter what, the team has to be able to execute well. I completely agree on that!! My team and myself working hard & trying to push our startup to the next level. I’ll keep you updated about the results.

    Thanks again for sharing it!

    Cheers,
    Aslam

    • Aslam, glad I could help. I look forward to hearing more from you. Let me know how your team’s feedback was 🙂

  21. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the article and valuable insight. One of my businesses has also failed couple of years ago. It was a distribution system for construction materials and the system we have created was far more superior than anything else existed at that time.

    Before we launched the service, we had a great feedback from our clients and they all seemed very keen to try out our new system.

    However, once we launched the service most people became hesitant about learning to use our model and they kept using their old systems just for the sake of old habits.

    I believe it is impossible to foresee everything in advance unless you go out there and actually launch your product in real world.

    Your article just reminded me those days and how great we have felt after getting those rejections 🙂

    • Yucel, Glad you could validate this article with your own experience. It’s important to remember the hard times when things are going well. It keeps one motivated 🙂

  22. Hi NEIL,

    I am new into marketing online, but as a musician

    I have failed into 3 different rock bands before,

    after years of being into bands I decided to go solo,

    I guess my chances to succed this way are even more

    and it is just like you said “you need to pick the right team”

    well, I guess I prefer to work alone,

    I guess this is the one of your best advices here,

    thanks for the post!

    -Adrián

  23. Hi Niel

    Great insights as always with your blogs. Your point about testing the market by building a website and following first, is spot on. I was once told by a business coach, often the problem with business plans is that people end up believing it’s reality. When in fact the reality sets in when the idea or concept is live. So the web gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to test their idea before investing excessive resources too soon. Thanks

    • Raph, glad you found them helpful. You always have to keep a level head and keep your expectations realistic 🙂

  24. Thanks Neil, another great post. I like those parts about learning from mistakes, luck plays a part and realizing when its time to quit. Will keep those in mind, thanks again.

  25. Ryan Biddulph :

    Hi Neil,

    In my experience there’s no such thing as luck; OK I stole that line from Star Wars, but in truth, I agree with Obi Wan Kenobe. Either we align ourselves to succeed, act inspired, detach from outcomes, and we see great success, or we get attached to outcomes, lose alignment, force things, and fail.

    Of course we can’t know exactly how things will work out but we do know if we work smart, and persistently, and if we detach from outcomes, we’ll reach our goals. This applies to start ups, or any online or offline venture.

    The challenge is that on a rational, ego level, we may see some situation, or some break, and think of it as a lucky turn. All things happen on a subconscious level. The god-like part of ourselves is creating our reality as we go along. So when something really neat happens, our subconscious mind, along with our actions, helped cause the break.

    It seems crazy to comprehend but I’ve studied this concept from so many ridiculously successful folks, and since I’ve sided with them I’ve become less lucky, but more the master of my fate.

    I do agree with you fully on the idea that if you lose your vision, or attach to outcomes, or stop hoping the intent of creating and connecting, that you’ll not reach your start up ultimate goal of cashing in. Many times, because we’re attached human beings who starts out with a less than pure end in mind, we fail.

    The failure is simply an indicator that we were doing stuff predominantly from a lower energy space, being attached to making money, or reaching some other end….because if you have a almost *pure* intent, to serve people, and if you stick to that intent, and could care less about money….like, if your intent is just to create something epic, and money or selling your venture is an after thought, you are well on your way to creating something epic, that companies will be more than happy to gobble up your start up.

    Why do few people sell out for millions, or even billions? Somewhere along the way, their energy shifts from providing insane levels of service by paying strict attention to detail….and from connecting with, and learning from, the top folks in their niche, to something less pure, less clear, and the ultimate goal is not reached.

    Your start up makes it when you’re fully clear on the idea, and virtually all of your energy is spent on creating something useful….this is damn hard to do, because most start spending their precious creative energies on an exit plan….and then, whammo….either failure, or the start up stalls.

    I know of a woman named Melody Fletcher who’s a personal development coach. She’s quite awesome. She offered a free giveaway, and has a coaching business, but never sat down to write an in-depth book. A few weeks ago Hay House offered her a contract. Logic says “luck”, but energy-wise, it makes perfect sense because she’s been over-delivering on a ridiculous level for years…..so in that moment, that she was offered the job, the clarity and purity of her intent was answered with a fat contract from the top self help publisher in the galaxy.

    Great points Neil….thanks for sharing.

    Tweeting in a bit.

    Ryan

    • Ryan, always enjoy reading your feedback. Your point is so true. Luck is something that comes from the opportunities you create through hard work. Nothing comes easy 🙂

  26. Good article Neil. I agree that launching with MVP as early as possible is very important. I joined team that had been developing for years and I took a decision to launch immediately and after an year we found that we were not heading anywhere and had to close. But in-between, one has to give one’s best and hope for the best.

    • Ganapathi, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a common theme amongst entrepreneurs that you articulated well 🙂

  27. Hi Neil,

    Nothing but another good article. Your comparison for the points are the best.

    “Whether your business is doing well or poorly, one thing will remain true: eyeballs are always valuable.”

    Each person has there own character but when comes to failure most of there response are same. Happy to read.

    • Suzy, glad you liked it. It’s all about coming into work everyday with the same level of enthusiasm. It really pays off!

  28. Hi Neil,

    It is only you who share all sort of experiences with readers that is the big advantage which keeps user engaged. People like me daily used open your website and check whether Neil updated any post to find out best lesson of the day or life. You made people crazy. 🙂

    To the post,
    Its all about determination which we never give up at any cost and of course successful entrepreneurs like you have had learnt hard from failures and mistakes which takes you where you are today. God bless your man!

    Your fan,
    Akram Pathan

  29. Steve Barnes, Business Geeks :

    Right on Niel,

    It’s failures that teach us the lessons and make us better.

    I had a similar experience with a startup here in Australia that looked good. We had product ready to go within eight months and then the marketing guys in the team choked and wanted to change the business model. You can’t succeed if you don’t launch! If we’d launched when we could have, we may have achieved market share before the GFC. It’s team cohesiveness and a willingness to commit and stick to the vision.

    Repeatedly failing without learning from mistakes is a tragedy. Learning from failure: how and when to do things; which signs to watch for and when to take advantage of a situation without putting your business at risk – these are all good things we learn. The more failures we go though, the better we get, until one day success comes.

    Success is built on the sure foundation of learning from our failures!

    • Steve, glad you realized that 🙂
      A lot of people get caught up in the failure and never learn from their mistakes. You are a wise man 🙂

  30. Neil, I am just starting my career and mostly work as a freelancer but sometime face difficulty in my project but your writing always help me out.
    thanks much bro.

    • Bella, glad I could help. Let me know if you need anything and I would be glad to talk things through with you 🙂

  31. I launched my start up myself as while i was still working. One year later and I am now ready to leave my job took a bit of extra time but allowed me to build contacts and clients before I took the leap.

  32. Hi Neil. First of all thanks for yet another great post. But this post is bit confusing me. I used to read and set up my mind by telling never give up. I would not give up even it’s 100% sure that I am going to fail. I would rather test the failure.

    Thanks
    Al amin

  33. Neil,

    Sometimes it is easier to take the bitter pill and just swallow it. Having my fair share of epic failures, and currently deciding on the fate of yet another this week, I have found that I almost relish them. The bigger the better.

    Not that I court failure, but when it does happen, I don’t bookmark it in my mind as a bad thing, but rather as an exceptional win!

    See, the learning and the stories are worth it. You wouldn’t be who you are without your failures. They are the foundation of the greatness that you are.

    They are a necessary ingredient to success.

    Our culture of failure avoidance has it all wrong.

    Plus, sure makes for much more interesting conversations that going on about how wonderful and successful everyone is 🙂

    Keep up the great work, love it.
    Russell

    • Russell, I love how you broke down everything. It’s important to keep a level head. I constantly focus on the big picture 🙂

  34. Rishikesh Sinha :

    In between ‘quit’ and ‘success’. Somewhere in an article in QuickSprout I read it is easy to start and sail, however, the hardest part is to make your business grow. Here lies the test.

    I have been greatly benefited by you Neil in my four year of entrepreneurship journey. Still, the growing part is killing me.

    Anyway, thanks bro.

    • Rishikesh, I understand the struggle because I myself have been there. Just keep moving forward. You’ll find that success will hit you when you are expecting it least. Let me know if I can help you along the way 🙂

  35. Sahadat Rousho :

    Thanks Neil for this helpful article.I think 90% of people fail in their life for the taking wrong decision in critical moment. Actually most of the people straggle in the starting time in their business and this article is very helpful for them. Thanks again.

  36. Satish Torani :

    Hi Neil,

    I think your advise in your last para about building an audience & then deciding whether to build a business around it is priceless.

    Thanks
    Satish

  37. Vahid Chaychi :

    Hi Neil,

    I am one of your followers. You have inspired me a lot. It amazes me when I see that you answer the comments personally on such a high traffic blog. It is a big lesson for me. “Success” is created for people like you.

    I have made a lot of mistakes, and I have learned my lessons too. It makes me happy when I see that my mistakes have led me to the same conclusions as yours. It makes me think that I am on the same right track that Neil Patel is.

    Neil, my best wishes and prayers are always with you. Keep up the good work.

    Thank you again.

  38. Hello Neil, Teddy Afro here.
    I am always wowed by your ability to put a sophisticated topic in its most distilled form, and this article is case in point. There is much i would like to add to what every one else had to say, but i just wanted to simply THANK YOU today for this marvelous and worthy read. iT is a reminder to the basic principle of start ups – THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEING 100%READY IN ANY ENDEAVOUR.
    Thanks,
    TEDDY AFRO

  39. Pablo Domingo :

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for this good reminder. In my case I have no idea how my website will work. By now it’s working to me as my first experience on marketing and surprisingly I am getting more eyeballs little by little.

    I heard once that you should push in every business you start until you get a big success. Truly I think it is important to give it a chance and nit stop with first difficulties, although it,s not easy.

    Greetings from Spain
    😉 Pablo

  40. Hi Neil!

    I’m having a really hard time getting traffic to my site. I’ve decided to shut down my eBay store. I have created a shopify store. I would like to talk to my target audience, but no ever tells you how to find them they just tell you hang out where they hang out. i really love what I do and I really do not know what to do. Could you take a look at my website and give me your feed back? Can you help me?

    Thank you so much Neil

    • Just checked it out, have you tried the steps in the double your traffic in 30 days guide? I would help you a lot.

      https://www.quicksprout.com/double-your-traffic-in-30-days/

  41. Neil,

    This articles comes just in time. I’m working on a smart phone app project, the concept design and wireframe is done, I have a basic business plan, at the moment I’m working on the pitch, since I need some capital to build this app.

    Initially I was thinking to build a few sites, and cover topics relate to my niche and audience. After reading your article, I think I need to start the main app site already even before I have the actual app.

    Now I’m wondering, what is the best way to do so, and how much info about the app I should reveal, so that I can capture my audiences’ interests and also make sure the idea is not copied so someone might have the app launched even before myself.

    Thank you hero!
    Wynn from Singapore

    • You should test it. Give away a lot and give away a little. See what the conversion rates are. You can test landing pages through Optimizely.

  42. Hi Neil, I read in your kissmetrics article that you say to start the conversion process asap so you know what works early on and what doesn’t so you don’t make mistakes once the traffic starts coming in. Can you clear up my confusion?

    • Jeff, essentially make sure all of your tracking is in place before you partake in any marketing activities. That way you can have a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t.

      • Ok so the priority is always audience growth which can take months like you said. Then once you have the tracking in place and the traffic pouring in, start to focus resources on creating products that cater to the needs of the audience 🙂

  43. bike barn tri club :

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    I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would appreciate your work.
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