When you attend any startup event, it’s very easy to see a few things:
- There are a lot of intelligent, passionate people out there who want to use technology to make the world a better place.
- A lot of those people have great ideas for creating useful products that solve real problems and can build sustainable businesses around them.
- A very small number of those people actually succeed, and an even smaller number succeed on a large scale.
So, we ask the question again — why do so many startups fail?
By now, most of the attendees we’ve met at events have spent time and money learning, practicing, and swearing by Lean Startup techniques. They have also spent time and money developing (and are probably still refining) their own philosophy for several operational startup topics (e.g. hiring startup employees, judging investors, etc.). They have amassed all the right resources, produced the right products, and solved the right problems, yet the life expectancy of all of those startups still remains low.
While there’s no doubt that their time and money were well spent on all of the things mentioned above, you have to ask yourself — is there another crucial determinant of startup staying power that we are missing here?
Yesterday, Brad Feld shared Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” TED Talk, which presents a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.
After watching this video, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time that I heard a clear, useful lesson on inspiring action in others. Maybe lessons in inspiring leadership are what so many startups have been missing.
People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.
People follow those who lead not because they have to, but because they want to.
Knowing how to inspire your co-founder, your team and your target market to action is just as important to your startup’s success as continuous deployment and raising capital on favorable terms. Attaching every action you take in your startup to a core belief and higher calling is crucial to keeping a motivated team and loyal customers, and it’s also very easy to forget in the heat of a company argument or sales meeting.
A startup that lasts is one that has a personal commitment from its founders to spend a great deal of time thinking about “Why?” and showing proof of that belief in everything that they do. The problem is that all of us who are trying to create one of those don’t have a clear framework or reliable reminders to do it.
We need to do something about that. I’m not sure what the exact impact on the global startup lifespan will be from us encouraging more founders to spend more time thinking about “Why?” and proving it, but I’m pretty sure that it’ll be positive. That’s good enough for me.
What resources do you use to answer the big question “Why?” and to show proof of that belief in everything that you do in your startup?