Podcast: Failure to Launch

Listen to the podcast:

It is perhaps fitting to launch this podcast with a rant about…launching. Or more specifically, failing to launch.

Rough Transcript:

(Not copy edited)

It is perhaps fitting to launch this podcast with a rant about…launching. Or, more specifically failing to launch. For all the stories of startup glory and fortunes made, the road to success is littered with many more bodies of failed startups. Most of which never even really got off the ground.

It may even be safe to assume that you the listener have your own stories of failing to launch. Of startup dreams that never were. If you’re a first-time founder then along with those dreams you probably already have a had a few nightmares just about getting starting. Allow us to rant on this for a bit.

We can start with the obvious and very much overused analogy of a rocketship. Gravity is, well, a real son of bitch and it takes a lot of energy to get that ship off the ground. Once you get into the stratosphere, it is of course much easier to forge ahead. Gravity’s pull is no longer so strong upon you *and* you have the most important thing behind you when it comes to building a company… that being momentum. But how to overcome these powerful business physics and get started? I think it comes down to three main areas that will cause you to fail. 

First, let’s talk about the forces that are actually holding you back. The various forms of resistance. For the rocketship, it’s things like gravity or air resistance, but for you, think about what it might be. What’s holding you back and why? Think deeply on this because if you’re able to free yourself and become truly unbridled, you be able to move at an entirely new speed than before. If you’re struggling to come up with what is holding you back, then I have a book that might help you see the way. It’s called “The war of art”, not to be confused with the Art of War, although that’s also a good albeit cliche business book. However, the war of art is about breaking through your creative battles instead of winning on the battlefield itself. And the majority of the book is about, you guessed it, resistance. Resistance is what is holding you back. You might call it something else such as perfectionism, but really it’s just resistance. It actually comes in many forms and it’s preventing you from reaching your true potential, or, well, any potential at all. I’m going to refrain from pulling quotes from the book as there are simply so many brilliant ones that will slap you right in the face. 

OK I lied, there is one excerpt I will read as it’s relevant to this discussion. 

Phew, already making Hitler references in our first episode, good job sean. 

Now I know you’re listening to this podcast because you’re probably too damn lazy to read an actual book. However, this is one case when I must insist and besides, it’s a very easy and quick read. Dammit, just get the audiobook if you can’t be bothered. Trust me on this one and let me also give big thanks to Hilde who recommended this book to me at a time when I needed it the most. 

Next, I think a lot of failures to launch in the startup industry come down to optics. Mainly the concern of how others will preserve you. This is especially true for first-time founders. They think “What if I fail and don’t get another chance?” or “Everything needs to be perfect before I can show anyone”. Let’s start with the hard truth. Nobody is watching you, and if they are, they really don’t give a shit. That is, unfortunately, the world we live in these days, what might be a big moment for you, is a mear blip for everyone else. Especially if it’s something that fails quickly. That’s actually great for the goldfish-like memory everyone has today. You could probably fail a few times on your way to success and everyone will likely only remember the success itself. At the same don’t feel you need to make your new company such a spectacle. I blame social media for turning everyone into an actor and everything else into a stage. But really you could build and launch your thing without letting any one know. Or at least not broadcasting it until it’s at a point you’re ready to share. To me, a founder who is posting daily to LinkedIn about their company building is actually a red flag. They are chasing likes and klout when they should really be chasing their first customers. 

With regard to making everything perfect with your startup before launch, I’m sorry to say that will never ever be obtained. There’s a lot of talk about the ‘messy middle’ when it comes to company building but at the genesis of a startup, it’s an absolute disaster. Even the well-funded startups are a Frankenstein mess of duck tape, shaky facades, and of course smoke & mirrors. I guess this is the point where I interject with the famous Reid Hoffman quote “if you aren’t horribly embarrassed by the first version of your project, you waited too long”. It’s overused in our industry but valid as it is poignant. It’s a stabby quote and so should the first version of your project with all it’s sharp and uneven edges. When I think back to the successful founders I’ve worked with, in every case version one of their products looked terrible. That’s because they spent all their time on the core value they provided, and in some cases sales and marketing. This is one area were us Americans excel because let’s face it, we’re shameless and also a mess. As I’ve worked with Europeans and more specifically Scandinavians, it’s maddening how much they try to perfect something before even validating it in the market. So here is one rare case when I will say, be more American.

Lastly, we have the ugly cousin of resistance that is holding you back from launching your dreams. That being distraction. And boy oh boy is there no shortage of distractions these days. These distractions are so bad that I plan to dedicate future rants to them entirely. They include but are not limited to social media, the startup events industry, and yes, even supposed thought leaders doing their thing. As I plan to dive into each of these I’ll hold most of my thoughts for now other to say the best thing you can do is to discount from all of these entirely. I know that is tough to do. Their pull is so strong, their FOMO-inducing trance hard to resist, but really you don’t need any of them to build your company nor do you need their validation. You just need to build and put in the work every single day. That’s not possible if you spend your time scrolling the tiktoks, tweeting the tweets, or getting on a plane to attend Whatever Con where you’ll probably just get drunk with the self-appointed leaders of whatever 3.0. 

Ya, I know, it’s harsh but someone needs to tell you. Especially you youngs who are more easily seduced by such things. And trust me, I even hate myself a little bit for thought-leading in this podcast but hopefully you’ll find these thoughts to be interesting enough to listen further. And with that, I’ll wrap up this first rant, I thank you for listening, and be sure to subscribe for more rants.