OnStartups

Stop Waiting For The Magical Startup Fairy

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on April 21, 2008 in strategy 5 Comments

I've been in the startup business for a while and it still amazes me how many founders (including me at various points in my life) have completely irrational views on how life at a startup is going to be. 

As it turns out, lots of success requires a sprinkling of luck to work, but counting on this luck to come up at the magical times is foolish.  So, stay up late at night working on the business and improving the product for customers -- not what deciding what you're going to wear to the startup ball when the magical startup fairy comes tapping at your window.  In other words, quit running advanced spreadsheet models on how your revenues are going to grow if you can get only 1 out of 4 users to tell their friends.  (See #1 below).

Founders:  Stop Hoping for Magic and Start Working

1.  Somebody's product is going to "go viral" this year.  Someone is also going to win the lottery.  Just not you.  Don't count on virality, but add some simple elements to your product that make them easy to spread.  This will increase the probability that your product will go viral to something slightly above zero (instead of zero).

2.  Venture capitalists are not swash-buckling risk-takers that are going to fall in love with your startup at first sight -- and write you a check.  Unnecessarily daring people do not become VCs -- the industry filters most of those out.   Work at not needing the money.  If you could use the money, get multiple VCs interested. 

3.  Smart people are not going to be lining up to work for your startup, without salary, just for the sheer thrill of "the startup life" and an ability to be associated with the brilliance that is your idea.  Be reasonable about it.  Expecting team members to take some risk for some time is fine.  But, that's not a great strategy to recruit a great team.

4.  Big company executives are not going to be inviting you into their wood-panelled offices with old leather chairs offering you increasingly lucrative partnership deals just because of "synergies" they might have with you.  Big companies have teams dedicated to keep an eye on startups like yours.  Just because they spend time with you doesn't mean you're getting a deal anytime soon.  Just because you get a deal, doesn't mean it's a good one.

5.  Google, Microsoft and others are not going to be falling all over themselves trying to acquire your company.  Acquisitions are great when you can get them.  But, they're usually complicated and take time.  Get great counsel.

Now, here's the good news.  If I happen to be wrong about any of the above ones and you do indeed get lucky on one of these things, the chances that you're going to get lucky on others goes up.  So, keep crankin'.  The magical startup fair may never show up, but you're better off not waiting for her anyways.