The only addition to your list that I can think of is loss of interest in the product and/or business by the founder(s).
I always keep in mind "Death By Lying To Yourself." A lot of young entrepreneurs aren't brutally honest with themselves when a potential problem comes up with their idea. This is because they don't want it to ruin their idealistic view, or they are afraid the problem might bring everything down.
So instead of trying to solve the problem head on, they ignore it....and of course it becomes death later on.
Pretty valid points. Value to the customers is the baseline. Surprisingly many peoplel dont think on this at all ..
I have first hand experience with death by determination and it's a topic you rarely see discussed.
If you read the business magazines you come across dozens of stories where someone slogs on in the wilderness for years before finally hitting it big. Truth is you have a better chance of getting hit by lightening.
Most of the successful startups I know knew within weeks of launch that something was working or not. It may have taken a year or more for positive cash flow but it was obvious to an outside observer that it would happen.
If something isn't working it is a far better use of resources to go in a different direction than just soldiering on.
Bloody kick-*ss AWESOME post Dharmesh!
Relative to your email notification email comment, TRUTH is NEVER negative, it just is! And those who want to win MUST make a decision... either to learn and adapt to truth or... die on the vine. If the latter decision i.e., avoidance of truth, then it is immaterial as to when they die because it just takes a while to quit breathing.
BTW  Your 4th point is AWESOME! and  I'm doing the Digg and Reddit thing regarding this totally awesome post!
Hopefully your entrepreneurial minded readers will learn and adapt relative to your highly relevant observations and rather gently placed recommendations! and... FAST!
As an aside... Succeeding is a blast!!!
I would add one more cause to the list, one faced by many unproven, inexperienced entrepreneurs: Death by Investors, specifically by spending your time courting them instead of developing your product or service. This goes along with #4, because it amounts to spending time on something other than providing customer value, but the thought of rich angels eager to write checks (and thus wash away some of the founders' risk) can be too enticing to those who have not been down that road.
My first company--as well as others I have known first-hand--collapsed because we spent our time and effort trying to woo investors rather than building our product. We were young and unproven, so potential investors were never truly comfortable with us, but they also were not willing to just turn us away and maybe miss out on a winner. Instead, they always had a few more hoops for us to jump through before they would be ready to sign the check. The longer this went on, the more time we spent trying to impress investors rather than developing the product we were trying to fund. We ended up with dozens of fruitless meetings and a stellar-looking business plan, but no business. The irony is that if we had ignored siren song of Other People's Money and used that time to build the product, those same investors may have finally seen something worth investing in.
These methods aren't all equal, it seems to me.
By far, #1 is the most common. Lots of people never transition from "thinking about doing a startup" to "doing a startup". The reasons aren't always the same: some are just dreamers, others are unfocused, still others are in deep pain over their uncertainty.
I'm skeptic of #2. People can do wonders with truly terrible ideas. (Larry, Sergey, search engines are so 1995!) The secrecy isn't such a big deal as much as the lack of activity. Whether you do it secretly or publicly, you've got to carry out some sort of plan over some definite time period.
For #3, there is too much debate over the single founder to multiple co-founders issue. Even assuming that I line up on the co-founders side of the debate, the point is making the startup work, not the legal aspect. If the choice is between a working startup with founders shooting it out over profits and a dead-in-the-water startup were founders are shooting it out over profits that don't even exist yet, I'd take the former. Startups can be messy. Sometimes, it is better to put your efforts into making the company successful rather than putting your efforts into dividing the spoils. Realistically, you should probably do a little negotiation up front and then do more and more as you go along.
I think #4 doesn't kill startups so much as make them take longer to be successful. I don't really see this happen all that much but maybe others have different experiences. At some point, people get back to actually asking the question: "When does the money come?" Then, they drop all that stuff and focus on the customer.
Yes, mindless stubborness like #5 isn't a good thing. Mindful stubborness may be ok, though. Flightiness is just as bad; you can't stick with something too short or too long. I'd say that the danger is more a matter of reaching a level of operation where all energy goes into doing the exact same thing as yesterday with no energy put into "how to get to the next level".
very thought provoking article... I have had a little of all what you mentioned..
hopefully, I will knockit off the next time..
Let's talk industry selection: in a crowded field (like mine, for example), shrink-wrapped cookie-cutter approachs to marketing and product/services presentation would seem to be suicidal.
As more and more entities in a mature (or saturated) industry jockey for position, real creativity, innovation and value-adding become critical.
(thanx for #2--some painful memories got purged on that one!)
I wanted to mention that as a regular I've noticed that your articles have felt rather inconsistent recently, and I believe the reason is that you have started to write more lists then essays – I greatly prefer your essays.
When I read a good essay it changes me and opens my eyes to a new way of thinking. This is something I can take with me immediately and start applying to my life right away. When you tell me the 10 things to remember to do xyz, I may be interested in one or two of them, but unless I'm precisely at that phase in my life to use the list then it is just another list of stuff I should remember someday and it isn't as helpful.
As you say in your recent post about how Markets Reward Specialists you mentioned that it was better to do one thing deeply then many things shallowly. Does this apply to writing as well? In each this articles Five Ways To Kill A Startup I was left wanting more. Yes, I’m interested in Death By Determination, but I need to know more to know how to change.
In your recent post about “Delusions of a B-List Blogger” you seemed to be coming to the realization that your numbers have plateaued. I’m not certain of the why of this but it could be caused by the inconsistent depth of your content. When I read Paul Graham it is gain a deep insight into something new. He always writes essays (never lists) and always has a very fresh and insightful perspective. There is no doubt that this is harder to achieve, and his slow posting may be explained by this. But I read everything I can from him even if he waits a month to get a new essay out.
Finally I’m sorry about the public posting of this. I prefer to give suggestions in private, but I couldn’t find an e-mail address for you. I’m a big fan of your writing and look forward to you posts every week. Thanks for listening.
Evan: Thanks for your comments. I prefer public comments as it provides impetus for others to do the same.
You raise an interesting issue (and challenge). I would agree that deeper, insightful articles would likely drive a more loyal readership over the long-term. But, as you might guess, deeper articles are harder to write.
Paul Graham possesses a gift that I simply do not have (he is both a better writer and generally more insightful). I'm ok with this. We can't all be great. :)
Having said that, I will think about what you have said and see if there is some way to dig deeper into issues that readers are interested in. I have had this brought up before. I'd love to write more deeply about some of the current issues I encounter day-to-day in my startup (but want to remain fair to my team and the people involved).
One of the temptations of "list-=style" blogging is that the rewards are immediate and measurable. Articles that I spent a lot of time on and were relatively "deep" rarely do as well as list-style articles that are easier to consume. In fact, some of the most popular articles on the site are my "pithy insight" series which is nothing more than a list.
But, popularity should not always be the goal.
Will give this all some thought.
As I sit here in the middle of a six month old startup, every one of these points hits home. However, I almost feel like the list should be reversed; when one understands point 5 there is less apprehension about swimming in a pool where your feet can't touch the bottom (point 1).
I guess the point " Death by doing nothing" is the most important point .. creating customer value is the most talked about in all meeting, brainstorming sessions, business meets etc etc but very often this is one area that companies tend to ignore or let me correct myself give second priority because the common answer is " gotta take care of current scenario and situation"
I firmly believe even small amount of value add to the customers can speak volumes about company as a whole.
This is where the concept of ... create , implement and measure comes into play.
Counterpoint to poster who wanted more in depth posts. There's room for all type of posts and Paul Graham chooses one or two posts a month mode. I have also noticed that he has turned off comments in the latest post, well more of an article. I fear that if these type of blogs proliferate then it becomes more of a webzine than a blog where's a chance to engage with the author and possibly have a lively discussion.
On this particular post I've tried to find missing items but have not found any so far so thanks.
An idea for a future post if I may make a suggestion: How to find a technical co-founder? I have been struggling the last 2-3 months trying to find one for my startup and am batting less than .200...one problem is that the market is hot right now and my timing may be less than optimal.
So if I am unable to find a good fit then #6 on your list could read Death at Birth?
I look at the reasons for start ups failing in a different way. They fail for one of two main reasons, which are actually linked. One is having no or too few customers and the other is having insufficientr cash - either way in
Dharmesh: Thanks that is a great post. I have seen a few of these failings and you are right.
I also compiled a similar list of eight traps that would-be disruptors sometimes fall into (with accompanying list of failed companies who fell into these traps), including focussing excessively on being first to market (GovWorks) and over-investing (Webvan).
Good post Dharmesh. Lets do our best to avoid these landmines at HubSpot.
Just caught up on last week's articles, and seriously, Dharmesh, this was a bit surrealistic, were you reading my thoughts? I am exactly in the "I could already be working on it, but cannot really start because I am not yet sure what to do in 2023 when we may have to take some tricky decisions under scenario #47" phase of start-up development that annoys you that much. You're 100% right, I'll immediately stop working on that ppt and get coding.
Dharmesh, at the risk of sounding trite, you have done a great job. There is something i would like to add, which is 'A guy battling it alone' This is probably the antithesis of the co founders issue. Without somebody to share, to talk to, work on and do the umpteen things to handle in a startup, it becomes a big pain. And when the administrative and the statutory elements creep in, one feels like throwing in the towel and even that decision never happens because there is no matching wavelength available. So please add to your list 'A Solitary Founder' as one other reason for a Startup suicide.
the biggest startup killer is the biz mob (that also runs govt, aka 'dose hos').
customers r forever, but they're scrūed & they won't break out til things get much worse.
How about selling the wrong product? It sounds simple enough doesn't it, but so many people fall into the trap of selling products that are only of an interest to them. What about your customers? You must put yourself in their position.
That's a pretty comprehensive list. I think most startups that fail hit at least 2 or 3 of the problems you mentioned
There's a blog some guy just put up about how he killed his startup - he put up a few other things that can mean death to a young startup too: http://www.crashingastartup.com
These are good, but rather than focus on reasons for failure,I think there are some basic principles which are critical to the succes of a startup. See my article "Startup Principles for Success" on http://blog.startupprofessionals.com for some key ones.
Martin Zwilling, CEO & Founder, Startup Professionals, Inc.
Very good notes Dharmesh,
i too started my idea as website (citypad.in)
but not sure how to make it big.
thank you for your valuble suggestion.