If you’ve ever heard the phrase “fail fast, fail often”, it plays into the time-crunched fear-mongering idea that launching a business is a now-or-never pursuit. In fact, there are countless (esteemed and successful) startup advisors and investors (some of whom are former founders and CEOs) who echo this sentiment.
However, we have to take a step back and ask why they would rush founders into a half-baked launch or jerry-rigged venture. I’ve heard some of these investors and advisors go so far as to say that if you can’t launch in two weeks, you’ll never be successful.
Here’s where I call utter B.S. — with the concrete results and countless anecdotes and examples to back up my opposing viewpoint. You see, the issue with “fail fast, fail often” is that too many wantrepreneurs take this advice literally and as gospel, thanks to the impressive reputations and follower counts of those who peddle it. The truth, however, is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a positive or direct correlation between the time from idea to launch and the ultimate success or total profit of the venture.
Why? That’s likely because those studies would be pointless, as they’d measure an arbitrary time to launch against another arbitrary marker of eventual success. Is success selling a company? Making 7 figures in profit? Breaking even in three months? Your guess is as good as mine.
That said, that’s not the main reason I take issue with the “fail fast, fail often” mindset. The real problem here is that startups that can only succeed as a race against time likely represent a short-lived window of opportunity or an industry cloaked in a looming, rapidly growing threat.
For example, if you have an idea that will be irrelevant if you wait six months to launch it, doesn’t that imply it was a flash in the pan to begin with? Do you really want to put weeks or months of blood, sweat, tears, and funding into a venture that will die out within its first year of launch? That sounds like a subpar opportunity to me, and perhaps one would be better off spending more time finding or planning a venture that has greater longevity in its future.
Secondly, the idea that you’re up against some arbitrary timeline can lead founders to cut corners and focus more on hitting arbitrary deadlines than spending the time, effort, and resources necessary to produce the type of product or service most desired by and beneficial to the target market.
Believe it or not, there’s not a medal for your speed to launch. I can start a lemonade stand in an hour, but that doesn’t mean it has greater potential or a higher likelihood of success than a venture I’ve been planning and working on for six months plus.
Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, is the fact that there are countless examples of successful entrepreneurs who resurrected an old idea many months or years (sometimes even decades) later and found success amidst their second wind. I know a writer, e-learning expert, and publishing CEO who resurrected a project two years after its subpar launch to massive ongoing success, and it wasn’t because she was famous or had amassed funding or a large following. She had simply spent those two years mastering the industry and was now equipped to properly relaunch and market her “failure” of a product.
Launching fast the first time wasn’t key to her success, but it also wasn’t the end of her journey nor did it dictate the success she would eventually achieve. That relaunched product now contributes multiple 7-figures a year of passive income to her $30M+ empire.
Likewise, I know a founder who resurrected an idea that had fizzled out (from a burgeoning business) a decade ago who’s since turned it around with a whole new market, audience, and strategy with impressive results.
I could go on with dozens of examples, but the point here is simple: Rushing into a fast launch is no silver bullet to success, and ideas that have expiration dates may actually represent red flags to avoid.
If you think you’re on the cusp of “too late” before you even start, I’d challenge you to rethink if this is even a venture worth pursuing. Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and some of us take longer to get our sea legs to stop wobbling before we can cross a profitable finish line.
If you’ve ever read an accelerator’s guidelines, you’re likely familiar with the negative stigma associated with being a solopreneur. In fact, there are many investors and advisors who will tell you that step 1 or 2 to your journey should be finding the right team. Unfortunately, here’s where they fail to disclose the two most important caveats:
- A bad team is worse than a one-person good (well-equipped) team
- Not every business needs multiple full-time employees or equity holders
I’ve seen more cases of bad teams fumbling startups and breaking up than I have of solopreneurs failing because they didn’t have other equity-holding partners. That said, I’m not suggesting one should start a business in a vacuum. However, there’s a huge benefit to solopreneurship that too many people discount: As a solopreneur, you’re forced into learning a hodge-podge of diverse skills and dipping your toe into many aspects of your business. In so doing, solopreneurs tend to get a forced, but well-rounded educational experience of building their business, simply because they can’t rely on dividing and conquering tasks that keep them in their comfort zone.
I’ve built businesses myself, as well as with partners (both the right and the wrong ones), and I can tell you the one business built with the wrong partner was a failure — and a painful one. On the contrary, those built with the right partner(s) and by myself have been much more efficient and rewarding experiences, for both those that have failed, as well as those that have succeeded.
Before seeking out a team, ask yourself if you really believe this business needs a team, and if so, if you really want to embrace the challenges and dynamics that multi-founder businesses incur.
All that aside, there is one area in which having a team or a co-founder can be immensely helpful, and this is an area that tends to be the downfall of so many almost-successful entrepreneurs: A supporting, faithful cheerleader co-piloting your mission just might be the encouragement you need — or the guilt — to keep going.
As a solopreneur, it’s easy to doubt your journey and ask yourself if or when it’s time to give up altogether when progress slows, sales decline, or seemingly insurmountable roadblocks pop up. With an equally invested partner by your side, you perpetually have another person rooting for, and perhaps even relying upon, your mutual success. If you choose to take the solo-founder route, make sure to surround yourself with a similar support system or entrepreneurial network to help you pull through when times do get tough.
Now, I’m not here to dispel the fact that social media has become a large part of lead generation, marketing, and new product promotion for many businesses and industries in recent years. I get it — and yes, there are some products that can actually make a killing through organic and/or paid social media marketing. However, it is not a requirement for every business, and it also may not be the all-in-one panacea you think it is.
- I know businesses that generate 100% of their leads through web scraping and make millions selling B2B solutions (with little to no social presence)
- I know founders who’ve made their first million in a matter of weeks or months with pure manual cold-emailing
- I run multiple businesses that have virtually no social media presence but have still made more than any finance job I’ve ever had and do so without ads. These are businesses for which social media doesn’t necessarily make sense or move the needle, and paid lead generation on those channels is significantly more expensive than other methods.
Hot take: Numbers are deceptive.
To take this one step further, I’d even posit that there are brands out there that look “social media successful” that are scrambling to cover their costs and for whom organic lead gen and sales conversion on those platforms is virtually nonexistent. In fact, I personally know multiple of those founders and companies, so this isn’t a guess, but rather a fact.
On the flip side, I’m not suggesting a social media strategy is a waste of time or effort, and I also know multiple founders who look like social media flops by their number, but who actually generate millions in organic lead gen and sales conversion. One commonality is that most of these deceptively successful founders and social media failures are selling very high-dollar products, and each lead is worth between 5 and 7 figures to them.
Simply put: The social media strategy can be different for every company and industry, and you can’t assume the public numbers tell the whole story (or that it’s a strategy or story you’d even want to emulate).
The first thing anyone who knows me knows about me is that I’m a places person through and through. What does that mean? It means I’ve turned down amazing universities, passed on great jobs, and allowed other major life decisions to be governed by my location. So I like a palm tree and an ocean; sue me.
That said, I’ve never allowed my choice of location to negatively impact my business decisions or pursuits. Why? Because in today’s tech-enabled age, it simply doesn’t have to. If you’re working with or considering aligning yourself with someone who believes location is a dealbreaker, I’d urge you to reassess why that is, if it’s true, and if you’re on the same page.
I’m going to come right out and say it: Some industries — and some people in those industries — are just plain snobs about location. About a decade ago, I had a Silicon Valley VC straight up tell me “when you get to Sand Hill Road, we can talk”.
Now, let me inject a few shockers into the conversation:
- The internet and telecommunication make long-distance communications possible
- Most businesses can be run from more than one place
- There will be other partners, investors, and opportunities in other locations
The reason I feel so strongly about highlighting this point is that I’ve seen countless people prematurely relocate to “it” places (think San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, etc.) under the belief that simply being there would guarantee their success, and being anywhere else would destroy it.
While I do believe a founder should be aware of where their target market hangs out, have a presence there, and know how to reach them, I also know from firsthand experience (and from observing countless “unlikely” successes) that location does not have to be a dealbreaker. I’d be wary of the old-fashioned line of thinking that the only way to build a successful startup is to book a one-way flight to the Bay Area and start knocking on VC’s doors while sleeping on Stanford students’ couches.
The one contradiction: While I don’t want to discredit or contradict my prior argument, I do have to point out the obvious fact that your location may lend itself to more networking opportunities which, in some cases, may actually move the needle. I’ve met some of my greatest business connections and lifelong friends in Los Angeles (pre-pandemic). However, I’ve since moved to the slightly “less happening” Orange County, and I’ve found an even higher proportion of entrepreneurs and investors in my geographic area.
The truth about networking is simple: Promising connections likely abound wherever you are (and if not, that’s what LinkedIn and other industry-related networks and forums are for), but it’s up to you to go out and pursue them.
In my first startup, I believed the platitude that to be a successful entrepreneur, I had to go all-in on that venture and essentially torture myself into success. By torture, I mean that I was arbitrarily making my life worse, as if suffering for my startup would make it more successful. Sadly, many of my efforts were misplaced, and even though it felt like I was working night and day, much of that “work” was in vain.
It would take years for me to see other founders who were in the early stages of success — or some even still in the struggle phase — managing to enjoy their lives and propel their businesses without putting their life on hold and shirking all friendships, family, relationships, and events.
So many people take the “10,000 hours to success” logic literally, believing that if they pour all their time into a venture, that will result in a positive outcome. The truth is that in most cases, the quality of those hours is much more important than the quantity of them. I didn’t realize that many of the hours I spent were misguided and low quality, and I’ve since built multiple businesses that have taken and continue to take far fewer hours, yet the hours I do spend are of much higher quality.
With respect to the all-in fallacy, the problem here is that so many desperate, hopeful, aspiring, and first-time early-stage founders prioritize their startup over everything else in their life and end up shortchanging themselves in irreversible ways.
I’ve built (successful) businesses while maintaining relationships, getting engaged, convening with family, buying houses, and even spending some time with friends on completely irrelevant trips and activities. You don’t have to punish yourself into success, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll attain it. What is guaranteed is that the journey will be a much less pleasant one, and you may not be able to recreate the things you missed out on in the name of going all-in for a venture that may not be your last or your most successful.
I’m a firm believer that my most successful businesses are far in front of me, some of which may not have even been thought into existence yet. Will I ruin my life by forgoing every non-startup-related pursuit between now and then? Definitely not. Here’s why: When it comes to success, you may not ever know if or when you’ve gotten “there”, so delaying life until that point is a futile effort and a fool’s errand.