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Failure is the default.
2 min read

Failure is the default.

A startup isn't meant to succeed in the same way that steel isn't meant to float on water.

In the decade that I have been working with entrepreneurs, I've asked myself several times - witnessing all that folks go through to bring their dreams to life - as to what sort of sane person would choose this path willingly. The answer is no one.

It takes a certain kind of madness to jump into entrepreneurship - but it also helps to have perspective. This post is about that.

The default state for a startup is failure. And as hard as that might be for you to accept, it's true. Look at every startup out there, it is a small and nimble team, often under-resourced, with governments and markets constantly shifting around them that the smallest of waves could break its back and make it sink. The odds are not good for startups - they never have been.

This situation literally stares at me in the face when I meet scrappy young founders who tell me that their competition is the Google and Facebook of the world.

A startup isn't meant to succeed in the same way that steel isn't meant to float on water. You drop steel into the water - be it a puddle or an ocean and it WILL sink. But you can make boats or ships that are so massive in size that can not only carry people but thousands of tons of cargo and still float safely - and reliably. The difference between the steel that sinks to the bottom and one that floats is ingenuity. That is what makes the miracle of a startup happen.

To make that happen, you have to first realize that everything you know about something can be totally wrong - and that you are attempting something that has never been done before. The books (and science) would tell you that steel is denser than water and hence could never float.

Once an entrepreneur accepts that the default trajectory is a failure and it will take a miracle to make this bird fly, the magic starts to happen. But before that, an entrepreneur sheds that sense of entitlement and taking success as a guarantee - it isn't, you have to work really really really hard to earn it.

There are those who will build boats out of wood - cause wood generally floats, and if you can put together pieces of things that float, then the result should be stuff that also floats right? That mindset gives you a small business. Take a series of known facts and tie it all together and you can get a reliable small business. Anyone who is trying to build an ecommerce company at this point, is doing this.

With a little bit of ingenuity - and if you experiment (and survive to tell the tale) - you'll realize that good design can make the impossible, possible and you can make steel float in water. You build ships. You are a sustainable startup.

Then there are those who see all this, and look at the stars and say, I don't want to float, I want to fly - and dream of aeroplanes and rockets. Most of them will blow up - but those that succeed, build non-linear startups, that the whole world will look up and take notice.

You should also read : Paul Graham on Default Alive or Default Dead Startups.


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