What can you learn from a failed startup?

The failure of your startup, can teach you many valuable lessons, and actually strengthen you – emotionally and professionally – for yet another entrepreneurial journey.

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Here are some things that you could learn, if you introspect deeply and think about why the startup failed:

  • About the product/service: Was the product or service relevant to the consumers/customers? Was the experience of using the product/service good? If the answers to these questions are negative, you could learn about what you could have done better in designing the product/service.
  • Was the value proposition meaningful: i.e. was the product/service addressing a genuine need? Was it solving a problem for consumers/ customers; was it making their life simpler; or simply offering the product/service at a lower price than competition or was it fulfilling an emotional need (e.g. status in the case of premium products). If the answer to these questions is negative, you need to introspect and figure out whether the consumers really had a need for the product or did you ‘manufacture’ a need because you invented some product/service.
  • Was the positioning right: When I was younger, a new brand of packaged burgers was launched under the name ‘Big Bite’. It was an awesome product and priced just right. But, it was actually a mini snack… not actually a big bite. However, consumers, including me, had seen the product being advertised as a ‘BIG BITE’ and expected a ‘BIG BITE”…. and we were disappointed at seeing the actual size of the snack. Now, I feel that if the company had called the snack a ‘Mini Bite’, the product could have been a huge success. This was, to my mind, a big lesson on a great product at a good price-point getting killed because of over-promise and incorrect positioning.
  • Was the communication clear: Sometimes, even with a great product which addresses a real need if the brand communication is unclear or in digression with the product, the company just does not get enough sales as it would have, with more appropriate communication. Often companies led by techies, underestimate the power and importance of quality communication.
  • Was the price-point right: At the concept test stage, it is critical to test the product/service at different price-points and via customer research surveys (even if not in the actual market place).
  • Were the processes appropriate for the venture: Operational issues and their mis-management is one of the most common reasons for startups to fail. Often we see startups do well at the initial phases but falter when it comes to doing the same business at a different scale. Introspecting on whether aspects of operations planning could have been different can teach some very valuable lessons for the future.
  • Was the team right: Did the team have competencies that were required for the venture. If they did not, did they know what they did not know and therefore were they able to reach out to advisors, mentors and consultants or experts who could have helped them in their journey. Sometimes despite having a great team, the team dynamics do not work right. It is also important to have one of the founders declared as the CEO. There has to be one person who is calling the shots and where the buck stops. If there are 2-3 or more founders, each one with an equal say in the direction and decision-making, it often leads to chaos. Introspect and see if you went wrong on the people’s front.
  • Was the company adequately funded: Many a startups burn out because they run out of funds. The enthusiasm and confidence makes many founders more optimistic than practically possible, and this means they end up raising lesser capital than was necessary for the business. Evaluate if you funded your startup right.
  • Changing the business model often: One of the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make is to make changes in strategy and direction too often and without giving enough time for one strategy to be implemented. Often this change is considered as being nimble, and is assumed to be the nature of a startup. However, while it is possible for startups to change direction, it should be a very well debated and a thoroughly considered decision.

Either ways, failure teaches you that you do not have the right to take success for granted. It teaches you that your assumptions and your beliefs may not always be right and that you should validate them. It teaches you the value of being frugal, and that being resource starved actually could lead to more innovation & creativity. It teaches you that planning is important, and failing to plan is planning to fail. Failure makes you stronger. It gives you the confidence to face bigger challenges than you have had previously. It often helps you in gauging who your real supporters & friends are. Failure forces you to introspect and think about what went wrong, and make an attempt to do things differently when you embark on your journey again.

Get up. Dust yourself. Get going.

Happy Restarting !!

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Author: Prajakt Raut

Prajakt Raut is the founder of Applyifi.com, and author of the book for startups - ‘Starting Up & Fund Raising’ Prajakt personal goal in life is to encourage and assist a 100,000 people to become entrepreneurs. _____________ Prajakt is the founder of Applyifi - an online platform that provides startups a 36-point scorecard and assessment report on the venture's investment readiness [www.applyifi.com], and helps them improve their odds of getting funded. Prajakt is also the founding partner of The Growth Labs, a platform where growth-stage companies get sharp, incisive advice from senior professionals and experienced entrepreneurs. [www.thegrowthlabs.in] Before starting Applyifi, Prajakt was the head of operations at IAN, founding member of a leading incubator, and the Asia-Director for TiE (2004 - 2007). Previously Prajakt had co-founded Orange Cross, a healthcare services company, and was part of the founding team member of Idealake Technologies. While in college Prajakt had founded a printing business and has spent over 10 years working in leading advertising agencies. Prajakt’s book, ‘Starting Up & Fund Raising’, helps startups understand an investor’s perspective, and helps them improve their odds of getting funded. The book also helps entrepreneurs understand the building blocks of a business.

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