Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
—Leo Tolstoy, Opening sentence of Anna Karenina
Contrary to what Tolstoy has to say, apparently, when it comes to failed start-ups, they all fail for the same reason — lack of motivation (which, might not be news to those of you who are in the habit of reading Paul Graham); here is Joel expanding on the same idea (quoting Paul Graham, of course):
Jessica is the co-founder of a small angel investment group called Y Combinator. Its model is to give a few thousand dollars to groups of two or three geeks to start tech companies. She has also written a book called Founders at Work, in which she interviews the founders of about 30 successful start-ups. When she asked me what she should speak about, I asked her to consider describing all the different ways a start-up can fail, rather than the usual stuff about lessons learned from people who succeeded.”That would be boring,” she told me. “They all fail for the same reason: People just stop working on their business.” Um, yeah, well, sure, and most people die because their heart stops beating. But somehow dying in different ways is still interesting enough to support 40 hours a week of prime-time programming.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized Jessica was onto something. Why do start-ups fail? As she pointed out, it’s usually a collapse of motivation — everyone wanders back to civilian life, and the start-up ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
Paul Graham, Jessica’s husband and partner in Y Combinator, has tackled this subject on his website. “The biggest reason founders stop working on their start-ups is that they get demoralized,” he writes. “Some people seem to have unlimited self-generated morale. These almost always succeed. At the other extreme, there are people who seem to have no ability to do this; they need a boss to motivate them. In the middle there is a large band of people who have some, but not unlimited, ability to motivate themselves. These can succeed through careful morale management (and some luck).”
So, who is capable of “careful morale management,” and what does it entail? In my mind, an entrepreneur is like a kid playing with his first shortwave radio. He takes it home and turns it on, and what does he hear?
This might be demoralizing. So he tries a different frequency.
And this might be demoralizing again. Until his mom wanders by and plugs in the antenna on the radio, and suddenly, he picks up the ghost of a station! It sounds like it’s far away, and they seem to be speaking — what is that language they’re speaking? Never mind, it’s a station! An antenna! Who knew? The kid runs off to blog about how cool antennas are.
This is what it’s like when you’re creating a business.
Take a look!