Startup F#ck-Ups

Just assessing every day how the narrative on startups has been reversed in Europe from « This is how we’re going to save the economy! » to « What is this mess? ». The message we’re not changing entrepreneurship a Startup Weekend at a time seems to be getting through. This also correlates with the growing number of tech clusters and incubators in Europe that get in touch with us.

startup fuckups - quote magazine
October 2018 cover of the Dutch QUOTE magazine.

As always the swing of the pendulum will probably go too far back on startups. But as an optimist contrarian, I trust it’s time to get back in there even more actively.

As I wrote just days ago, there is really nothing new to learn about startups launch, growth and scaling up. But seriously, how we organize the support (as private or public entities) is to be redesigned all over Europe.

One key step would be to stop trying to nurture projects at a local scale. This leads to cities miles away from one another to compete together to nest more startups than the other. That they would want to do that is understandable (local jobs, etc) but that states and the EU promote it, is madness.

Are we still learning anything new about startups or are we just pretending from now on?

After years of working with every kind of startup programs — read: incubators, accelerators, tech clusters, public tech transfer, universities, entrepreneurs’ networks, corporate platforms, and various EU initiatives — I keep asking myself: are we still learning anything new about startups?

For early stage startups there are basically only three things to remember:

  1. If you’re a one-man startup you will fail;
  2. Spend time working on tech and product, instead of seeing where the market has a problem and you fail;
  3. Don’t start working in English and you will never scale (that one might be blunt and would deserve a full article, but yeah, essentially this is what is going to happen).

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What constitues a good startup problem

It seems deceptively simple to define what constitues a good market problem to work on as a startup. It is actually rather subtle and for some part very counter-intuitive.

Most of the startups participating in one of my trainings are initially shocked at the inordinate amount of time I spend working on ‘the problem’. I’m certainly not alone there. Everyone who is regularly dealing with startups gets eventually frustrated to see how they concentrate en masse on building a product and not focusing on what the market actually needs. And while anyone who ambitions to shake a market’s status quo shouldn’t be too pragmatic, as much rationality as possible should nevertheless prevail. But, very few are the startups committed from launch to tackle a clear-cut problem.

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The fundamentals of opposable marketing

Checking for opposable marketing is a very robust acid test for any business. Just look for a minute at a company webpage and you’ll get if they have something real to sell, or if they’re just pushing products out of the factories and hoping for the best.

I’ll be giving another Executive MBA class this week in Paris, which is an activity that I fairly enjoy — and if I may say so, my students too. Such three-day classes are usually very educative for me. They always keep me in touch with what most professionals still find difficult to grasp in the logic of launching innovative businesses and sustaining them later on.

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25 Hints that you might be a startup

We’re talked some time ago about why you might not be a startup, but a different animal altogether. Let’s now try to check if you might be a startup…

In 2015, I was (poorly) rapping on how early stage ventures were systematically called “startups” because pretty much everyone has vested interests in labeling them as such. We’re now in 2017 and there is always a deeply rooted misconception about what is a startup.

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The startup game and its metagame

Innovation is a game played at the startup, industry, and ecosystemic level. And the common resource of these games is vastly misunderstood. It’s risk.

This is the fifth startup post-mortem that I’m reading this morning.

While startups are not failing more, they’re just more vocal about it. This is a good thing. Hopefully, it will hep dismiss the illusion that a) anyone can launch a successful startup and b) the next stage of economic growth for Western countries will come from under-staffed, ill-prepared tech entrepreneurs.

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Startups fail 3 times…

Initially, 80% of startups fail at designing a workable solution to early adopters’ problem, from whom they can learn. Out of the remaining 20%, 80% fail at building on-going traction from a core market. Eventually, 80% of the few that survive fail at scaling this traction up, because they weren’t prepared from day one.

An unexpected summer reading list for innovators

You may not think that reading about traditional Japanese arts, or architecture, could help you innovate. You’d be wrong.

I was recently asked by too many people to produce a reading list for this summer to really be able to refuse gracefully. Now, this is not a simple matter. To some extent, my straightforward answer would be: read everything about innovation that has been published in these last 20 years, that is not purely redundant, and then… forget it all.

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