It can be difficult to navigate the open seas of business as a startup tech. Finding your place in a fast-paced, innovative, and often competitive industry requires effective business planning—plus some grit and a great idea. Startups fail for a number of reasons, but understanding possible pitfalls and how to avoid them can help founders build a better strategy and ultimately find success. Here are five of the top reasons why startups fail, along with some strategies to avoid them.
One of the keys to a successful tech startup is product-market fit. Finding appropriate product-market fit requires a deep understanding of the customer. Unfortunately, many startups fail because there’s no market need for their offerings. According to a report from CB Insights, 42% of the 101 startups they studied failed due to a lack of market need.
One reason this can happen is due to timing. Market changes can happen quickly, and potential customers may no longer require a particular service or product. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic led to many lockdowns that changed the needs of consumers. Products like video conferencing tools flourished, while some services that were once successful in industries like travel or entertainment struggled and shut down.
You can’t predict every market change, but you can build resilience into your business strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic was unforeseen and unprecedented, but companies that were able to quickly adapt to market changes fared better than those that failed to do so. Consider the retailers who were able to make updates to their mobile apps and prioritize curbside pickup, or the entertainment companies that pivoted to online streaming when in-person was no longer an option. If you can remain adaptable and efficient, with the ability to give people a reason to do business with you even under different circumstances, you’ll have a better chance of staying afloat.
Some startups fail simply because they’re outperformed by their competition. While startups may spend much of their early focus on simply gaining market validation and reaching new customers, it’s equally important to keep your top competitors in mind. Doing competitive research to understand other offerings in the market and how they compare to yours will help you develop an appropriate marketing strategy.
As you become familiar with your competitors, consider their target audience. Where does it overlap with yours? Find out the key differentiators in your products or offerings and develop a plan for customer acquisition. As you grow, continue to invest in research into competitors, potential customers, and the state of the market so that you can adapt to changes quickly and keep a competitive edge.
Every business needs a business plan that details the company’s specific goals and the best strategies to achieve them. Your plan should be specific and actionable, with a vision for the future that accounts for potential challenges you’ll face as your startup grows.
Business plans should account for all potential costs and establish a clear budget. They should also include realistic timeframes for action items ranging from research and development to product releases. Additionally, a successful plan will display a deep understanding of your target market.
If your business plan includes fundamental flaws, like underestimating costs or timelines for critical releases, it can have a ripple effect on all areas of your organization. To avoid this, create a realistic business plan and be nimble across the organization as circumstances change.
Another potential problem that can cause startups to go under is the risk of legal challenges. Small business owners may neglect to account for all of the legalities involved in their industry, which can lead to inadvertent compliance issues that compromise their business.
Depending on your industry and operations, you may need to adhere to a wide range of local and federal regulations and standards. Many businesses have failed early on because they didn’t manage to follow the necessary rules.
One potential legal issue that tech startups face has to do with intellectual property (IP) protection. Some startups fail to protect their IP early enough, putting it at risk. Companies should get copyright protection and even secure company trade secrets.
Not only do you need to account for existing regulations, standards, and policies—you also need to anticipate future changes in your industry. Doing so will further improve your company’s adaptability as legal requirements change and evolve.
Finally, the ultimate reason most startups fail is due to a lack of funds. Insufficient funds to continue running are often caused by one or more of the above factors—lack of product-market fit can lead to slower revenue growth than expected, legal issues can drain a company’s cash reserves, and flaws in a business plan can cause startups to burn cash more quickly than anticipated.
The biggest problem isn’t that startups are unable to secure additional funding, as the CB Insights report concluded. Rather, the issue is that they don’t allocate their existing budget properly and wind up simply running out of money. By spending responsibly and determining which areas of business require the most resources to generate a profit, you can avoid exhausting your capital.
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