in Investors, Launch, Startups

The Odds are You’re Going to Fail

Now now chief, I'm in the zone

Stay focused! We have this on the wall at GoInstant. Source Mike Mitchell

I mean that in the most constructive way possible!

You’re unlikely to recruit founders, raise money, gain traction, earn revenue, get acquired or go public. You’re very likely to fail.

Here’s How Bad Your Odds Of Success Are

To beat these odds, you need to be doing everything you can to find an edge, especially pre-funding or pre-revenue.

Here are 3 of the most common questions I disappointingly ask early stage startups:

1. You’re not full-time?

It’s insulting to ask an investor for money if you’re not full-time on your startup.

You need to be way beyond the one-foot-in stage before raising a round. If you don’t believe in the idea enough to go all-in, why should investors, customers or your team believe it?

Full-time is the bare minimum. Large companies are working 40 hours a week, with way more resources. How can you accomplish more each day than them? You need to work longer. You can’t expect balance in your life, especially when the team is small. You need complete obsession over work.

Assume there is competition working on the exact same idea. Even if you don’t know about them, imagine them. They are small startups, medium sized companies, and large enterprises. They are working relentlessly. They could launch faster. They could launch bigger. Let the threat drive you forward.

Work weekends, work evenings, pull all nighters. Obsess over it.

2. Where’s your demo?

You need a demo, and it needs to be amazing.

If you get feedback on that demo, consider it then implement it right away. Stay up all night and work on it. There should be at least two of you; the CEO demoing during the day and the CTO working all night to implement. Iterate, iterate, iterate, as fast as possible.

The important thing here is momentum. You need serious momentum. You need an unstoppable train. Your momentum will attract your team, investors, and customers.

3. You have side projects?

Side projects will distract and kill your startup.

You should be working with obsessive focus on one idea and one idea only. Facebook was almost killed by Zuckerberg’s side project.

Side-projects are great for creativity. Many developers have side projects that they use to keep their skills sharp. Many companies have R&D labs or a percentage of hack time. Early stage startups are not the place for side projects.

Write all your ideas down, then get back to focus. Constantly consider priority. What is the most important thing you could be doing right now to move customer or investor relationships forward? Your entire company should be thinking this way.

You need every edge you can get

Your only edge is to find an edge everywhere. Long hours, momentum, focus.

It’s not sustainable, and that’s a good thing. If you can’t make it work then you fail fast. Pivot or fold and try again! If you CAN make it work you can hire enough people to bring back a healthy work-life balance.

Set goals for your team in short intervals. We will achieve X by Y date or we will [pivot, fold, etc].

Remember, beating the odds isn’t easy, but there are many ways to find an edge.


  1. Cool Robocop poster, do you mind me asking where to get it?

  2. This is a great list Gavin. I’m amazed that I still see entrepreneurs pitching startups without a demo. If you can’t invest a ~month to do that how can you expect investor to buy in?

  3. Nonsense article. Not much irritates me more than hearing someone say you’re going to fail. If you’re an entrepreneur, please don’t listen to this kind of garbage. If this guy really wanted to help he would be encouraging people on how to ask the right questions. “How do I start working on my company full time”, “How do I get my demo up and running”, “Should I be doing side projects”. No matter how much people like this want to proclaim themselves as experts, they really aren’t.

    Sure, he had some success. Does that mean he knows everything about business? Of course not. You’re a lot more likely to success with a clear focus and determination than listening to some guy say you’re probably not going to succeed.

    Good luck, entrepreneurs. Stay positive and focused.

  4. Thanks. For GoInstant an awesome demo was really important. It’s the tangible compliment to a big vision.

  5. Yeah its really a must-have. Even if its crude, you need something interactive. Mockups just aren’t enough.

  6. I see the article almost as “reverse phycology” for entrepreneurs, and everything is essentially correct. The good news for successful entrepreneurs is in answering the questions positively, which I did. So if you can do that you are on the right track, although would you go as far as to say, answer the questions positively and, “Odds are you will be a big success”?
    Good read, thanks Gavin…

  7. Nice. Interesting way to look at it! I think many entrepreneurs find the tough odds motivating. We’re trying to do something different, and that’s hard.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to to say that, but there’s something important about giving it everything you have. “hard work brings good luck”, success is being ready for an opportunity when it presents itself, etc.

  8. Thinking about something from an opposing perspective is a great exercise, however I think that you’re coming from an unproductive place.

    Failing isn’t a bad thing. Failing for 10 years, bleeding money, and not listening to your customers is definitely a bad thing — but the point here is that understanding quickly how and why you’re failing and learning to pivot with your new knowledge is the right way to fail.

    Keep iterating, learning, and measuring. Working blindly towards a huge assumption is bad way to fail. Create small assumptions and test them — they’ll either fail and give you more insight, or succeed and give you more insight. That’s the right way to fail.

  9. I agree. However, the way in which a question is asked can yield very different results. For example I can ask myself, “Why can’t I accomplish this?” I would end up getting a very different result than asking myself, “How can I accomplish this?” The human mind will return the answers for both but with very different results.

    I believe the same holds true for the tone of articles like this. Sure he gives some minor direction after each point but the main message in the article is “You’re going to fail”.

    I’m sure he was just trying to be clever with some sort of ironic twist to the headline but I’ve seen quite a few articles that use this angle. It’s always irritated me and I don’t find them particularly helpful when presented in this manner.

  10. “Daddy, you’re not the boss, mommy’s the boss, you’re just the wife.”

    Do you think I want to hear that from my sweet little girl?

    This article should come with a prescription to Provigil =)

    I like the message. Work hard & Focus.

    +rep op lives his advice, and makes it work – but is there another way?

    I must preface this comment with the fact that I am friends with some of the GoInstant guys and used the inspiration of Gavin’s story as motivation to raise a significant round for my gaming startup this year.

    However it kinda applies mainly to people without offspring. To be more practical for any other readers with families, I think it needs timelines and age limits & alternate suggestions.

    Work-life balance is needed if you have a wife & kids, or else you’ll either lose your family or be a poor life partner or parent.

    It’s hard to sustain burning the candle at both ends if you have a wife whom demands your masculine presence at home for supper. Even harder with a 3 year old that makes fun of you for working so much.

    Solution? Show your wife & daughter you’re the boss at home as well as work by:

    -getting home at a reasonable time like all the other daddies who work

    -pick up McDonalds on the way, making sure to text your wife every 5 mins so she knows where you are.

    -disinfect poop covered potties

    -clean up dishes

    -let mommy go to karaoke with her platonic actor friends

    -babysitting… I mean spending quality time with your kid

    -sucking up to the wife, by occasionally putting her needs before yours (wink wink)

    -watch Kathrine Heigl and Sandra Bulkhead movies

    -don’t get caught letting another woman pass in your line of eyesight

    Being an entrepreneur, I thought I could solve this work-life balance dilemma by outsourcing my family duties in the following ways:

    1) I hired a babysitter to give my wife free time to work on passion projects (singing, writing, theater) a few days a week.

    2) I invited a friend of hers to live with us to spend time with her while I worked extra hours so that she wouldn’t get lonely.

    3) We enrolled our daughter in preschool & dance classes.

    4) We wrote our goals down for what we wanted life to be like after the company was a success.

    Turns out that we missed each other and we wanted to spend more time together, I wasn’t seeing my sweet daughter who makes fun of me as much as I’d have liked, and even though she had one of her best friends around 24/7, it wasn’t as fulfilling to either of us because we are in all teh love.


    Rant coming to an end – I’d to think as a dad & husband that there’s a way to hustle your ass off building a successful business, while trying to have a healthy work life balance.

    I tried, I failed, time to pivot after I take out the garbage and make the bed =)

  11. Great points. Just to add some context: you’re definitely passed the getting off the ground stage and you pulled lots of all nighters to get there :)

  12. ‘Nothing of worth or weight can be achieved with half a mind, with a faint heart, and with a lame endeavour.’ – Isaac Barrow

  13. Anyone who can be talked out of entrepreneurship probably should be. If a “you might fail” post is all it takes to discourage then they certainly don’t have what it takes to push through the really hard stuff. In the end, entrepreneurship isn’t a career choice as much as it’s a compulsion.

  14. Great post. I think the only thing I might take issue with is the cult of the workaholic that’s prevalent in the startup community. Most workaholics don’t really get much done, they spin their wheels and focus on the wrong things. They let stress sap their output by pushing through when a good nights sleep and a fresh start would probably have served them better.

    I did my time in my younger years sleeping at the office and pulling Jolt Cola fuelled all-nighters (they didn’t have Red Bull back then, thank God!) but I never got as much done as I do now. And I routinely clock out after 4 to 6 hours of work. But it’s consistent, focused and pre-scheduled work. It’s cliche but slow and steady actually does win the race, easily outperforming your average 24 year old “work hard, play hard” type.

  15. Agree. Workaholic is a bad thing.

    When you’re really inspired, work extra hard. When you’re hitting a wall, take a break. One is avoiding distraction, and the other is avoiding stubbornness. A healthy work/life balance is the most sustainable for sure. In the early stage of a startup you should be super inspired. Working hard because you’re excited (rather than out of discipline).

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