Reality Will Always Win

I’ve been fascinated in the past few years to see startups repeat failure modes that have been (often painfully) experienced by teams for decades. Given the huge body of knowledge that exists about how to successfully build a startup, we might think that it was a solved problem. But it clearly isn’t.

So what’s going on?

To build a startup, you need a reality distortion field. You, your team, and your investors, need to believe that what you are building will work, will make a difference. You need to know in your bones what success will look like and how the world will be different because of you and your team. You need a vision.

The problem is: your vision is an emotional construct, not a rational one. You and your team are drawn to it for much deeper reasons than commercial success — it’s about creating something new, about changing the world we live in.

And because the vision is deep and non-rational it’s very hard to have it challenged. When you start to get feedback from the real world that indicates the need for change, you react with your emotional brain, not your rational one. You ignore, distort or fail to hear what reality is telling you, and hope that Everything Will Be OK.

But reality will always win.

Startups fail because they fail to align their vision with reality.

Five Classic Failure Modes

These are five classic startup failure modes, each of which has the fundamental cause of a deeply attractive vision ending up misaligned with the real world.

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