Is it a startup lottery or a marathon?

Is it a startup lottery or a marathon?

I meet many excited entrepreneurs who are about to embark on building their first companies, and what I often find is that they have a sense that they’re about to enter a lottery, rather than a gruelling long-distance race.

Most new entrepreneurs realize that only 10 to 20% of technology startups are successful—pick your favourite metric and definition of success. The thing is, many entrepreneurs believe that by paying the “entry fee” they at least have a chance of winning.

But building a startup is more like entering a gruelling long-distance race, like a marathon. In fact, it is more like a team marathon. Would anybody reasonably expect to win a marathon without ever having run one or without at least having trained very hard to do so? Of course not. Simply entering a competition does not earn you a chance of success. It is being as prepared as possible for that competition that creates some chance. Not all startup teams enter the race with an equal chance of success; some teams actually have no chance.

Used with permission under creative commons licensing: Flickr user Nordea Riga Marathon

Additionally, building a startup is not something that you can do on a part-time basis. In the health and life sciences sector in which I advise, it is not unusual to find people who think that they can be successful working part time while continuing their academic activities. I usually tell them to ask themselves the question: “What are my chances of beating someone as smart as me who is working full time on the same opportunity—with full time meaning 60 or more hours per week?”

They see the point, but they like to believe that since no one else has seen the same opportunity now they are not likely to do so in the future! Realistically, that is never going to be the case.

So if you’re thinking of creating a startup, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Am I as ready as I can be and committed enough to devote myself full time and more?
  2. Are my team members—now and in the future—in the same state?

If the answers are “No,” then it is time to do something else, or at least to monitor the developing markets until you are convinced and committed that you’re prepared to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Meanwhile, consider taking some training—MaRS’ Entrepreneurship 101 series is an excellent start. But don’t stop at formal courses. Talk to people who have been through the startup process, whether they were ultimately successful of not, and you’ll learn even more and be better prepared for that marathon when you’re finally ready to enter.