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By Erin Griffith
When the founder of a startup company shuts down her or his business, it is customary to pen an essay that tells the rest of the community what went wrong, called a failure post-mortem. It’s estimated that nine out of 10 startups fail, which is why the technique has become so common as to be a Silicon Valley cliché. Some of these essays are honest, enlightening, and brave. Others point fingers or issue backward non-apologies. Medium, the publishing platform co-founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, is the preferred medium.
The proliferation of the failure post-mortem has helped create a bizarre cult of failure that seems wrong-headed. Celebrating failure (“Fail fast” goes the mantra) seems to let people off the hook for bad behavior. Upon closer inspection, it seems less misguided than necessary. Starting a high-growth business is a roller coaster. Founder-CEOs feel pressure to keep up the facade of success, even when things are actually falling apart behind the scenes. Only recently, after the tragic suicide of Jody Sherman, CEO of a startup called Ecomom, did the technology community begin to publicly acknowledge the problems with its “entrepreneur as hero” narrative. Publicly admitting to failure, and examining it, can take guts. It also distills the narrative to a case study from which other entrepreneurs can learn.
CB Insights recently parsed 101 post-mortem essays by startup founders to pinpoint the reasons they believe their company failed. On Thursday the company crunched the numbersto reveal that the number-one reason for failure, cited by 42% of polled startups, is the lack of a market need for their product.
That should be self-evident. If no one wants your product, your company isn’t going to succeed. But many startups build things people don’t want with the irrational hope that they’ll convince them otherwise.