The Biggest Reason Entrepreneurs Fail
An examination of how we inadvertently sabotage ourselves and our dreams
Posted Oct 02, 2012
I’ve seen companies succeed and I’ve seen companies fail. In fact, I’ve been part of companies that were able to sustain steady growth and still thrive today while others collided as soon as they took off. One company, in particular, that comes to mind never should have failed, but it did. It’s also the reason I transitioned out of engineering and got into counseling psychology and entrepreneurial coaching in the first place.
Their cause of failure was caused by relationship strife and power struggles (readers of Psychology Today's Counseling Keys can receive a free e-version of my book, “Ten Keys for Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle” for the remainder of 2012 by emailing a request to me). Yet, this post is entitled the biggest reason entrepreneurs fail and although I believed at one time that businesses failed because of problematic human interactions, I’ve now come to realize that there’s an even lower common denominator than that—and it’s something most business experts have missed.
Take a moment and think about what you’ve heard, read, or experienced as the leading cause of business failure.
Are you listing them?
Let’s see if any of these are on the list:
Did you come up with inadequate or lack of planning?
How about marketing?
Did you say stupidity? (Well, surely you’ve had that sentiment from time to time.)
Okay, what about not having enough capital?
Or, as my previous experience revealed, how about relationship challenges (this can include battling with a partner, investor, staff, or just plain overlooking the customer’s needs).
According to entrepreneurship author and Case Western University professor Scott Shane, there’s even the possibility that failure is a measure of a good economy if your venture folded. He purports, “Having fewer entrepreneurs means that we are experiencing economic growth. The more developed a country is, the fewer people work for themselves.”
This post isn’t about telling you to go work for a high growth company. (Although it’s cool if you do.) This is about providing support and insight so that you can make your entrepreneurial venture succeed—and maybe even turn it into one of those high growth companies that Shane says is good for our GDP. If that interests you, then please read on.
I listed some of the common reasons people say that businesses fail. There’s a lot of research out there that provide reasons and many of the stats contradict other researchers’ findings. There’s also the discussion about teasing out superfluous data and accounting for confounding variables, etc. However, what I’ve found to be at the core of most of my client’s issues is this one basic human flaw that undermines even our best intentions.
This flaw explains why smokers can’t seem to quit even when the doctor says it’s going to kill them and they desperately desire to quit.
It also accounts for the billions of dollars that are spent on gym memberships, self-help programs, and other health and wellness miracles that end up unused and untried as soon as the commitment was made.
I believe this flaw translates into business start-ups and reveals why most business fail (8 out of 10) within the first year (64% by the fifth year).
This flaw, while seemingly simple, is the disease responsible for ruining your best intentions. It’s why you can’t focus—and, unfortunately, it’s worsened with the advent of video games, microwave ovens, and microblogging sites like Twitter.
It’s our primal reptilian brain that causes us to be so immediate focused that it takes us right off track from our original agenda. It’s the source of procrastination. It’s the source of emotional hijacking. It’s why the best-laid plans go awry.
The good news is that the primal reptilian brain can be your best ally. You just need to learn how to harness your inner power and make your primal brain work for you rather than against you.
For instance, let’s say you want to make X number of marketing calls a week, but you never seem to get it done. Basically you keep finding yourself procrastinating. You might loathe the task. Maybe you have some fear of failure or rejection. You could even have fear of success. Or you get distracted with all of your other responsibilities. Whatever the reason may be, your primal brain is working against you if you’re not making the calls—and it’s feeding off the energy from the fear, loathing and/or distractions.
The trick to making your primal brain assist you in making those marketing calls can be two-fold. You can employ that good old-fashioned work ethic that says you have to make X number of calls a day before you can relax or have some type of reward. Secondly, you can also up the ante by offering a penalty payment to your assistant, colleague, mentor, or a family member each time you don’t make the required calls that week. However, in order for this last part of the trick to work, it needs to be realistic but painful enough to make you miss the money that was doled out as your penalty payment.
This last tricks works because it makes your primal brain want to protect you from the pain of the money loss. Before that, your primal brain sensed the pain from the fear and loathing and worked hard to keep you off your task no matter how much you tried to motivate or convince yourself.
Did you get that? Your primal brain is motivated to protect you and any sign of fear or loathing activates your primal brain, causing it to rescue you from the source of your pain.
Now think about what happens when you start a business. That’s right—fear of failure. Fear of those looming statistics that say you’re probably going to fail. Fears from your family, friends and colleagues who shake their head at your decision. Fear from the loss of security, benefits and support staff that makes you feel safe when you’re working for a stable company. Fear of your own decision-making skills. Need I go on? The inherent and pervasive fear from kicking off an entrepreneurial venture can activate your primal brain to protect you and make you abandon your venture (either through procrastination of a needed but dreaded task, overwhelmed helplessness, poor relational functioning, etc.).
However, your primal brain can be your most powerful ally and loyal protector. The key is learning how to make it work for you so that you can accomplish the goals your frontal lobe creates (e.g. business plans, entrepreneurial ventures, networking, writing a book, losing weight, going on dates, listening, eating healthy, etc., etc.).
While solutions can be highly personal depending on your individual experiences, fears and services/products, the next post will address some general solutions that may help you and your business succeed. Please feel free to post a comment about your particular situation and I’ll try to incorporate strategies for you in my follow-up of post.
Best wishes in all areas of your life.