‘Not failing’ should be the central aim in the first six months of any startup.

Written on June 4, 2011

During his backstage interview at TechCrunch Disrupt last week, Ashton Kutcher made an offhand, exceptionally insightful comment regarding his investments in startups: ‘I don’t like to fail‘. While obviously simple, the notion of just ‘not failing’ can be a crucial step in launching a startup – in most cases, if a startup can get through the first six months without ‘failing’ it has a great chance of success.

It’s all too easy to become focused on expansion, and on dreaming of gaining millions of users rather than concentrating on the practical, vital aspects of a startup. In essence, if a startup achieves its goal of not failing over the first six months, it has achieved success in some regard. Following that period, the focus of your startup can shift towards growth and expansion, but initially it is vital to keep yourself grounded in the practical, real steps which your startup needs to take to succeed, and what needs to be done to to build a firm foundation for the company.

The first six months of a startup are almost always the most difficult: they involve endless all-night coding sessions and meetings throughout the day, and if your focus over that period is kept very simple and the business ‘stays alive’, the six months following have the potential to turn the your fledgling startup into a hugely successful one. Gaining an initial user base is the most critical part of launching any product or service, and keeping the focus of ‘not failing’ in the forefront of your mind means that your goal will be on creating a stable, steadily growing user base rather than aiming to launch to millions of users and missing the mark completely. It means that when building features for your product or service, you will focus on functionality that your user’s will really want, rather than features a hypothetical ‘one in a hundred’ user will actually use. It means that your spending will be kept at a sustainable level, rather than going on hiring sprees to find the best talent available, when really you and your co-founder can do all the work necessary.

Quite clearly, this doesn’t apply to all startups, but for the majority who aren’t expecting to be the next billion dollar company, keeping your goals simple and grounded in reality will mean that your startup will have a far greater chance of long-term success.