No Startup Today Will Succeed Without These 7 Things

So, you're going to found a startup?

What do you need? Some hustle? Some cash? A little luck, maybe?

The cutthroat, rough-and-tumble world of tech startups is no place for the faint of heart. Being a Type A with a good idea does not alone predict success.

Often, startups fail from the start due to misguided beliefs on what it takes to succeed -- the mindset, tools, and resources. Plenty of articles or mentors will explain the things you "must have," but will those actually guarantee success?

The brutal reality looks like this: There's no special combination of tools, amount of funding, or set of skills that accurately predicts success 100% of the time. There are, however, several features that every single successful startup since the dawn of time have in common.

Without these seven things, you don't have a prayer.

1. You must start.

Millions of people would like to think of themselves as an entrepreneur. There's only one small problem: They haven't started a business yet.

A "good idea" does not make you successful, nor does passion alone. For your dreams of entrepreneurship to become a reality, you need to actually launch that business.

2. You must have people.

The world of startup lore is dominated by larger-than-life personalities like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson.

These are powerful people with brilliant ideas, but none of these people built their gigantic fortunes and massive businesses alone.

You're going to need a team of people if you want your business to succeed. I highly recommend partnering with a co-founder. You'll also need people to create your product, design it, market it, sell it, code it, and whatever else it is that you need. That takes more people than simply one's self.

Startups require people, not just lone personalities.

3. You must make mistakes.

Mistakes are part of life, especially in the startup world. To found a startup is to make a series of mistakes, sprinkled in with a few random successes.

Plan well, work hard, but expect to commit huge mistakes along the way. (Sometimes, the big expensive ones are the most valuable.)

4. You must have passion.

There's no such thing as a startup or founder who is "meh" about his product.

Passion drives some of the world's most notable businesses. It takes passion to push through hard times, to pitch a product, and to create a tribe.

Please don't get the wrong idea here. Passion alone does not a startup make. Plenty of wantrepreneurs have fizzled out, hoping to run on the fuel of passion. But even though passion alone may not carry you across the finish line of success, it will certainly help you get there.

5. You must have customers.

Listen to this face-palming fact: You must have customers in order to have a business.

It's so obvious, that some companies overlook it. They become more interested in the thrill of the new technology or their "great idea" that they forget to test it, learn about the market, or define their target audience.

That's a mistake.

Before you declare your startup as "successful" make sure you have customers -- people with money, and people who give you that money in exchange for your goods or services.

6. You must grow.

What is growth? What does it look like? Will you know it when you see it? More importantly, can you scale? How will the company grow? How do you growth hack?

In order to qualify for that label of "successful," a company has to get beyond the garage stage. You wouldn't know the name "Apple" if they were still selling computers from 2066 Crist Dr., Los Altos, CA.

Every successful startup must navigate beyond neophyte. It can be a painful experience. Read about any startup's growth -- Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, whatever you choose -- and it will sound more like a fight club chronicle than the unicorn you admire from afar.

Growth is messy, but crucial.

7. You must know when you're beat.

Most startups are going to fail. It's just one of those statistical things that you're going to have to accept.

But to stare at the gut-wrenching 90% failure rate is to miss the point. There's always a second chance, a third chance, a fourth, and so on.

You've never heard of the startup that didn't make it. It's incorporation papers are shuffled in some Secretary of State's filing archives, never to see the light of day. But something emerges from the decay of a failed business -- a new business.

If you know when you're beat, you can stop wasting your time, frying your brain, and wearing yourself down. You can pull the plug, and do something different. Maybe this next one will be The One.


Founding a startup will break you down, chew you up, and spit you out. It's hard, soul-draining, brutalizing work. There are plenty of reasons why I would tell you not to found a startup.

But for all its brutalities, founding a startup is a glorious thing. Here are the seven essentials:
  1. Just start.
  2. Grow a team.
  3. Boldly make awful mistakes.
  4. Seize upon passion.
  5. Make sure you have customers.
  6. Grow.
  7. Surrender when you're sunk.

Ready to do this? Good. Go out and startup.

What would you say are the essentials of a successful startup?