Entrepreneur batting averages

More or less, this is how the start-up story goes:

Nine out of ten start-ups fail.

By definition, start-ups are run by entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are supposed to be, and are exhorted to be, super-optimistic, supremely confident, never-say-never, endlessly intrepid self-starters.

Yet nine out of ten start-up companies fail.

I never thought it until today, but maybe there are so many failed start-ups not in spite of the qualities of entrepreneurs but because of them. Like a designated hitter batting 0.100 for a season not because the opposing pitchers were so good but because he wasn’t that much of a batter.

The skewed logic I often hear and read is something like:

  1. We think start-up success hinges on the qualities of its entrepreneur.
  2. Entrepreneurs must be of type “X”.
  3. But, our success rate is awful low (10%).
  4. So probably entrepreneurs should actually be more of type “X+++”.

Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe we need a different type of entrepreneur.

Working in a start-up myself I can testify to the up side of the entrepreneur “X” skill-set. Optimism keeps things upbeat when the going gets tough (which is to say often). Confidence gets us more clients than we would otherwise. Never-say-never intrepidness keeps us out there searching day after day for the next big home-run. As dyed in the wool self-starters we make our own luck.

But I can also testify to that fact that, like any attitude, “Entrepreneur-i-Ness” can’t (and doesn’t) always win the day: rock always beats scissors, sure, but paper covers rock. Confidence gets us clients we can’t keep up with. Optimism when implausible becomes motivation in reverse. Never-say-never keeps from sometimes rightly saying never. Being intrepid can stop from being prudent.

So while the likely mortality rate of start-up companies is still probably sky-high, maybe with a different type of entrepreneur it could be reduced. Maybe type Entrepreneur “Y,” or maybe type Entrepreneur “X+Y”, might be able to bat 0.200.


About Graham Lettner

My wife and I recently moved from Zambia back home to Alberta. I'm lucky to have been asked to be a guest blogger for the Localize Project. I love writing stories, and when the subject is food -- something that connects us to the planet and to each other -- the stories are endless.
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One Response to Entrepreneur batting averages

  1. Thanks for this, Graham! It echoes with my own experience. I keep being surprised that I’m an entrepreneur / small business owner still, three years after starting out, even though I don’t have most of the stereotypical entrepreneurial traits. I bet we could find many more skill sets – beyond the usual entrepreneur stuff – that could contribute to healthy and sustainable entrepreneurship.

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