How a Struggling Startup turns into a Successful Business

You’re here meaning you’re in the great majority of founders who struggle. According to my last “study” *ahem* of the startup economy, that’s roughly 100% of us. Imagine that.

Yep, we all struggle. It might be said that the very definition of being an entrepreneur is epitomized in the one who struggles.

It’s our job to struggle so that others might not.

Not a day goes by though that I don’t struggle with the struggle.

Why, despite the books, blogs, podcasts, incubators, mentors, and accelerators, do 9 out of 10 ventures fail?? That seems unreasonable doesn’t it??

Over the holiday weekend, my friends at Quora pushed out to their audience, that most fundamental of questions, How can you turn a struggling startup into a successful business?

Here’s how to turn a struggling startup into a successful business…


Done. Let’s go home

No? Something is making you think to yourself in your head, “damn, not that shtick again, we’ve tried marketing and it doesn’t work!”

The reason you may not agree or appreciate that is that you’ve been told that marketing is one thing, and not what it actually is, causing you to discount actually doing it (or causing you to discount it because your attempts at promotion have failed and you now think ‘marketing’ doesn’t work because that didn’t).

Not advertising nor promotion. Actual marketing.

See, only two things create value in business (something established by economists decades ago): innovation and marketing.

Marketing is the work of the market. Researching competitors, partners, investors, and potential customers, to develop the strategy of the business so that it might succeed — designing the roadmap and determining the investments to make in what you’re doing.

Too many founders narrow that role to if and where to advertise.

That’s just one of the determinations of marketing.

Every startup can succeed

That’s a bold notion

Startups actually only fail because the founder(s) give up.

Every idea can have customers IF the market will bear it. Few ideas survive even if customers like it, if the market won’t support it.

Sure, they run out of money. They can’t find product market fit. A competitor “steals” their idea. Blah blah blah

Notice, those are all issues overcome by marketing.

Do this…

  1. Get a notebookhere’s six for $9, we can afford that
  2. Sit in coffee shop
  3. Interview every random person you can. Take copious notes. Listen. And hear.
  4. Determine from them what they’re telling you NOT to do. This is the trick! Lean Startup customer validation crap is misleading founders to perceive that customers affirm what you’re doing. If you’re really doing a “startup,” it’s something innovative and not common in the market already… therefore: potential customers don’t know anything; other than what they don’t want.
  5. Now you take all of that and in an innovative way develop what you MIGHT do… And market validate that.

Customer Validation considerations

  • They may say they like your idea. Ignore that.
  • They may say they won’t use it as a mobile app. A ha!
  • They may say they’d pay $99 a month. So what…?? “May”
  • Some point out they wouldn’t pay monthly if they have to pay a setup fee and commit for a year. A ha!

Market Validation considerations

  • Are competitors doing that?
  • Who might fund that?
  • What would that cost and do we have the team ? If not, how do we attract that?
  • How would customers find and use that?
  • How are such things monetized?

That’s marketing. All of that is marketing. When you’re starting up, your first priority / first cofounder / first executive / first hire needs to be responsible for constantly doing that.

Because anything else you do, or anything anyone else on the team wants to do, is wasteful without the market establishing what you should do.

Potential customers will tell you where they would expect to find your service. Nice to know and how marketing tries promotion and advertising. They’ll also tell you where they would NOT expect to see your startup — that’s how marketing determines how you don’t make wasteful mistakes.

They’ll tell you they expect online chat customer service. Nice, okay…maybe. And they’ll tell you they’d never talk to a live rep for help. A ha!

See, marketing is NOT sales. It’s not lead gen. It’s not AdWords nor PR. These are things marketing determines you should, or should not, do; along with who you need to hire, how to design, when to invest in a feature, etc.

Not convinced? Here’s another trick:

Do you have to sell your product/service?

Do you actually have to reach out to people and tell them (by call or email, in person, webinar, etc.)? If you do, your marketing isn’t doing its job — you aren’t investing in actual marketing. Why? Marketing determines what to build, how, how and where to place it, how to price it, etc…. If it has done that, you don’t need to manually sell it.

The job of marketing is to make Sales superfluous

And most founders don’t appreciate this.

Most founders quit because their startup is struggling.

Their startup is only struggling because they aren’t marketing.

Originally published at on September 4, 2018.

CEO of MediaTech Ventures, CMO to #VC, #Startup Advisor. I get you funded. Father, marketer, author, #Austin. @seobrien & @AccelerateTexas.