Veteran entrepreneur and former Fortune 100 executive, Ed McLaughlin comments below about the reality that Americans can see failure as a stepping stone to success, “It’s difficult to celebrate failure as a stepping stone to startup success if entrepreneurs can’t pay their bills, provide for their families, meet payroll or realize their business visions.” Ed's own research tells us that 75% of new businesses fail within the first five years. Ed continues with this challenge for small business owners and entrepreneurs in some of the big ‘innovation-driven’ cities, “What if we could turn the tables on the startup failure rate by introducing a new set of business principles that increases the probability of startup success?” He also offers the four failure points things that undermine the success of a small business below, excerpted from his book, using his own company as an example. Ed has also highlighted the framework for sustainability and profitability in his new book, The Purpose Is Profit: The Truth about Starting and Building Your Own Business, by focusing entrepreneurs on these principles, including: Distinctive Competence, Dynamic Planning, and the Ten Commandments of Startup Profit.
Only nine months after starting USI, I launched a second business called Sigma Communications Inc., or Sigma for short. Starting Sigma had been the culmination of a long-term vision to create a vehicle that would more efficiently connect buyers and sellers of commercial real estate. After three years of bleeding red ink, I was forced to shut down Sigma.
Here are the 4 failure points that undermined the success of Sigma Communications.
Failure Point #1: Starting a business based on passion alone, rather than building a business based on distinctive competence.
When I started Sigma, I believed that my passion for publishing the magazine would trump everything else. That proved to be a costly assumption. The hardest lesson I learned from the Sigma experience is that a venture filled with passion is not enough. You will substantially increase your probability of startup success if you build a business based on your distinctive competence.
Failure Point #2: Starting up without preorders to validate your business model.
I made the fateful decision to launch the magazine without selling advertising and securing paying customers first. In the end analysis, I took a huge gamble on a concept business with an untested business model. Sigma spent millions before I shuttered the business in failure. Securing preorders is the single most important point of validation for a startup.
Failure Point #3: Launching your business without adequate time and funding to reach profitability.
Unfortunately, I had not properly factored the size and scale of Sigma, nor how long it would take to ramp-up to profitability. Since I had never manufactured and shipped a product before, I underestimated the continuous cash drain from ongoing production and distribution. Rather than bootstrapping the business with the profits from USI, I should have lined-up outside funding with a more reasonable timeline to breakeven. Make sure to allocate the time and the funding needed to achieve profitability.
Failure Point #4: Closing your ears to the advice of industry experts.
Rather than listening to my advisors, I convinced myself that I could beat the normal ramp-up to profitability in the publishing industry. My unbridled passion for becoming a publisher, combined with my lack of distinctive competence put blinders on me. Cultivate relationships and heed the advice of industry experts.
Ed McLaughlin is the founder & CEO of Blue Sunsets LLC, a real estate and angel investment firm based in Darien, CT. Previously, McLaughlin founded and served as chairman & CEO of United Systems Integrators (USI) Corporation, a corporate real estate outsourcing firm, sold to Johnson Controls (JCI) in 2005. In 2001, he earned Entrepreneur of the Year honors from Ernst & Young, and USI was named to the Inc. 500 list of America’s fastest growing companies. His book, The Purpose Is Profit: The Truth about Starting and Building Your Own Business, is available on Amazon.