All successful startups are alike

Leo Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with the quote: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The more startups I see, the more I feel that the same is true for startup success. All successful startups are alike while every unsuccessful startups is unsuccessful in its own way.

The similarities of successful startups aren’t at the layer of what they do but rather why they do it and the resulting how. What you do is often the same across many competing startups and can easily be copied at the surface. But why you do it and the resulting how you do it, which are the determinants of success, are different. And there’s a very limited range of why’s and resulting how’s that produce success.

Having the same why’s and resulting how’s doesn’t guarantee success. However, it’s the only way to have a shot at it.

Among other factors, the motivations of the founders, their ability to attract others to their mission and the attributes of the people they attract, and the resulting identification of a product which the market is ready and willing to pay for are very similar across all successful startups.

The corollary to this is that a few misguided motivations, recruiting mistakes at the outset of the company, or target markets where creating and capturing value are an uphill climb rather than a downhill run are all it takes to fail.

Also published on Medium.