why the startup community is failing us

Why the Startup Community Is Failing Us

The startup community in Scotland has come on leaps and bounds in the past decade. You don’t have to look hard to find news stories about young, ambitious entrepreneurs starting on their journeys into the business world.  To our credit, we have gotten a lot better these days at encouraging startups and aiding young people in starting their own ventures.  There has been, especially in Scotland, a great amount of effort, thought and resources thrown into supporting young businesses and making sure people have what they need to take that leap.

However, there is not so much attention on what happens when these ventures don’t work out, or what they are supposed to do when it’s no longer all plain sailing.  Nobody ever talks about the multitude of things that can go wrong or how they can be dealt with.  It’s a sad fact that 50% of businesses fail within the first year, and having been there myself, twice now, I can’t help but feel that talking about it would help to reduce that figure.

Don’t Say the ‘F’ Word

Failure is a taboo subject in the UK.  It’s the sort of thing that you’re just not supposed to talk about.  We take our stiff upper lip and sweep the unpleasantries under the carpet.  But here’s the thing…

FAILURE ISN’T BAD!

I’ve learned a hundred times more from my failures and mistakes than I have from all the things that have gone well, any job i’ve ever had and my business degree put together.  Failure is essential for true progress.

The problem is that nobody ever wants to admit to it.  Instead of talking about where we’ve messed up or gone wrong, we just pretend like everything is grand.  Unfortunately that means that when a young business is in the thick of it, there are few places to turn for advice and support.

We want to shine a light on the glamorous entrepreneurial lifestyle and everyone is too proud to talk about the downsides, or even just the little niggly bits that would be helpful to know in advance. (See 10 Truths About Running A Cake Business).

In 2014, at the ripe old age of 23, my business got into a bit of trouble.  A slightly problematic situation turned into a dire one, and  the worst part of it is that it was completely, 100% avoidable.  When things started to get shaky I didn’t know what to do, and nobody wants to mentor a business with problems.  Things went south because I was simply unprepared for how to handle the rocky patches, and there was nowhere I could get any decent advice.

When the Shit Hits the Fan

There are so many organisations around now to support young businesses and give them the tools and training they need to get started.  But once a business has launched, that support often stops.  I have been a part of several very well known and prestigious startup communities, organisations and incubators, and I am sad to say that this same problem echoed through all of them.  When the shit starts to hit the fan, nobody wants anything to do with you.  You are no longer an exciting opportunity, but a sinking ship, and people won’t touch you.  

Startup Community Shunning

And it’s not just me.  I have angrily watched as fellow companies with incredible people at the helm have hit a rough patch and coincidentally been kicked out of incubators and programmes, just as things start to get tough.  Which is crazy considering that THAT is the time when they need support the most.   The sad truth is that although these organisations have done wonders for startups, they are, at the end of the day, about the numbers and about delivering results.  They are no longer about the ‘startup community‘ itself, but about showing the rest of the world how great their startups are doing.  They don’t want to hitch their wagon to a company that is going down and will put a dent in their figures.

The truth is that running a business is not all inspiration and #GoDo.  There are real problems and real obstacles to overcome.  As a country we have done so well at improving our support system for startups, but the next step is to improve the ongoing support and advice for companies when things inevitably start to get a bit shaky.

Let’s Change It!

So this is my call to all the business owners out there.  All the hustlers and people working their butts off for their companies.  The thing about a community is that it is shaped by those that are part of it – we are responsible for the Scottish startup community. Let’s stop pretending it’s all perfect and easy, let’s open up about the fact that there are hard parts too so other business owners may not feel so alone when things get hard.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes over my past eight years in business, and I would love if sharing my mistakes could help someone else to avoid some.