Successful Startups: Why Timing Really is Everything

by Tiago on July 14

Timing, baby!

Illustration by Simone Downey

Startups. Probability of failure: 90%.

According to Forbes, anyway. That number is not entirely accurate, but it paints a pretty accurate picture. It implies that failure is likely. You’re practically doomed from the start.

Or are you?

I’m not going to tell you some cock-and-bull story about a hidden variable that promises startup success. There’s no such thing. What there may be, however—and you may be surprised to hear this—is an ingredient that trumps all others.

We’re going to look into five different facets of startups: ideas, team, business model, funding and timing. All of them are important, but none of them would mean anything without the right timing. 

Timing Is Everything? Or is it?

So what do you think is the single most important factor in determining startup success? What is the first thing that comes to your awareness?

Ideas are the primary source of innovation and value creation, and their importance in the business ecosystem must be stressed.  Yet we all have heard of startup founders who finally give a project the go-ahead and plow through and fight to make their vision a reality, only to crash and burn down the line.

What about teams? Good teams are everything, right? Most startups are made up of groups of individuals joined together by some common purpose to achieve certain goals. A good combination of complementary skill sets leads the business into the proper use of financial resources, technological innovation, and everything else that can only be accomplished by a group of startup craftspeople working together. Yet great teams often can’t carry a startup to success. Ten years ago many believed that Silicon Valley’s Insider Pages was going to be the next big thing. Their team was sublime, yet the review site failed to accomplish much of anything. Shortly after, they laid off two thirds of their team and didn’t get anywhere.

Companies with woefully mediocre business models have achieved near-meteoric success. NetZero is just one case in point—they didn’t have a particularly fancy business model back in 1998, yet in half a year they garnered over a million users. Within a year, everyone else was copying NetZero and trying to be like them.

Funding seems like a big deal. The more money you have, the easier it is to make money, right? Not quite. It’s true that many successful startups do start out with some money, but there are many companies that begin the game with a HUGE amount of money (,, etc) and still fail.

What about timing? Can timing truly be the most important factor? Bill Gross of Idealab has helped create hundreds of businesses; take a look at his short TED talk:

Now, I’m not saying that Bill’s study is a carefully conducted, evidence-based, randomized, quadruple-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial that leaves no margin for error. A little personal bias always goes into these things, but it is something to think about, isn’t it? Think of all the companies that rule our modern, digital world. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Youtube, WhatsApp. They all came at the right time. Google, despite their vast resources, couldn’t replace Facebook with Google+.

Ideally, you want a great idea, a complementary team, a solid business model, good funding and great timing.

But Timing Is Just Luck, Isn’t It?

Yes, sometimes people and organizations fall ass-backwards into success. But it’s possible to predict the future and to know more or less where things are headed, and in many cases it’s really not that hard. Wearable tech, Internet of things, feminism, virtual reality, Hilary Clinton becoming president (I’ll take your bet on this one if you insist, but don’t whine when you lose!).

What’s a bit more difficult to do is predicting the future far in advance. What will people want in 2025? The answer to that question can very well lead to an idea that will change the world in ten years.

If you can answer it, you’ll be in the leading edge. And those who come first often have everything in their favor.

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Tiago uses his forbidden Internet skills to forge the basic framework of the Spiraling Up website. He teaches English in three languages on his English website. He was born in a small city in Portugal and now resides in Barcelona. His personal development journey started in 2006. He eats more lentils for lunch than you eat in a year. He’s also hilarious.

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