• Why Startups Fail

  • A New Roadmap for Entrepreneurial Success
  • By: Tom Eisenmann
  • Narrated by: Robert Fass
  • Length: 10 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (192 ratings)

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Why Startups Fail

By: Tom Eisenmann
Narrated by: Robert Fass
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Publisher's Summary

If you want your startup to succeed, you need to understand why startups fail.

"Whether you’re a first-time founder or looking to bring innovation into a corporate environment, Why Startups Fail is essential reading." (Eric Ries, founder and CEO, LTSE, and New York Times best-selling author of The Lean Startup and The Startup Way)

Why do startups fail? That question caught Harvard Business School professor Tom Eisenmann by surprise when he realized he couldn’t answer it.

So he launched a multiyear research project to find out. In Why Startups Fail, Eisenmann reveals his findings: six distinct patterns that account for the vast majority of startup failures.

  • Bad Bedfellows. Startup success is thought to rest largely on the founder’s talents and instincts. But the wrong team, investors, or partners can sink a venture just as quickly.
  • False Starts. In following the oft-cited advice to “fail fast” and to “launch before you’re ready”, founders risk wasting time and capital on the wrong solutions.
  • False Promises. Success with early adopters can be misleading and give founders unwarranted confidence to expand.
  • Speed Traps. Despite the pressure to “get big fast”, hypergrowth can spell disaster for even the most promising ventures.
  • Help Wanted. Rapidly scaling startups need lots of capital and talent, but they can make mistakes that leave them suddenly in short supply of both.
  • Cascading Miracles. Silicon Valley exhorts entrepreneurs to dream big. But the bigger the vision, the more things that can go wrong.

Drawing on fascinating stories of ventures that failed to fulfill their early promise - from a home-furnishings retailer to a concierge dog-walking service, from a dating app to the inventor of a sophisticated social robot, from a fashion brand to a startup deploying a vast network of charging stations for electric vehicles - Eisenmann offers frameworks for detecting when a venture is vulnerable to these patterns, along with a wealth of strategies and tactics for avoiding them.

A must-listen for founders at any stage of their entrepreneurial journey, Why Startups Fail is not merely a guide to preventing failure but also a road map charting the path to startup success.

This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF of the book’s Appendix consisting of An Early-Stage Startup Survey.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Tom Eisenmann (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Launching and scaling a startup is like a game of chess: It requires laser focus, relentless prioritization, and contingency strategies galore. I’ve always wished there was a guidebook to help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls on their way to wherever they’re headed. Eisenmann has truly helped illuminated a path to success by shining a spotlight on common startup failure patterns. His insights are invaluable, whether you’re just getting started, or you’re eyeing your endgame.” (Jenn Hyman, co-founder and CEO, Rent the Runway)

“It’s no secret that having a great idea isn’t enough to guarantee your success as an entrepreneur. I see it all the time on Shark Tank: Even the brightest, most driven founders with the most innovative ideas sometimes find themselves going down the wrong path and facing the decision of whether or not to close their business. Why Startups Fail is the perfect road map that each entrepreneurs needs to have in their back pocket to help them avoid those heartbreaking choices and continue to grow their business.” (Daymond John, star of ABC’s Shark Tank and New York Times best-selling author of The Power of Broke, Rise and Grind, and Powershift)

“Once you start reading this book, you won’t be able to put it down. Eisenmann has masterfully explained in a clear, thoughtful way why startups fail in a clear, thoughtful way. This is a must-read for any entrepreneur, investor, or startup team member. By avoiding the biggest reasons companies fail, we will see more entrepreneurial success, which is something society needs more than ever.” (Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder and COO, Cloudflare)

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Shades of gray between startup failure and success

This is an interesting, educational, insightful, and extremely well-structured book on startup failure. In exploring "Why Startups Fail" Tom Eisenmann provides a full and rich perspective of what can happen in a startup as it (a) launches and then (b) scales. The book is not only about failure but about all the shades of gray between the black and white of startup success and failure.

The main reasons I really liked the book:
(1) It is well organized and logical, with very good [and mostly unfamiliar but very interesting] case studies to illustrate key points.
(2) For many of the cases described in the book, the author had a very deep, behind the curtain perspective, so the details are fascinating.
(3) The book encapsulates many of the concepts we often teach in business school classes (customer development, MVPs, pivots, CAC vs. CLV, etc.) but it does so in a well-organized and quite structured way.
(4) I am a business school professor and the insights and perspectives are highly relatable for a business school audience (especially MBA level)
(5) The book deals equally with success and failure and many of the shades of grey in-between, which means that readers get a somewhat realistic perspective of entrepreneurship rather than many of the other purely rah-rah success stories

Criticisms that some readers may have of the book include the following:
(1) It is very strongly oriented to VC-funded startups, so the cases and perspectives may be less appealing to the broader swath of entrepreneurs seeking to mobilize resources via other means (e.g. crowdfunding, bootstrapped, etc.)
(2) I suspect the book may at times seem a little too structured and clinical for some readers, some may find it too academic (yet this structure and organization is what I liked)

I will be recommending this book to many people with an interest in entrepreneurship.

6 people found this helpful

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Case studies with sound advice

Gives you a handful of examples on what went wrong with promising startups. Sound advice if you plan on learning from others mistakes.

1 person found this helpful

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I Love it

I am founding an Startup and this book give me a lot of context to start with pros and cons of decision making , with real cases and some frameworks that are very practical in real life; it has more phases like Scaling and Failing, 100% recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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Academic but not dull

Interesting case studies on startups that failed. Not a statistically-minded book, so avoiding survivorship bias was essentially impossible. Still, useful details from specific cases. The human element - what makes a good startup team - was represented well.

1 person found this helpful

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Technical issues with audiofile

Part of chapter 7 is missing. Audiofile ends at page 184 and continues at page 202 :(

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Good Book, someteimes feels a little bit repetiré.

Good book full of stories of why companies failed and their learnings.

sometimes it feels monotonous, but it states the authors points. It's an easy reading and good learning material for all people wanting to start a new venture.

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When you think business success is deterministic

There are million of reasons for a startup to fail. Can you engineer success? This book seems to think so. Like what it is taught in many business school, the author is looking for a causal approach to success. He seems to believe that you can be deterministic when it comes to product-market fit. But a business is a complex adaptive system. A human one. PMF is random…. But it does not support the entrepreneurial meet.

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read before, during, and second time founder

Great book of lifetime experience packed with so much jewels and gem. Any startup industry will definitely relate

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Rings true from my experience.

A good counterpoint to more bullish, ra-ra business books. Anyone thinking about investing or going into business should pay attention to the lessons in this book.

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Very good and insightful book

This book makes you think of all the things you’ve done wrong. Throughout the book you hear of multiple failing startup examples, the author does a very good job breaking down the events that lead to their failure.