Why do so many tech startups fail? Shiela Yabo, Programme Manager at the UCT GSB’s Solution Space, recently gave a presentation at the Africa Tech Festival, where she addressed this and other issues around launching a successful tech startup, particularly as a woman.
There are many examples of entrepreneurs who have invested their life savings into businesses that fail or launch and fail quickly afterwards. Why is this?
Most businesses fail because the problem the entrepreneur has identified, is not a big enough one. The scale of the problem is directly related to the size of your customer base. The trick for any venture is to fully understand the problem, and to be empathetic on how to define and deal with it. This means really studying the market you want to enter and making sure that your solution is relevant to an existing problem. Have you researched it? Have you spoken to enough people to make sure it really is a big enough problem? If it’s just you and your friend, you don’t have a market. How much time should you spend on launching a new business solution?
Sometimes you have a great idea, you’ve identified a problem and you have a
solution. But there’s a lack of execution. Time spent launching an idea is absolutely critical. We all have ideas but if you can execute at speed you will differentiate yourself from the competition.
A lot of founders romanticise the solution, especially tech founders. They'll tell you about great app features, and there’ll be lots of hype around the solution. But is it the right solution and are you addressing the right problem in the right market? You need to fall in love with the problem not the solution. Remember that tech is an enabler not a solution.
The critical thing is that you need to start. You need to identify the problem and then you’re continuously engaging with what the solution is. Don’t do it in your own home with friends. Engage with people and ask if you were to offer a solution to this problem, do you think this would add value? Would you buy it? Would you use it? If so, how much would you pay for it? Get a lot of insight before you start working on the technology. Then get your product as quickly as you can into the hands of your customer. If you’re going to fail, you will fail quicker so you can move on to the next thing or look at how you can offer the same thing in the most relevant way. There’s plenty of evidence that women-owned businesses can deliver attractive returns for investors, and yet, there’s still a significant gap in funding for them. Why do you think that is, and what can be done about it?
One of my mentors, venture capitalist and angel investor Lelemba Phiri, says one of the biggest misconceptions about gender-lens investing is that it’s a fad that’s more about feminist revolution than a real business opportunity with competitive returns. It’s a pity that the ecosystem is such that where there is no male co-founder, especially a white male, you still have to prove you’re worthy of being part of it. There have never been more women spearheading and paving the way for us than there are now, but we still see most investments going to men. It’s something I’m passionate about, and one of the most important bits of advice I can give is that you need to find your tribe, and it should include both men and women because men already own this space. Or at least they think they do!
My tribe is filled with men and women who back me up with business decisions in the world of work. It can be a very lonely journey being an entrepreneur, so you need these people to support and invest in you. As the cliché goes, your network is really your net worth. The people you speak to and share your ideas with, have a huge impact on how you show up in this ecosystem and in the world generally. We need to be deliberate as women about building these networks. Don’t be afraid to approach people to share your ideas and ask to be introduced, but you need to do a lot of work before you get there. Shiela Yabo is Programme Manager at the UCT GSB’s Solution Space. Watch her full presentation at the Africa Tech Festival here.