Building X and then selling millions of Y

One man band

Takeaway: Creating 2 startups at once (usually disguised as 1 startup with 2 distinct products: eg community + ecommerce) is about 1,000 times more difficult than creating just 1.

Succeeding in a startup can be very difficult. Mathematically, the odds are against you, ranging from 1/100 to 1/15,000 depending on many variables including how early you are in the startup process, depth of sponsor pockets, and your definition of “success”. Even though succeeding in 1 startup can be difficult, we find many entrepreneurs are set on creating not 1, but 2 startups!

Examples of 2-in1-startups include: building a community of sport enthusiasts to sell sporting goods, selling POS systems to create critical mass and sell payment processing, building a multi-brand ecommerce to introduce a proprietary private label, building an ecommerce whose value add is a 30 minute delivery window. Its like Starbucks saying: “I am going to create busy coffee places and then develop high traffic wifi routers to sell in stadiums.”

Creating 2 startups at the same time is really a lot more difficult than creating 1. If you need to create a community to be able to sell your sporting goods, then the success of the venture depends on both businesses being successful. The correct mathematics to estimate success when one condition depends on the other requires the multiplication of the possibilities to obtain the combined probability of an outcome (event dependent probability). Lets say each startup has a 0.1% chance of being successful: 0.1% x 0.1% = 0.0001%. Ie, In a 2-in-1-startup your chances of being successful go from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 1,000,000, literally: “one in a million”.

On the contrary, if you are able to develop a startup that only requires to be successful in one concept or direction, you need to multiply the expected value by 1,000! That is, you are one thousand times more likely to succeed by doing one thing right.

As we posted before, we believe there are no secrets to a successful startup that you can read of a webpage (or get from a mentor session), but it appears that focusing on 1 startup at a time is a smarter decision than trying to do 2 at once. (and other potential investors) are generally interested in teams that demonstrate their ability to make smart decisions and whose business is more likely to succeed.

Note: Some of the above discussion can be avoided if entrepreneurs decide to focus on solving a problem, versus doing what they want to do. Once you are focused on solving a problem, the purpose of the startup is to solve this one issue in the more streamlined and clean manner, and postulating a 2-in-1 solution becomes an evidently bad plan.


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