Startup Anti-Patterns

Studying repeatable patterns of startup failure (startup anti-patterns) is more useful than studying non-repeatable strategies for startup success.

Top Startup Anti-Patterns

  1. Analysis paralysis
  2. Arrogance
  3. Attribution risk
  4. Bad revenue
  5. Bleeding on the edge
  6. Boiling the ocean
  7. Bridge to nowhere
  8. Changing strategy instead of execution
  9. Chasing the competition
  10. Confirmation bias
  11. Confusing activity with results
  12. Consulting to product
  13. Death by pivot
  14. Deathmarch
  15. Delayed scaling
  16. Demand generation
  17. Design by committee
  18. Designing for investors
  19. Drag
  20. Elephant hunting
  21. Escalation of commitment
  22. Escape to the familiar
  23. Escapism
  24. Featuritis
  25. Forward thinking
  26. Founderitis
  27. Groupthink
  28. Hail Mary
  29. If you build it, they will come
  30. Ignorance
  31. Ivory tower
  32. Lack of focus
  33. Lagging indicators
  34. Learned helplessness
  35. Long feedback cycles
  36. Lying to investors
  37. Magic salesperson
  38. Mentor whiplash
  39. Missing your exit
  40. Myopic bootstrapping
  41. Next round only
  42. Not knowing your investors
  43. One-off customization
  44. Oooh, shiny!
  45. Overengineering
  46. Overselling
  47. Oversteering
  48. Platform trap
  49. Platform risk
  50. Premature optimization
  51. Premature scaling
  52. Promiscuity
  53. Proof by anecdote
  54. Pushing a rope
  55. Raising too little
  56. Random founders
  57. Scapegoat
  58. Second class citizens
  59. Seed extensions
  60. Secrecy
  61. Silver bullet
  62. Spreadsheet Bingo
  63. Stovepipes
  64. The one idea entrepreneur
  65. Top-down planning
  66. Uber pivot
  67. Underqualifying
  68. Unicorn hunting
  69. Unrealistic expectations
  70. Warm bodies
  71. Weak board
  72. Yes man
  73. Zombie

Updates since the initial post:

  1. Outsourcing your architecture (via Alan Neveu)

Note: the list is not “drawn to scale.” Some anti-patterns occur more frequently than others and some are more likely to cause a startup to fail than others. 

At some point, I’d like to have a post for each anti-pattern. Let me know if you’ve experienced them. Subscribe for updates and, please, share this page so that more entrepreneurs become aware of the common & avoidable patterns of startup failure.

20 Responses to Startup Anti-Patterns

  1. Pingback: Top startup anti-patterns | HighContrast

  2. Jaded Entrepreneur says:

    Thanks for assembling these in one place. I only wish you’d done it and I’d seen it last summer. My first start-up shut down in december. Lack of focus and death by pivot did us in. Lean start-up is no panacea.

    • No methodology guarantees success. That said, the best ones steer us away from a greater number of anti-patterns.

      I hope you won’t let your first startup experience dissuade you from being an entrepreneur again.

  3. I’d maybe add “Designing for investors” [rather than customers]. Seen this more than once and it can be tricky to mitigate. Great list Simeon. Goodness, just realized, I don’t think I’ve had any interaction with you since some emails posts about WDDX and CF in about 1999 ! Hope you are well. Did you ever write a book about building Allaire on $18k?

    • Yes, it’s been a very long time. I’m doing well and having lots of fun combining entrepreneurship and investing.

      Nobody on the Allaire side ever wrote that book. If anyone should do it, it should be JJ.

      Designing for investors is a good one. I will add it to the list.

  4. Roman says:

    Thanks Simeon for assembling the list. Where could we find the descriptions of these antipatterns? “Analysis paralysis” is self-explanatory but what means Zombie in startup context?

  5. Alan Neveu says:

    What a fantastic list Simeon – I’m sure there is a story behind each of these. The names are well written and I can visualize real people/startups for most of them. I also live in a glass house, so I’d like to say that this is like looking in a mirror for some of them, so not throwing stones here…

    That said, I’d like to add one to the list: Outsourcing your architecture. I have seen startups begin with the assumption that they should be able to outsource their product development. They usually wind up with a product that is nothing special – something their competitors could build easily, or their customers could build in-house. As a software architect, I try to explain to them that product architecture is their opportunity to create value out of thin air. Outsource architecture and you will most likely get software engineering without a brilliant architecture to frame it. That can work for creating a minimum viable product, but in most cases the founders are hoping to get something much more from such efforts.

    • Alan, I’ve definitely seen this one play out. I’ve added it to a new updates section. Would you like to do a guest post on this one, written in the style of the others?

      • aneveucertify says:

        Well, I fear that writing an elaborate post on this would be like throwing those founders under a bus, after they have already been hit by it. I might also get depressed or become much less fun to be around! But I’ll think about writing something about the opposite, which is to create value out of thin air using software architecture. How’s that?

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